The Pakistan Army has been getting a lot of flak over the past week or so for its alleged failure to take a tough line against Taliban militants expanding their reach across Pakistan’s north-west. And although Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani issued a statement promising to fight the militants and security forces began a new offensive, doubts remain about the military’s willingness to take on Islamist groups that it once nurtured as part of its rivalry with India.
Pakistan: Now or Never?
Two years after Iftikhar Chaudhry was first sacked by then President Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan government officials said he would be reinstated as Chief Justice after a nationwide protest led by Pakistan’s lawyers.
Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani is much talked about these days as the one national figure who could lean on Pakistan’s warring politicians to back down from a confrontation threatening the stability of the country. The question is over how he would intervene while maintaining a commitment to keep the army out of politics.
Maybe this always happens at times of national upheaval. But there is a surprising disconnect between the immediacy of the crisis facing Pakistan as expressed by Pakistani bloggers and the more slow-moving debate taking place in the outside world over the right strategy to adopt towards both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In his book on the Pakistan Army, South Asia expert Stephen Cohen quotes a senior lieutenant-general as warning the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto against using the military to control political opposition. “If you use a stick too often, the stick will take over,” Cohen quotes the general as saying. “This has always been the history of the stick.”
In the immediate aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, India’s response has been to look to the United States to lean on Pakistan, which it blames for spawning Islamist militancy across the region, rather than launching any military retaliation of its own. So after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s trip to India and Pakistan last week, have the Americans done enough for now?
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari says he would be ready to commit to a policy of no first use of nuclear weapons, in what would be a dramatic overturning of Pakistan’s nuclear policy. Pakistan has traditionally seen its nuclear weapons as neutralising Indian superiority in conventional warfare, and refused to follow India’s example of declaring a no first use policy after both countries conducted nuclear tests in 1998.
In his new book about the Pakistan Army, “War, Coups and Terror”, Brian Cloughley recounts how the British general, the Duke of Wellington, responded to democracy in his first cabinet meeting as prime minister: “An extraordinary affair. I gave them their orders and they wanted to stay and discuss them.”