Pakistan: The New Script


Pakistan’s description as the fulcrum of Asia is most eminent, as it is located at the junction of South Asia, West Asia, Central Asia and China. Since its inception Pakistan has been traumatised by the weakness and bitter rivalry between its state institutions. Its leaders invariably have relied on external powers to enforce or restore institutional balance. An oft quoted remark attributed to the Americans is that oil is too important commodity to be left to the will of the Arabs. Similarly the Af-Pak region is too important to be sacrificed at the altar of the ‘sovereignty of Pakistan’. Pakistan is at a critical crossroads of its history. A very incisive analysis of recent developments there by a former R&AW officer and military analyst.

This article is published with the kind permission of „Defence and Security Alert (DSA) Magazine“ New Delhi-India

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Since its inception Pakistan has been traumatised by the weakness and bitter rivalry between its state institutions. Its leaders invariably have relied on external powers to enforce or restore institutional balance. The current instability in Pakistan therefore should not come as a surprise because the institutional balance between the President, the Prime Minister and the Army in the first place had been forged by the US as part of war against terrorism. Even then, the deal between Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto was hammered by the US after a series of meetings in Dubai. General Kayani, who was then the ISI Chief under the Musharraf dispensation, played a crucial role as a mediator. It is pertinent to mention that General Kayani as a junior officer had served as the Staff Officer to Benazir Bhutto during her first term as prime minister. It is another matter that the script was briefly interrupted by an imponderable (some say by design) i.e. assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

2013 deadline

It may also be recalled that in July 2010, it was Prime Minister Gilani, who gave a three year extension to General Kayani. He is the first four-star general to receive such an extension from a democratic government. Gen Kayani is due to retire in November 2013, which almost coincides with the end of presidential tenure of Zardari. Also the Director General of ISI Lt Gen Shuja Pasha is to retire in March this year and from all indications emanating from Pakistan, is not likely to get any further extension. He is considered very close to General Kayani and was also on extended tenure since 2010. By next year therefore the entire governing structure of Pakistan is due for change. It is obvious that given the critical strategic exigencies the American establishment cannot just afford to leave Pakistan in the realm of imponderables and walk into a geo-political vacuum.

Judiciary the fourth pillar

The standoff between the judiciary, i.e. the Chief Justice Iftikar Chaudhary and Musharraf was considerably responsible for decline of Musharraf and his consequential exit from the power structure of Pakistan and the country as such. Even at this critical juncture, the judiciary is playing the spearhead role in eroding the present dispensation of President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani. In fact, there are commentators, who opine that power play in Pakistan is no longer confined to the machinations of Troika, i.e. the President, the Prime Minister and the Army Chief, but there is yet another pillar which has emerged and that is the ‘Judiciary’.

In the past, there have been indications about growing US leverages in the Pak judiciary as well. In March 2000, when an angry Bill Clinton visited Pakistan for less than five hours, one of the persons that he met was the then Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Irshad Hasan Khan. Hasan Abbas in his book Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism writes:

Interestingly, the Pakistani team that met Clinton also included Justice Irshad H Khan, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, who along with other judges was conducting a hearing to decide whether Musharraf’s coup in October 1999 was legitimate and lawful. It was unprecedented that the head of the judiciary was attending such a meeting. It is believed that Clinton briefly conversed with him in private during this short visit, but what was discussed is not known. … Interestingly, a few weeks later, a twelve-member bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan validated the military takeover of October 12, 1999, on the basis of the doctrine of state necessity and graciously gave Musharraf three years to accomplish his agenda and hold general elections.

Has the present crisis in Pakistan engendered by a re-scripting process of the Pakistani dispensation by and in favour of the strategic agenda of the West particularly the US, set in motion consequent to the killing of Osama bin Laden?

Strategic agenda

The greatest asset that Pakistan has is its geo-strategic location. This asset has so far been singularly responsible for Pakistan’s militarised nature of its national discourse and its survival as a state. Pakistan’s description as the fulcrum of Asia is most eminent, as it is located at the junction of South Asia, West Asia, Central Asia and China. It has been at the crossroads of various ‘isms’ that these regions have spawned from time to time. In the ensuing era it is the Islamic terrorism.

The deal between Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto was hammered by the US after a series of meetings in Dubai. General Kayani, who was then the ISI Chief under the Musharraf dispensation, played a crucial role as a mediator. It is pertinent to mention that General Kayani as a junior officer had served as the Staff Officer to Benazir Bhutto during her first term as prime minister

It is an eternal aspect of geography that power seeking influence in Asia have had to either traverse through the land or region of present day Pakistan or contend with it as a strategic interlocutor. It was actively courted by the US in the early 50s and even as its importance to the US started to decline since the mid 60s, it once again assumed the status of a frontline state after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Such was the criticality of that period, that the US was compelled to ignore Pakistan’s many misdemeanours, including its clandestine nuclear programme. The free flow of weapons and the encouragement and support that the Islamic fundamentalists received from the US, imbued Pan-Islamism with militant shades. The smug belief of the US that their distance from the epicentre of Islamic terrorism afforded them relative immunity was shattered on 9 September 2001. Thus the USA’s military and strategic machinery had to revisit Pakistan in the form of ‘war against terror’ to defang the Islamic terrorists.

The job is far from over and the strategic retreat of the US and its allies from the Af-Pak region at this juncture is unthinkable.

In fact, the geopolitical scenario in the region has become even more complicated. Apart from concerns of global terrorism, the Af-Pak region has strident resonance in West Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, in respect to China and the Indian Ocean. West Asia is under the grip of political upheaval, which threatens to shake the very foundations of most countries in the region. The Iranian nuclear crisis is getting serious by the day with increasingly belligerent postures by the US and the Iranian leadership. The chasm between the Shia and Sunni populations is getting dangerous. Islamic terrorism in form of Taliban continues to inhibit the restoration of civilisation in Afghanistan. An oft quoted remark attributed to the Americans is to the effect that oil is too important commodity to be left to the will of the Arabs. Similarly the Af-Pak region, at least in the foreseeable future, is too important to be sacrificed at the altar of the ‘sovereignty of Pakistan’.

This is the benchmark. Therefore, the developments in Pakistan must be viewed in this backdrop.

Even at this critical juncture, the judiciary is playing the spearhead role in eroding the present dispensation of President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani

Calibrated leak

The immediate trigger for the current crisis in Pakistan is the alleged communication between the Pakistan Ambassador to US, Hussain Haqqani (allegedly on behalf of President Zardari) and the then US Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, widely known as the ‘Memogate Scandal’. In this memo, fears were expressed of a possible military takeover and the Obama administration had been urged to prevent it. Further, as a quid pro quo for US military and political help, the current Pakistan dispensation under President Zardari had promised to carry out a complete revamp of the security apparatus of Pakistan to include the nuclear establishment and policy setup and provide carte blanche for the US in conducting military strikes within Pakistan.

The conduit who delivered this memo is one Mansoor Ijaz, a US based businessman of Pakistani origin. Ijaz is no ordinary businessman. He is also a well-known media commentator and international negotiator. He was steadfast in his support to neo-conservative policies of George Bush on American television. He had also been involved in unofficial negotiations between US and the Sudanese governments with regard to extradition of Laden. He has all along been a fierce critic of the Pakistan Army.

In the past, there have been indications about growing US leverages in the Pak judiciary as well. In March 2000, when an angry Bill Clinton visited Pakistan for less than five hours, one of the persons that he met was the then Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Irshad H Khan

Hussain Haqqani is also known for his pro-US and anti-Army beliefs. This is more than apparent in the book Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military authored by him. Therefore, the sudden admission by Mansoor Ijaz about the said memo is rather intriguing. Even more intriguing is the Admiral Mullen’s admission that he knew of the Memo, but “thought nothing of it”.

Admiral Mullen cannot be so naïve so as not to factor the upheaval that his admission could cause within Pakistan. In the field of diplomacy such admissions of secret communications are considered blasphemous. It appears to be a deliberate and calibrated leak.

US wish list

The contents of the alleged memo are significant. It clearly indicates that Pakistan’s approach in ‘war against terror’ has been contrary rather inimical to the US and is tacit admission that the military-intelligence establishment has been abetting terrorism and Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is unsafe in military hands. Sample these (directly quoted from the alleged memo):

  • President of Pakistan will order an independent inquiry into the allegations that Pakistan harboured and offered assistance to OBL and other senior Qaeda operatives …
  • The inquiry will be accountable and independent and result in findings of tangible value of the US government and the American people …
  • The new national security team will implement a policy of either handing over those left in the leadership of Al Qaeda or other affiliated terrorist groups who are still on Pakistani soil …

An oft quoted remark attributed to the Americans is to the effect that oil is too important commodity to be left to the will of the Arabs. Similarly the Af-Pak region, at least in the foreseeable future, is too important to be sacrificed at the altar of the ‘sovereignty of Pakistan’

  • One of the great fears of the military-intelligence establishment is that with your stealth capabilities to enter and exit Pakistani airspace at will, Pakistan’s nuclear assets are now legitimate targets. The new national security team is prepared, with full backing of the Pakistani government – initially civilian but eventually all three power centres – to develop an acceptable framework of discipline for the nuclear programme. This effort was begun under the previous military regime, with acceptable results. We are prepared to reactivate those ideas and build on them in a way that brings Pakistan’s nuclear assets under a more verifiable, transparent regime.
  • The new national security team will eliminate Section S of the ISI charged with maintaining relations to the Taliban, Haqqani network, etc. This will dramatically improve relations with Afghanistan.
  • We are prepared to cooperate fully under the new national security team’s guidance with the Indian government on bringing all perpetrators of Pakistani origin to account for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, whether outside government or inside any part of the government, including its intelligence agencies …

This alleged memo rather reads like the wish list of the US with the aim to circumscribe the military in Pakistan. It clearly indicates that world’s security can no longer be traded with sovereignty of Pakistan. It is an indirect and open caution to all future dispensations of Pakistan about the irreconcilable strategic concerns and interests of the US.

The new script

To the US, the current dispensation in Pakistan, both political and military has outlived its utility, rather it is now counter-productive and an embarrassment as such. The alleged memo has triggered the process of realignment of political forces as various institutions in Pakistan including the military. The Zardari – Gilani dispensation has only got a temporary reprieve from the assertive Supreme Court. In the ultimate analysis the current political dispensation will be compelled by the judiciary to step down, thus paving the way for elections.

It appears that in the new political restructuring Imran Khan and Musharraf will have domineering roles, with possibly the former as Prime Minister and the latter as President. The fact cannot be overlooked that all these years since his exit from power, Musharraf’s home has been in United Kingdom.

There are no free lunches.

In few months time we may see a new political and military setup in Pakistan at the helm. This new dispensation will be under constant US pressure to deliver on critical issues like ‘terrorism’ and ‘safety of nuclear weapons’. Of course, the new script too is fraught with imponderables. Nevertheless, its intent is beneficial to India. The memogate prominently refers to bringing to book the perpetrators of Mumbai attack

Musharraf is the best man to deliver on ‘terrorism’ and ‘nuclear’ concerns of the West, as he knows their nuts and bolts. Imran’s international image and more so his Pathan extraction could prove to be of great advantage given the current nature of religious, regional, social and ethnic chasms in Pakistan. The bias of Pakistan politics may move away from overwhelming Sindhi-Punjabi domination. In all probability, the current Army leadership too would be circumscribed by the judiciary latter.

Conclusion

In few months time we may see a new political and military setup in Pakistan at the helm. This new dispensation will be under constant US pressure to deliver on critical issues like ‘terrorism’ and ‘safety of nuclear weapons’. Of course, the new script too is fraught with imponderables. Nevertheless, its intent is beneficial to India. The memogate prominently refers to bringing to book the perpetrators of Mumbai attack.

About the Author
Col RSN Singh (retd – The writer is former Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) officer and has authored books on strategic and military aspects.

Note by the Author:
To the US, the current dispensation in Pakistan, both political and military has outlived its utility, rather it is now counter-productive and an embarrassment as such. The alleged memo has triggered the process of realignment of political forces as various institutions in Pakistan including the military. The Zardari – Gilani dispensation has only got a temporary reprieve from the assertive Supreme Court. In the ultimate analysis the current political dispensation will be compelled by the judiciary to step down, thus paving the way for elections

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