Pakistan — Civil Military Relations in Pakistan

The three A’s that dom­i­nate the des­tiny of Pak­istan are the Army, Allah and Amer­i­ca — not nec­es­sar­i­ly in that order. Today the pow­er play in Pak­istan is between the declin­ing Super Pow­er of the USA and the ris­ing pow­er of Chi­na. In look­ing too close­ly at the tac­ti­cal lev­el details of who said what with­in the Supreme Court of Pak­istan and out­side its walls, we are los­ing our focus on the larg­er geo-strate­gic sce­nario. This will be shaped by the new cold war in Asia between the USA and Chi­na. That may well shape the out­come in Pak­istan. The log­i­cal ques­tion that fol­lows is where is India in this equa­tion?

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

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Even as we eval­u­ate the state of Civ­il-Mil­i­tary and Inter Ser­vices syn­er­gies in India, recent events have made it imper­a­tive that we take a close look at Civ­il-Mil­i­tary Rela­tions in Pak­istan. It is cru­cial for us to eval­u­ate where these are head­ed and cal­i­brate our respons­es accord­ing­ly.

Pak­istan has been sin­gu­lar­ly unfor­tu­nate that it lost its tow­er­ing polit­i­cal leader Mohd Ali Jin­nah so soon after Inde­pen­dence. It was ill served by its squab­bling bunch of politi­cians that fol­lowed, as also by the vault­ing ambi­tions of its mil­i­tary men and bureau­crats. This result­ed in over 30 years of direct mil­i­tary rule in Pak­istan. Over mil­i­tarised states tend to over­reach and over­spend on weapons. This impe­r­i­al over­stretch caus­es the state to col­lapse. Pak­istan has been close to eco­nom­ic col­lapse twice in the last 10 years. It has been kept afloat by some US$ 30 bil­lion worth of doles by the USA and its allies.

Mushar­raf left only after the Amer­i­cans had script­ed an alter­na­tive arrange­ment where­in the NRO was used to strike a bar­gain with Benazir Bhutto’s PPP. She was a charis­mat­ic and pop­u­lar leader. The Mil­i­tary-ISI com­plex saw that and killed her bru­tal­ly. Her hus­band Zardari sim­ply lacked cred­i­bil­i­ty and had a severe image prob­lem. His Prime Min­is­ter Gilani strove to work out a com­pro­mise by kow­tow­ing to the Army and mak­ing him­self accept­able to the Chief and the Chi­nese

The Pak­istani Army now has a piv­otal posi­tion in Pak­istani pol­i­tics. In a very per­cep­tive piece — Hasan Askari Rizvi writes that while the Army does not rule direct­ly it con­trols key aspects of state like nation­al secu­ri­ty, for­eign pol­i­cy and key domes­tic issues. Direct rule is sim­ply replaced by a covert behind the scene Role that usu­al­ly reduces the civil­ian gov­ern­ments to a demo­c­ra­t­ic facade. The civil­ian gov­ern­ments have an acute iden­ti­ty cri­sis. They wish to appear autonomous and yet bank heav­i­ly on the sup­port of the Army Chief to sur­vive. None of them have been able to com­plete their terms. Gen Musharraf’s decade long rule had floun­dered bad­ly once he caved in to Chi­nese pres­sure and attacked the Lal Masjid. It was his Blue Star. The ISI itself pos­si­bly had a covert hand in stok­ing this dis­pute with the Supreme Court that led to his exit and exile. Mushar­raf left only after the Amer­i­cans had script­ed an alter­na­tive arrange­ment where­in the NRO was used to strike a bar­gain with Benazir Bhutto’s PPP. She was a charis­mat­ic and pop­u­lar leader. The Mil­i­tary-ISI com­plex saw that and killed her bru­tal­ly. Her hus­band Zardari sim­ply lacked cred­i­bil­i­ty and had a severe image prob­lem. His Prime Min­is­ter Gilani strove to work out a com­pro­mise by kow­tow­ing to the Army and mak­ing him­self accept­able to the Chief and the Chi­nese.

The entire edi­fice of Civ­il-Mil­i­tary rela­tions in Pak­istan how­ev­er unrav­elled abrupt­ly with the US Seals raid in Abbot­tabad that killed Osama bin Laden. This raid cre­at­ed a severe cri­sis that high­light­ed the lim­its of Pak­istan Army’s high­ly duplic­i­tous pol­i­cy of run­ning with the hares and hunt­ing with the hounds. In 2001 Gen Per­vez Mushar­raf had been coerced into join­ing the Glob­al War on Ter­ror on pain of being bombed back to the Stone Age. How­ev­er by 2005, the Amer­i­can atten­tion had shift­ed entire­ly to Iraq and Per­vez and the ISI used this peri­od to revive the Tal­iban and do all in their pow­er to ensure that Mul­lah Omar and Haqqani would rule in Kab­ul once the Amer­i­cans left. This strate­gic over­reach has back­fired. The imper­a­tives of a state spon­sored Jihad have so thor­ough­ly rad­i­calised the Pak mil­i­tary and soci­ety that the facade of being US allies in the War on Ter­ror is no longer even remote­ly cred­i­ble. There is a seething caul­dron of Islamist rage against Amer­i­ca in the Pak Army and pop­u­lace in gen­er­al. Gen Kayani who was con­stant­ly being lionised by the Amer­i­cans as their man in Islam­abad realised that his posi­tion was becom­ing dan­ger­ous­ly unten­able. There was seething rage in the mil­i­tary can­ton­ments and he ner­vous­ly went about pla­cat­ing his com­mand. Gen Kayani is rel­a­tive­ly junior and his dis­tance from his Corps Com­man­ders is far less than that of Ayub and Mushar­raf. As such he is far more sus­cep­ti­ble to the peer group pres­sure. The Col­legium of Corps Com­man­ders has thus emerged as a key insti­tu­tion in Pak­istan and by exten­sion shapes the nation­al poli­cies. Post Abbot­tabad the image of the Pak Army has reached a new low after the 1971 War. This post Laden image of inep­ti­tude was made worse by the Mehran raid which clear­ly indi­cat­ed the lev­el of Jiha­di pen­e­tra­tion in the armed forces. The Pak mil­i­tary now tried to align itself in tune with the pop­u­lar anti-Amer­i­can mood in its rank and file. They came out in the open with increas­ing­ly hos­tile stances towards Amer­i­ca that bor­dered on brinkman­ship. They sensed the rel­a­tive weak­ness of Amer­i­ca and banked rather heav­i­ly on the rise of Chi­na. The key bat­tle in Pak­istan is now a new cold war between an Amer­i­ca in decline and a Chi­na, which the Pak­istan Army is des­per­ate­ly hop­ing, is in the ascen­dant. The ner­vous civil­ian lead­er­ship mean­while was now ter­ri­fied of a mil­i­tary coup and approached the US to save it. In a strange series of devel­op­ments and leaks there­after, this led to “mem­ogate”.

In any nor­mal state, it is the mil­i­tary that would have been on the back foot. Not in Pak­istan. The civil­ian regime seemed guilt rid­den and red faced that it was try­ing to save itself from a mil­i­tary coup! Pakistan’s Mil­i­tary-ISI com­plex now decid­ed on a soft coup to get rid of the Zardari-Gilani duo. The twin pin­cers of this blood­less coup were to be the high­ly ego­is­tic Chief Jus­tice of the Pak­istani Supreme Court and a move to get Par­lia­ment to call for ear­ly elec­tions. The ISI was now busy build­ing-up its newest demo­c­ra­t­ic poster boy in Imran Khan. He would be the new demo­c­ra­t­ic facade far more in tune with their Jiha­di agen­da. Besides, Imran is also a Pathan and to that extent can help the Pun­jabi-Pash­tun biradari of the Army to keep its flock togeth­er. A Net Assess­ment would indi­cate four Alter­na­tive futures for Pak­istan:

Gen Kayani who was con­stant­ly being lionised by the Amer­i­cans as their man in Islam­abad realised that his posi­tion was becom­ing dan­ger­ous­ly unten­able. There was seething rage in the Mil­i­tary can­ton­ments and he ner­vous­ly went about pla­cat­ing his com­mand. Gen Kayani is rel­a­tive­ly junior and his dis­tance from his Corps Com­man­ders is far less than that of Ayub and Mushar­raf. As such he is far more sus­cep­ti­ble to the peer group pres­sure. The Col­legium of Corps Com­man­ders has thus emerged as a key insti­tu­tion in Pak­istan and by exten­sion shapes the nation­al poli­cies

  • A hard mil­i­tary coup: This is unlike­ly as the Army was fair­ly dis­cred­it­ed dur­ing Musharraf’s long rule. Besides the econ­o­my is in sham­bles and the inter­na­tion­al sit­u­a­tion quite unfavourable for mil­i­tary inter­ven­tion. The mil­i­tary needs a civil­ian buffer to stave off direct for­eign pres­sure.
  • A soft coup: This is what the Pak Army is attempt­ing via the Supreme Court.
  • A street rev­o­lu­tion: If the Supreme Court fails to get this government’s scalp, ISI’s lat­est poster boy Imran Khan could be used to whip up an Arab Spring in Islam­abad.
  • The present gov­ern­ment sur­vives: This is a wild card sce­nario. This is the first civil­ian gov­ern­ment that is fight­ing back. It could sac­ri­fice Gilani and pos­si­bly sur­vive but only for a while. Ear­ly elec­tions are now very like­ly.

Mean­while the exiled Gen­er­al Mushar­raf announced grand­ly that he was com­ing back but then had sec­ond thoughts about the tim­ings. The Eagle could land short­ly on the shores of Pak­istan. Is there an under­ly­ing grand Amer­i­can design? Who is script­ing a new sce­nario? The US was extreme­ly unhap­py with the Pak Army and its brinkman­ship of chok­ing their logis­tics sup­ply line to Afghanistan. Could we be see­ing a new script being enact­ed where­in the Supreme Court would pres­surise an ear­ly exit of the Zardari gov­ern­ment? Ear­ly elec­tions could see the instal­la­tion of Imran Khan — the poster boy of the ISI. Mushar­raf may well be hop­ing to be the new Pres­i­dent in this dis­pen­sa­tion. The Pak­istan Army mean­while is pulling back from its brinkman­ship with Amer­i­ca and has restored logis­ti­cal con­duits to Afghanistan. It has pushed the Amer­i­cans far enough. The Amer­i­cans have in turn split the Pak­istani civ­il-mil­i­tary dis­pen­sa­tion wide apart and made that state dys­func­tion­al. The sit­u­a­tion how­ev­er is high­ly flu­id and touch and go. What is quite cer­tain how­ev­er is that the days of the present dis­pen­sa­tion are most def­i­nite­ly num­bered. The Zardari-Gilani duo knows this and has mus­tered the courage for grand­stand­ing against the Army to gain pop­u­lar sym­pa­thy before the inevitable vote. In the end, the three As that dom­i­nate the des­tiny of Pak­istan are the Army, Allah and Amer­i­ca — not nec­es­sar­i­ly in that order. Today the pow­er play in Pak­istan is between the declin­ing Super Pow­er of the USA and the ris­ing pow­er of Chi­na. In look­ing too close­ly at the tac­ti­cal lev­el details of who said what with­in the Supreme Court of Pak­istan and out­side its walls, we are los­ing our focus on the larg­er geo-strate­gic sce­nario. This will be shaped by the new cold war in Asia between the USA and Chi­na. That may well shape the out­come in Pak­istan. The log­i­cal ques­tion that fol­lows is where is India in this equa­tion?

India’s stance

In ret­ro­spect there­fore India’s most recent ini­tia­tive to push for peace with Pak­istan was sin­gu­lar­ly ill timed. We were told Gilani was a man of peace and the Pak­istani Army was ful­ly on board. It now tran­spires that civ­il-mil­i­tary rela­tions had nev­er been so bad in Pakistan’s entire his­to­ry. How then did we fail to see it? The Pak­istan Army wants a qui­et East­ern Front so that it can focus unhin­dered and undis­turbed upon hang­ing Karzai. That is why per­haps it had giv­en its nod to the peace par­leys. It is com­mon knowl­edge that these peace talks were held under Amer­i­can pres­sure. Bruce Rei­del has gone on record to state that India must be pres­surised to nego­ti­ate with Pak­istan. Our sub­servience to these pres­sures was ful­ly on dis­play in Mal­dives. There is a school of thought that as a democ­ra­cy, we must sup­port the demo­c­ra­t­ic forces in Pak­istan. We may have to be more cir­cum­spect in that case. Our open sup­port to Gilani could be the kiss of death for the PPP in its demo­c­ra­t­ic bat­tles with Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif. Out­ward­ly at least India must be seen as being com­plete­ly hands off in the inter­nal strug­gles in Pak­istan and must be pre­pared to deal with whoso­ev­er comes to pow­er. Covert­ly can we do more to shape the out­come in Pak­istan? In the­o­ry we should. In prac­tice do we have the capa­bil­i­ties? Mr Gujral, in his quest for peace at any cost (most­ly at our cost) we believe had wrecked these capa­bil­i­ties of the R&AW.

About the Author
Maj Gen (Dr) G D Bak­shi SM, VSM (retd) — The writer is a com­bat vet­er­an of many skir­mish­es on the Line of Con­trol and counter-ter­ror­ist oper­a­tions in Jam­mu and Kash­mir and Pun­jab. He sub­se­quent­ly com­mand­ed the reput­ed Romeo Force dur­ing inten­sive counter-ter­ror­ist oper­a­tions in the Rajouri-Poonch dis­tricts. He has served two tenures at the high­ly pres­ti­gious Direc­torate Gen­er­al of Mil­i­tary Oper­a­tions. He is a pro­lif­ic writer on mat­ters mil­i­tary and non-mil­i­tary and has pub­lished 24 books and over 100 papers in many pres­ti­gious research jour­nals. He is also Exec­u­tive Edi­tor of Defence and Secu­ri­ty Alert (DSA) mag­a­zine.

Note by the Author:
The Pak­istani Army now has a piv­otal posi­tion in Pak­istani pol­i­tics. In a very per­cep­tive piece — Hasan Rizvi writes that while the Army does not rule direct­ly it con­trols key aspects of state like Nation­al Secu­ri­ty, for­eign pol­i­cy and key domes­tic issues. Direct rule is sim­ply replaced by a covert behind the scene Role that usu­al­ly reduces the civil­ian gov­ern­ments to a demo­c­ra­t­ic facade. The civil­ian gov­ern­ments have an acute iden­ti­ty cri­sis. They wish to appear autonomous and yet bank heav­i­ly on the sup­port of the Army Chief to sur­vive. None of them have been able to com­plete their terms

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