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Posts from — June 2009

Army Calling Shots In Pakistan

By Man Mohan Kaul
If there are any doubts about who is calling the shots in Pakistan, here is further evidence that says that the Army does it.

The Pakistan Army has made it clear to the country’s Parliament. lt that cannot withdraw its forces from its present location. The context here is clearly the Indian border.

The Army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, said at an in-camera briefing to MPs on May 15 that the Army cannot be withdrawn from its locations of covering the expected attack routes on the border with India.

Specifically, he told the MPs that the Army would not mount its operations as per the diktats and preferences of any outside force.

The context here is very clear: US President Barack Obama impressed upon President Asif Ali Zardari when the two met early in May that Pakistan Army should withdraw its forces from the relatively peaceful border and re-deploy its personnel and equipment in the current fight against the Taliban.

Zardari responded by agreeing to it in principle and later said while interacting with the American that some units had actually been shifted.

But he spoke too early and Kayani has all but vetoed the move.

Only one newspaper carried the story that was probably an official leak from the Army General Headquarters. No one is prepared to vouch whether the account is accurate but Pakistan watchers are confident that this was a report based on the briefing Kiani gave the lawmakers.

It was about the four-hour in-camera briefing. Had the Army taken a decision and was the Parliament being simply informed? This remains a matter of conjecture. .

Either way, it reflects the thinking of the Pakistan Army and the lawmakers were being told who is the real boss when it comes to matters pertaining to national security and that too, where India is involved.

If there is a formal decision by the Army, no announcement was made: perhaps it was not found necessary. The Army simply let its mind be known and did not want the fledgling civilian government to take the diplomatic rap from the Obama Administration.

Here, one is not even speculating on the angry Indian reaction despite the preoccupation with the elections and formation of a new government.

The Pakistan Army is upset that the Americans have been trying hard in their Afghan-Pak thinking to make Pakistan withdraw the bulk of its Army from positions of confronting India to its western borders where the Taliban trouble is still going strong.

What is clear is that Pakistan Army is simply not willing to withdraw from positions of checkmating Indian military forces.

On the other hand, it plans to up its ante on the border with India, particularly in Jammu and Kashmir, to tell the Americans that their assessment of the situation on the Indo-Pak border is grossly inadequate and ill-informed.

The next question arises whether Pakistan would continue to resist American pressures to relieve the bulk of its troops to serve on its northwestern frontier.

This remains a billion dollar question, literally and figuratively, since the US is bending backwards to salvage the sinking Pakistani economy and fund its defence acquisitions in the name of fighting the Taliban.

One assessment is that the US has also prodded the other NATOP nations and Japan to pool in a whopping $ 23 billion over the next five years.

But Obama Administration and the US/Nato concerns and efforts are a present-day developments, while Pakistan’s struggle to maintain its identity that it fears could be obliterated by India is as old as its own life.

It does not require Kiani to spell it out and the Pakistani lawmakers to understand and appreciate that Pakistan’s very existence has depended upon opposing India.

The very emergence of Pakistan was because its founding father felt convinced that Muslims could not live in a Hindu-dominated India.

It needs recalling here that Pakistan in its very first year of existence devoted some 43 per cent of its budget to defence. It was meant in Muslim League government’s thinking that it would prevent Pakistan from being gobbled up by India.

But that set the benchmark. High defence spending aimed at defending Pakistan against Indian threat, real or perceived, has been the story of Pakistan for the last six decades. This is now almost an article of faith for all conservative sections. To move away would be such a radical shift in Pakistan policy that it is hard to imagine it can ever be agreed to.

The Americans are recommending such a radical departure from traditional Pakistani view that has congealed into an ideology. The conservative political class – the whole of it, actually — does think that India is an existential and permanent threat to Pakistan.

To move away from the original is now too hard an exercise. No regime in Pakistan – military, civilian, quasi-civilian-quasi-military – not to speak of the liberals and the once-influential socialists, ever could deny the demands of the country’s armed forces. Everything is just brushed aside when it comes to “defendant of the nation”, particularly when this ‘defence’ is enmeshed with the “defence of Islam,” and “Kashmir”

Pakistan joined, willy-nilly under Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the global war against terrorism, doing a complete U-turn in the support the Taliban rulers of Kabul. But decades before that, Pakistan had joined the West-led military alliances that were meant to counter the communists who ruled Russia.

That Pakistan has managed to sup with the Chinese since the 1960s, and that china remains a communist nation that the US and the West view with concern is a different story altogether.

Pakistan agreed to join the west in lieu of military and some economic aid. The Americans were clear headed. They had made it plain from day one that their aid is not to be used against India. But did that ever happen?

When he launched his misadventure in 1965, its grandiose name was “Operation Gibraltar”, Ayub Khan believed that the America who not do much beyond shouting and protesting if Pakistan used its aided equipment against India

He did use it in 1965 war and the Americans were, expectedly, angry. They imposed sanctions on Pakistan; aid was suspended for some years.

But the Americans always knew that Pakistan would do such a thing when needed. They showed their anger more for the record than actual punishment of Pakistan. It was more to please India. Later America relented and the aid was resumed.

New sanctions were imposed on Pakistan and were fairly quickly lifted each time Pakistan used the American-supplied military hardware against India.

The situation is no different and all concerned – the Pakistanis, the Americans and even the Indians – know it. The Indian dismay at the Obama Administration’s Af-Pak policy is precisely on this ground. Only, in the more complex situation that develops in the new century, it finds open protests against the US and the West counter-productive.

Pakistan and its Army cannot possibly annoy Americans in any big way. Without American aid Pakistan Army cannot be sustained. It now requires anything from $ 500 million to 1 billion a year in foreign exchange.

This is only consideration. There are others: Can Pakistan say no to what Americans may insist on? Can Pakistan sustain a policy of defiance to America? It is easier said in a conference or in a briefing.

Some political posturing is permissible by the donors but not in terms of fundamental choices. And this is precisely the message conveyed through Kayani’s briefing to the country’s lawmakers.

Kayani’s message is: If Pakistan Army is expected to take its forces off the Indian border, then why have the Army at all? Taliban, or for that matter, even Al Qaida, are recent phenomena and will come and go. India will still be around to “gobble up” Pakistan

June 26, 2009   No Comments