Attacking the military

This is a Pakpotpourri Exclusive

By:Admiral Fasih Bokhari

Former Chief of Naval Staff

The campaign to attack the military has a number of dimensions and trajectories that need to be analyzed to understand the fallout that they could leave in their trail. That every action produces a reaction must not be lost on those who wish to destabilize the power structure of Pakistan, be they internal or external players.

The genesis of the attack lies in the many years of military rule and the regime changes brought about by the Army, or more accurately, adventurers who rose with some help to the top position. The tussles between warring political forces and the monolithic military had invariably led to a balance in favor of the Army with the complicity of a weak judiciary. That those regime changes had been supported if not spurred on by the US is what our historians will unravel. The1972, 1988, and 2007 regime changes initially resulted in a balance not entirely in favor of the Military. The slack given to political forces was misused through directionless governance not responsive to the people’s needs. The current dispensation emerged after the forced exit of a dictator who no longer served the interests of those who brokered the NRO deal to oust him. It may have been a victory of sorts for the political forces of the country too. The Charter of Democracy and words of the PPP Chairman-in-waiting that “democracy is the best revenge” signaled the beginning of a campaign to consolidate gains that had seemingly now been achieved over the military. The bon homie amongst the political parties was tangible. But the net performance has again been directionless and non responsive, given the state of public services, utilities, and economy.

It appeared at the time that US support had shifted from the military to the political in our governance. After the many years of discredit brought on the military during the rule of the last dictator the Army post NRO was not in a position to respond. Indeed the army chief went out of his way to pull the army out of civilian affairs and back to the barracks. His insistence that the political arm has a role of supremacy under the constitution was well received by rank and file. For the political forces it was seen as a retreat that gave strength to the campaign to put paid to Bonaparte ventures for good. The display of good faith by the army was seen as a sign of weakness in the face of aggressive political supremacists. The attempt to place ISI under the Ministry of Interior was a brazen move whose time had not come given the reality on the ground. It met the disapproval of a military that was not ready to cede ground in a war situation where they felt the foundations of the nation could not be compromised at the altar of democracy. Sensing the need to back off to take up the fight another day the government gave extensions in service to the COAS and DG ISI. This was taken as an opportunity to consolidate lost space by the army chief, but was read by some in the ranks as a compromise at the behest of the US (ostensibly to avoid a rupture in the conduct of war) that would actually weaken the position of the army vis-a-vis a government they felt was bartering national interests to consolidate political supremacy through the support of the US.

What had raised the first serious alarm in the military’s perceptions was the wording of the Kerry Lugar Bill that evoked a strong public response from the Corps Commanders. That the civilian government must exercise its due constitutional powers had not been challenged by the military under General Kayani. The fear that the KLB wording evoked was that the US was purposely involving itself in a power arrangement giving supremacy to the political forces that had not been contested nor was under threat from the military. This interference signaled an attempt to weaken the army in pursuit of strategic objectives in the region. Ignoring this interference was not an option. The muted defense by the PPP government that it had no hand in drafting the wording was not altogether convincing.  The wording of the bill gave an impression that the US had put a seal on its new position that would not only imbalance the power structure in favor of the civilian government;  but could lead to deprivation of funds for the Army  while the nation was fighting a war; a strange tactic from an “ally”. The fallout from the KLB was a re-assessment by the military of US objectives in the alliance. This was not lost on Washington and thus the Strategic Dialogue came into greater focus, placing greater pressure on the military through increased public exposure.

The accusations of “running with the hare and hunting with the hounds” did not abate. The demands to “do more” did not ease. It became clear as time passed that the mistrust was deeper than desirable in what was supposed to be an alliance. Thwarted in attempts to put “boots on the ground” the US started outsourcing conduct of some Pakistan operations to contractors, expanded CIA presence, and kept JSOC resources ready for contingencies. This mission creep deception by the US, on the shoulders of the civilian government, brought the war into Pakistan, seriously undermining the position of the army and its ability to control the ground. The insistence for issuance of visas to obviously unnecessary large numbers of “diplomats” was stoutly defended by the political government until the military put its foot down. Perhaps the government saw an ally in the US in its campaign to wean supremacy from the army. The US had ably taken advantage of yet another weakness of Pakistan’s national cohesion to further some of its objectives. Some analysts had been warning since 9/11 that Pakistan’s nuclear assets are an obstacle in establishing a favorable regional paradigm for the US; and in allaying any fears that Israel may have concerning possible end users. The only convenient way to “take out” Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program would be through an Executive order from an empowered government to a weakened military; monitored through an international arrangement. This concurrent with media molding of public opinion that the nuclear capability had not really enhanced our security or economic position, and had only arrayed international forces against us.

The roll back forced on the US to reduce its foot print in Pakistan post the Raymond Davis affair was not taken lightly by the US. The DG ISI received a public summons from a lower US court! The spate of incidents that continued with the Abbottabad drama, through Mehran, and “videoed shootings” by Para military forces in Kharotabad and Karachi, and the gruesome murder of Saleem Shahzad, all led to political and media demands for resignations of the top brass and Judicial investigations of “security and intelligence failures”. The media’s linkage of these “failures” to inability to safeguard nuclear assets was obviously triggered by those with specific strategic interests. No one paused to reflect on the major security lapse of 9/11 and any linkage it may have had to US nuclear assets safety. Neither did anyone recall the massive intelligence failure that led a coalition of willing nations to war against a non nuclear Iraq. Both these lapses never resulted in demands for resignations or dismissals of top brass. Here in Pakistan, a nation that is victim of a chameleon war where strategy and objectives change to suit specific operations rather than the reverse, we have a media screaming hoarse at the nation’s last line of defense.

The draw down in Afghanistan has been announced. Osama has been brought to justice. The American voters have been sated for the present. The war has crept into Pakistan. According to President Obama goals still need to be achieved in Pakistan, probably in time to impact his re-election. An external player has entered the Pakistani ring. This has become a fight to claim rights over Pakistan. Who owns Pakistan? Some say that the verbal bout between PML (N) and PPP is a noura kushti to deflect the real aim of most politicians (for “democratic revenge”?). They could be right. The military is alone in its corner holding fast to its constitutional role as defender of the state. The political forces are demanding freedom to exercise their full constitutional role of pursuing their vision for Pakistan as representatives of the people. There is now a third boxer in the ring, and the gloves are off. The outcome will determine the future of Pakistan, its military-political power balance, strategic direction, and place in regional alliances. This is not the way the future has to be decided. The people do not have to be forced into a civil war where they are asked to take sides.

Maturity and sanity demand that the Pakistani players get out of the ring to decide the new paradigm (consensus National Security Policy) and their roles in it within the confines of the constitution. Negotiations can then be pursued with the US to negotiate the best way forward to achieve our consensus vital national interests, and lay down their red lines with the US. The importance of the alliance far outweighs any short term jockeying for gains. The mistrust can only be removed through clarity of objectives from both sides.

Enough has been sacrificed in pursuit of interests that were not those of our people or perhaps even of the American people. There is no harm in helping an American favorable end game but only with least adverse impact on Pakistani lives and livelihood.

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  • ID  On July 10, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    Good advice and proposal. It is hoped the concerned read it, registers it and takes actions accordingly.

  • Inam Khan  On July 10, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    This is a sad commentary on our poor political leadership……Inam Khan

  • M Malik  On July 11, 2011 at 2:29 am

    A little said in so many words. Why did he not say anything about the Mehran affair. And if I recollet it was during his times when one of our expensive patrol aircraft got shot down by the Indians while flying at the wrong place. What happened to the enquiry report?

  • Nadeem  On July 11, 2011 at 2:29 am

    A very good analysis of the situation and equally reasonable advice to deal with it. Is anybody listening???


  • Hamid Qazi  On July 11, 2011 at 6:45 am

    Perhaps this is already well understood by all and sundry concerned. It will be important for the military and political leadership to chalk out a strategy in the best interest of the country. Both remaining within their constitutional domains.
    All military take overs were signalled by US, because of ease in understanding. In any case even today Army holds the key to all important policy shifts. What policy is Obama following, its not his policy they player behind the curtain who dictates policies in US. Obama is a puppet brought in persuance of their policies.


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