Is Pakistan losing its grip?

By K.N. Pandita

Apprehension of losing grip on political power of the country is the bane of Pakistan Military. But the option of usurping power by ousting a civilian government is becoming more and more untenable. The reason is the fast changing dynamics of Pakistan’s internal and external politics. Pakistan Army carries the cumbersome and humiliating baggage of defeat in Bangladesh war. Its redemption is rendered not only impossible but even counter-productive.

Fundamentalist legions primarily armed with the blessings of the army and floated under various nomenclatures are looked upon as the frontline of Pakistan’s defence.

When Musharraf decided to hyphenate his country to American war machine against Taliban and Al-Qaeda, it was the sowing of the seeds of subdued discontentment among the soldiers. It meant that Pakistani Army was called upon to fight against those in whose creation it had played the key role.

Resentment spread like cancer among the lower ranks of officers and soldiers coming mostly from rural Punjab and oppressed by mediaeval era landlordism. Anti-America, anti-India literature was clandestinely distributed to vulnerable sections of Pakistani Army, and its profile as a homogenous and compact body entrusted with the duty of protecting sovereignty and integrity of the nation was getting eroded. The assault on Mehran air base in Baluchistan is the case in sight.

American-led attack and killing of Osama under strange circumstances followed by the drone attack on two Pakistani military posts in North Waziristan killing 24 regular soldiers convinced Pakistani Army that US had the agenda up its sleeves to make Pakistani Army irrelevant. This was red rag to the bull.

American support to democratic process in Pakistan, her demand that Pak army do more in war against terror and US’ directly taking on the Taliban-Al Qaeda nexus thwarting Pakistan Army’s ambition of space in Afghanistan, all these factors  combined to boost the morale of the elected government in Pakistan.

Arab Spring further demoralized Pakistan Army. Muslim nations in the Middle East had risen against dictators, civilian or military, and Pakistan Army had reasons to get sleepless nights. Its space with dictators like Qaddafi shrunk and dried up.

Having lost credibility with the Americans and the Saudi monarchy’s fate in doldrums, and, of course, faced at home with an elected government that allowed functional autonomy to the judicial institution of the country, Army felt like a wounded tiger. In conjunction with ISI, it ruminated over the situation and took recourse to the conspiratorial machination in which the ISI is adept. We mean the “memogate” episode.

Never before has Pakistani polity encountered such a fierce tug of war between the Army and the civilian government as at present. For the first time, the Army has realized its forbidding limitation, something gall to it. It cannot swallow the humiliation of being restricted by the overarching authority of the duly elected government.

Quirk of fate has brought Pakistan army into direct armed clash with its Frankenstein, the TTP.  Simple logic does not accept this contradictory phenomenon. But then Pakistan Army knows that in ideological terms Al Qaeda and Taliban-Salafi movement both have hijacked the TTP and while Army wanted to use them against India, the Salafis are using them against America and its clout in Pakistan.

The question is why Pakistan Army operates against the TTP or Taliban in North Waziristan. Is it because of pressure from the Americans? No, it is neither because of pressure from the US nor to protect the elected government. The harsh reality is that it considers the TTP a threat to its profile and position. Pakistan It is Army’s decision and civilian government is playing only the second fiddle.

Aware of the fact that Army’s wings are clipped the civilian government felt emboldened to show the door to the insolent Defence Secretary, a retired army General close to the GHQ. Submission of an affidavit on behalf of the army without clearance from the civilian government is clear indication that the army is on its back foot and seeks intervention by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in the matter of restitution of its powers.
Participation of over a lakh of people in the massive rally of Imran Khan of Pakistan Insaf Party in Karachi is a significant development to be watched in the broad spectrum of domestic politics of Pakistan. In what way the ruling PPP looks at it is not as important as the message it has given to the Pakistan Army with which Imran Khan is reported to be on friendly terms. The history of Pakistani Army tells us that it has always assumed a role, albeit only clandestine one, in Pakistan’s elections. Impending parliamentary elections will determine the status of the Army, which has still a chance to retrieve its position. The chance lies in not trying to step into larger shoes.

In the see-saw battle between the Army and the civilian government, the losses so far on either side are equal; Husain Haqqani is out and so is Lt. Gen. Khan the Defence Secretary. Many more heads could roll before the dye is cast. At the root, it is a long drawn battle between the CIA and ISI, the bosom friends of yester years meaning the days of Mujahedeen war in Afghanistan.

In this sordid mess, we should not exclude the possibility of ISI playing a big mischief on Indian front. It may whip up Kashmir-related anti-India hysteria among Pakistani civilian population, cry wolf and even repeat Kargil- like story to divert the attention of the people from political chaos and economic bankruptcy prevailing in Pakistan.

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