Can something good come out of the current political conflicts in Pakistan? Some signs are promising, other not so. We can only wish Pakistan well, so that it may become a truly democratic, tolerant country ruled by law.
Pakistan’s army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani is an antithesis of his predecessor General and President Musharraf. Musharraf was a braggart. Kayani is publicly self-effusive, but is a strong personality. He wants and did run the government but by remaining out of it. He withdrew most army officers from civilian posts. But his focus remained firmly on India as the Number 1 enemy, and strategic depth in Afghanistan i.e. remotely control the government in Kabul.
Kayani’s vision of Afghanistan as a strategic ally was much larger than that of Musharraf. He saw Afghanistan not only as a strategic depth against India, but as a vehicle in nearby Central Asia where the most sought after assets, oil and gas are located in huge quantities. The road to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean from Russia and Central Asia would be a hefty bargain. Islamic terrorist organizations were viewed as strategic assets, and Kayani is on record on this policy. He detested American interference, and saw President Asif Ali Zardari as a stooge of USA, who must be removed. Kayani also perceived an emerging US-India cooperation to counter his vision of Pakistan as a formidable regional power. The biggest Pakistani army backed terrorist attack on India, the Mumbai 26/11, took place under his command, and he scuttled any desire by the Pakistani civilian government to cooperate with India in any manner on this incident.
Kayani’s counter-face with Zardari and Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gilani ( and the USA) came after American CIA agent Raymond Davis killed two Pakistanis in Lahore. Following that was the killing of Al Qaeda Chief Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad military town in May last year by American commandos, which revealed the Pak army had protected the world’s most wanted terrorist. This exposed the Pakistani army’s terror link. He took the US/NATO strike on the army post in Salala last November which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. This was an opportunity Kayani would not miss. He forced the government to suspend all cooperation with the USA and NATO on counter-terrorism.
In parallel, a memo was allegedly masterminded by Zardari to former US Chairman of Joint Chief of Staff last May, asking for support against a possible army coup. The message was sent by Pakistan ambassador to the US, Hussain Haqqani, through a Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz. In fact, Ijaz revealed this communication. The Supreme Court is hearing this case following a petition by PML(N) Chief Nawaz Sharif. Zardari may be charged with treason.
A combination of developments has forced the army to stay its hands, at least for the time being. An assertive section of the press has been biting at the heels of the army and the ISI for the ills of terrorism plaguing the country, blind anti-Indianism, and the misplaced strategic depth policy in Afghanistan.
In a changed global scenario and information age, people have begun to see the ills of army rule, and the destruction heaped on the country by the army’s and ISI’s demonic pets, the Islamic terrorists.
The political parties are also against an army take over. PML (N) is no favourite of the army, nor is the PPP, the two largest political parties in the country. Others have also fallen in line. This helped the government to stand up against the army, and Gilani used this to get an overriding vote in the National Assembly (NA) on January 16 for democracy and not dictatorship (military rule) in Pakistan. Gilani, cleverly, avoided a no confidence motion which would have seen PML (N) voting against the government.
The battle, however, is hardly over. The Chief Justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court (SC) Iftikhar Chaudhry, is no lover of Zardari. The SC had nullified the 2007 National Reconciliation Order (NRO) which gave amnesty to Zardari on money laundered in Swiss banks. It directed the government in 2009 to reopen these cases by writing to the Swiss government. For his failure to comply with the court order, the Supreme Court summoned Gilani to appear before it for contempt of Court. Gilani appeared on the appointed date, January 1, with his lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan, another PPP lawyer. Gilani argued that under Article 248 of the constitution, Zardari enjoyed immunity during his tenure as President and, therefore, there was no cause for any action by him as Prime Minister. The SC bench exempted Gilani from further personal appearance, but directed his lawyer to present his case before the bench on February1.
The court will hear the arguments on February 2, and give a judgement on Art. 248. This will be a tight argument not on Art. 248, but also the power of the court to nullify the NRO. The court had been approached by the government earlier to reopen the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto execution, terming it as a “judicial execution”. But the SC had declined to go into it as too much time had lapsed. This will also be a contentious issue. The memo case against Zardari may also be tenuous, as there was no signature on it. It will depend on Blackberry records of Ambassador Haqqani having transmitted to Mansoor Ijaz. Technical issues can also be raised, as Kayani and ISI Chief Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha interviewed Ijaz in London, and submitted their responses to the SC without government clearance or following the proper procedures.
There are many ifs and buts in both the cases. About two weeks ago the SC gave six options to the government on the Zardari case, one of them being going for elections and the new parliament resolving it. It is very likely, or almost certain, that the government will announce elections by October or November, this year. In the meantime, the PPP is certain to win a majority in the senate elections in March, and strengthen its parliamentary position.
What will the army do now? It has indicated that it will support the Supreme Court, but not spelled out how. A move to arrest Zardari under a SC order may bring about another crisis. If Zardari gets temporary relief till the end of his tenure from the SC, other political parties like Imran Khan’s Tehrik-e-Insaf Pakistan may take to the streets. The PML (N) may follow suit. That may bring the election closer.
But the situation in Pakistan is fluctuating on a daily basis, making any definite conclusion difficult. The army should take a lesson here. Instead of seeking strategic depths outside the country and wasting resources against India, it should seek to cleanse the country of terrorism and sectarianism, disband its terrorist assets, and step aside to allow the civilian government to build the country. The army cannot wait any longer for their time tested ally China to come to their rescue. Beijing has made it clear. It wants the army to eradicate terrorism and militancy, one of China’s highest priorities at the moment.
(The writer, Mr Bhaskar Roy, is an eminent China analyst based in New Delhi.Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)