The Pakistani Army: Still the Conductor of Pakistan

The revelations on WikiLeaks about the damage done to US, NATO and Indian interests in Afghanistan by the sinister nexus between the ISI, Pakistan’s external intelligence agency, and the various factions of the Taliban supported by it, have  caused irreparable harm to Pakistan’s fledging democracy and the civilian government’s already floundering foreign policy. Also, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has given General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and a former director general of the ISI, an unprecedented extension for three years. 
The last such extension was given to General Ayub Khan and the world knows how it turned out. Has Gilani set in motion events that will lead up to another military coup in Pakistan? Kayani has carefully scripted the façade that he supports democracy, but only time and the internal security situation will reveal his real intentions.
Incidentally, Gilani did not consult PML (Nawaz), the main opposition party before announcing the extension. Though Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has denied it, American pressure contributed substantially to the decision. US and NATO-ISAF forces in Afghanistan have come to believe that though Kayani is not a perfect partner in the war on terror, any one else would be far worse. Clearly, civilian rule over two years has failed to usher in genuine democracy in Pakistan and the army Chief continues to remain the ultimate arbiter of the nation’s destiny.
In his long rule, General Musharraf had proved himself to be bereft of genuine ideas on the resolution of Pakistan’s political, economic, social and religion-related problems, but he batted well for Pakistan in handling major foreign policy issues. When the US and its NATO allies launched an invasion of Afghanistan after the attacks on September 11, 2001, Musharraf succeeded in pitch forking his country once again to the status of a frontline state. The Pakistan army gleefully accepted all the goodies that the Americans offered without reciprocating in a manner that the Americans had wanted them to; i.e. to fight the Taliban-al Qaeda terrorists on Pakistan soil and to stop aiding and abetting their Taliban protégés in Afghanistan. President Obama’s hard-headed Af-Pak strategy gradually forced the Pakistan to reluctantly launch counter-insurgency operations against the Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) to stop its march to Islamabad. Now that the Taliban has been defeated in Swat, Buner and South Waziristan and Baitullah Mehsud and his successor Hakimullah Mehsud have been killed in US drone strike in FATA, the Pakistan army is no longer under too much pressure, except to act against the terrorists in North Waziristan.
The clearest lesson to emerge from the civil-military imbroglio in Pakistan is that, as long as the Pakistani armed forces remain far more powerful than the country’s legitimate security considerations warrant, repeated military coups will continue to hang over Pakistan’s democracy like the proverbial sword of Damocles. The well-wishers of Pakistan in the West, who have consistently and rather naively, been supporting the Pakistan army, ostensibly in order to strengthen democracy in Pakistan, including premier think-tanks like the Washington-based Council for Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institution, need to re-assess their warped analyses.
General Musharraf’s military regime had declared that, “Pakistan would continue to support with moral, political and diplomatic backing militants seeking independence of Kashmir from India.” Despite his peace overtures towards India, Nawaz Sharif had also promised “many more Kargils.” Indian policy planners clearly understand that Pakistan’s military President had merely reiterated Pakistan’s proxy war policy to annex Kashmir by any means and to continue Pakistan’s strategy to bleed India through a thousand cuts. Perhaps the Mumbai terror attacks that are known to have been perpetuated by the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and directed throughout by the ISI were part of this strategy of aggressive engagement. The real problem between India and Pakistan is the Pakistan army and its abnormal influence in Pakistan’s affairs, and not the Kashmir issue or any other issue. Till the Pakistan army is tamed and genuine democracy takes root in Pakistan, India-Pakistan problems will remain irreconcilable.
Pakistan is now recognised as the world’s mother nation in spreading the cult of radical extremism through state-sponsored terrorism. It could not have achieved this dubious distinction but for its unjustifiably large army and its external intelligence agency, the ISI. Concerted international efforts must be made in the long-term interest of Pakistani democracy and regional stability to ensure that the Pakistan army is not allowed to rule unhindered from behind the scenes and further build itself into an even more powerful force. In this respect, the conventional military aid being given to the Pakistan army by the US and its allies is a retrograde step.
With an elected civilian government in power, Pakistan now has an opportunity to redeem itself. It remains to be seen whether the Asif Zardari led coalition will take effective measures to set Pakistan firmly on a democratic course or if it will fritter away its mandate in petty political machinations. So far, the record of the civilian government has been uninspiring. Whispers of a nexus between Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and the army top brass have now turned out to be true. The army may not allow President Asif Zardari to continue in power for very long.
South Asia is now the second most unstable region in the world after West Asia. The epicentre of instability is the Af-Pak region. Pakistan’s regional neighbours must play their part in countering the army and the ISI’s undue influence in Pakistan’s polity and in Afghan affairs. India must leverage its influence with Western democracies to prevail on them to refrain from conducting business as usual with the Pakistan military. India must also seriously consider contributing militarily to defeating the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan – by way of training, equipment and logistics support for the Afghan National Army and, if needed, through a physical military presence.
Gurmeet Kanwal is the Director of the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), a New Delhi based think-tank.