Military power

Pakistani army must be tamed

The Statesman | Oct 22, 2000

Though present apprehensions of Aziz and Mahmoud Ahmed posing a threat to Musharraf would appear to be exaggerated, they may fall out with their leader if Musharraf appears to give in and compromises with either India or the West on Pakistan's policies on major issues such as the resolution of the Kashmir issue, the continuation of Pakistan's covert support for the terrorist organisations, Pakistan's stand on the CTBT and Pakistan's ongoing involvement in Afghanistan. The real problem between India and Pakistan is the Pakistan army and its abnormal influence in Pakistan's affairs, not Kashmir or any other issue.

One year has passed since the military jackboot returned once again to crush Pakistan’s fledgling democracy and the hopes and dreams of its oppressed citizens. The international community has watched helplessly as General Pervez Musharraf, the Chief Executive, and his hawkish senior colleagues have gone about systematically undermining civilian administrative structures and placing In supervisory positions junior army officers to extend military governance down to the grassroots levels. Bruised and battered into submission and disillusioned by many decades of either direct military rule or the military watchful oversight over national affairs through a proxy civilian government, the people of Pakistan appear to have resigned themselves to their fate.

While enunciating the aims and objectives of his military regime, Musharraf had promised to rebuild national confidence and morale, remove inter-provincial disharmony and restore national cohesion. He had also indicated that he would strive to revive the economy and restore investor confidence; ensure law and order and dispense speedy justice; depoliticise state institutions; devolve power to the grassroots level and ensure swift and across the board accountability. So far, his regime has failed to deliver on almost all counts.

GHQ Supreme

Initial public support for the army has since waned and the people are despairing of one type of poor governance having been replaced by another and a more authoritarian one to boot. Musharraf appears to be modelling himself in the manner of the late Zia-ul Haq. He describes himself as the “nation’s last chance”. An increasing number of editorials and opinion pieces expressing dissatisfaction with the performance of the military regime are appearing in the Pakistan press. Writing in Dawn, columnist Ayaz Amir said: “Since dislodging a civilian government in Pakistan takes about as much time as fixing a complicated tyre puncture, sending Nawaz Sharif to the cleaners was the easy part. Creating some order out of the chaos of Pakistan’s problems is more difficult. In coming to grips with this task, the senior officers who removed Nawaz Sharif with so much aplomb look decidedly less sure of themselves”.

It is now clear that Musharraf’s initial agenda of political and domestic reform and economic restructuring, enunciated in October 1999, has shifted to one of Islamisation, a more abrasive foreign policy and a tacit tolerance of the jehadi culture. All powers of governance and decision-making have been concentrated in the Pakistan army General Headquarters. The affairs of this military regime are being conducted mostly from the GHQ, unlike previous military rulers who had tried and mostly succeeded in keeping the GHQ out of day-to-day governance.

The think-tank that was to play a key role in advising the army, the National Security Council and the Cabinet has withered in importance. The system of political patronage, developed into a fine art by both Bhutto and Sharif, is now being practised with equal finesse by the military. Meanwhile, Musharraf still finds himself unable to set a timetable for a return to democracy. He has announced that polls for a three-tier system of local bodies would be held between December 2000 and 14 August 2001. However, polls for the National Assembly still appear to be a long way off.

The military regime’s concentration on a witch-hunt against Nawaz Sharif, rather than on the pressing problems facing Pakistan, has not gone down well with the people. Asking the senior judges to swear a new oath of loyalty to the chief executive and the sacking of those who refused to oblige, including the chief justice, has alienated the judiciary and the intelligentsia. However, “packing” the judiciary helped the military regime to get a favourable verdict in its case against Nawaz Sharif and the Supreme Court has justified Musharraf’s coup on the “doctrine of necessity”. Also, Musharraf has made no attempt to build bridges with the politicians, perhaps because he does not know with whom he should deal. He has gone on record to state that he would never hand over power to Nawaz Shari or Benazir Bhutto. Completely ignoring the politicians would be a mistake in the long run.

Though the politicians are in disarray at present, there is a fair possibility of the emergence of a broad alliance cutting across the political divide. Sharifs Pakistan Muslim League, now led by a vibrant Kulsoom Nawaz, and Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party, may consider it wise come together to oppose the military regime. If there is any section of the Pakistan elite that appears to be satisfied with the Musharraf regime’s performance, it is the Muslim clergy and the terrorist outfits spawned by it. The so-called jehadis are the only ones who have received the military governments active support and that is because of the remarkable consistency in the Pakistan army’s and the clergy’s anti-India posturing and actions.


If the International Monetary Fund does not bail out Pakistan’s crumbling economy with a $1.5 billion loan soon, Pakistan will be well on its way to becoming a failed state by 2001 as, by December 2000, the previously rescheduled short-term debt of $3.5 billion would also become due. Pakistan, of course, is working on the assumption that the P-5 and the G-8 would not let a state armed with nuclear weapons become a failed state. While that may prove to be true, Pakistan’s current rulers fall to realise that the IMF and the World Bank will prescribe bitter remedies for Pakistan’s economic maladies that have been caused to a large extent by profligate defence spending.

The Pakistan army is Becoming increasingly high-handed in its dealings with the public. Reports appearing in the Urdu press speak of increasing corruption at the lower level where young officers and other ranks come face to face with the public while collecting taxes.

Direct involvement in the running of administration is bound to corrupt the rank and file. As it is, the petty politician-bureaucrat-police-narcotics trader-arms dealer nexus in the Northwest Frontier Province, under the benevolent eye of local army commanders and ISI operatives over the last 20 years of the Afghan conflict, has already led to army troops stationed in the area and involved in imparting training and providing logistics support to the various militias being completely corrupted.

Relatively few offenders have actually been tried by military courts due to the tendency of the unit commanders to shield their men as the malaise is widespread and every case tends to open a new can of worms.

Apprehensions that the Musharraf regime may be overthrown keep surfacing. Selig Harrison, Senior Fellow at the Century Foundation in the United States, has expressed the view that Lieutenant Generals Mohammed Aziz, the Chief of the General Staff, and Mahmoud Ahmed, the Director General of the ISI, both with long-standing ties with the Harkat ul Mujahideen, may “elbow Musharraf aside”.

Real Problems

Musharraf is a Mohajir with no ethnic phase in Pakistan. Aziz, a Zia protege, is a Punjabi-speaking hardliner with his roots in POK. He directed the ISI’s activities in Afghanistan for many years and is considered a Kashmir expert due to the long tenures he has served in POK. He is known to have masterminded the Kargil excursion. Aziz is a hawk with fundamentalist leanings and is against a rapprochement with India.

Though present apprehensions of Aziz and Mahmoud Ahmed posing a threat to Musharraf would appear to be exaggerated, they may fall out with their leader if Musharraf appears to give in and compromises with either India or the West on Pakistan’s policies on major issues such as the resolution of the Kashmir issue, the continuation of Pakistan’s covert support for the terrorist organisations, Pakistan’s stand on the CTBT and Pakistan’s ongoing involvement in Afghanistan.

The real problem between India and Pakistan is the Pakistan army and its abnormal influence in Pakistan’s affairs, not Kashmir or any other issue. Till the Pakistani army is tamed and genuine democracy takes root in Pakistan, Indo-Pak problems will remain irreconcilable. Concerted international efforts must be made to ensure that the Pakistani army is not allowed to rule unhindered and develop into an even more powerful force.

India must influence Western democracies to refrain from conducting business as usual with the Pakistani military junta and from encouraging it in any manner.