Jun 062008

WHAT a coincidence it was to read Mohammad Hanif’s novel A Case of Exploding Mangoes at a time when nothing seems to be changing in Pakistan. The novel — gripping and well-written — captivates the reader from the first line onwards as it mixes facts with fiction and provokes the reader’s imagination in connection with the mysterious death of General Zia and the dark days under the dictator.

Recalling the days under Gen Zia, there was a kind of despondency which had descended on society regarding the dictator’s departure. His exit seemed not only unlikely but almost impossible until, of course, his plane exploded. It may be tempting to draw parallels with the situation today. Since November, twice there have been rumours of President Musharraf leaving his position. The recent stories about the president preparing his household to board a flight to some unknown destination may well have been the expression of the wish of some people rather than a reflection of the ground reality. But the president might have taken it as an indicator of the desperation of some to see him resign and go. Obviously, this did not happen which leaves one to assess the other likely modes of exit, such as parliament developing the muscles to force him out or even more radical ways.

Recently, a friend with whom I was discussing the subject said that this might not happen because of the sense of camaraderie within the armed forces. The unwritten code in the military is to honour and respect the higher command. However, such a code may have been flouted should one believe those who say General Zia’s death was not the result of an accident and was actually an assassination. An assassination could not have happened without the involvement of insiders.

Musharraf is still a powerful man but is now up against divergent power centres in the country. Let’s consider the events of the recent past, especially the rumours of his departure. Is it just a coincidence that the media people, who are normally considered part of the deeper establishment, were the ones writing stories about the former general’s departure, with the normally obscure details of military officers’/units’ redeployment adorning the front-pages of their newspapers?

Or was it just the independence of the media that was on display when it aired the dance or thumka of the chairman of the CBR in front of his VVIP audience? No matter how entertaining the video was, a far more important question is whether the release of the film was an example of friction within the deeper establishment. Someone may have wanted to embarrass Musharraf. Someone may want him out.

Musharraf continues in office to serve as a bridge between American interests and certain Pakistani interests. Moreover, after taking off his uniform he has completely turned into a political animal who would like to depend at least partially upon the army for survival. No matter how resolutely Gen Kayani intends to stay away from politics, the fact is that he wouldn’t be able to stick to his guns if he is sucked into the game by others.

Already, there is friction between Musharraf and some politicians. And then there is the lawyers’ movement which wants the former general to quit. Certain sections of the media also seem to be calling upon General Kayani to move against his former chief in order to secure his exit. The economy appears to be in a tailspin.

However, even against this backdrop, General Kayani’s most important task is to save the integrity of his own institution with its independent goals and ambitions. While President Musharraf is there to watch over American interests such as the Pakistani military continuing to fight the war on terror or nuclear weapons not falling into the hands of unsavoury characters, the military is more concerned about a situation where the US or Nato forces might choose to directly attack Pakistani territory. The entire peace process with the jihadis is not just the idea of politicians, it was also conceived and implemented by the military.

This was not just on account of the Islamist influence but also to create space for the defence forces which were coming under attack from the jihadis. The military could always adopt the option of conducting surgical strikes in the form of targeted assassinations of the jihadi leadership but then some would argue why kill the jihadis when they could prove to be a formidable line of defence against external threats, including one from the US and India.

Now General Kayani, and not President Musharraf, represents the interests of the Pakistan Army and he could be getting uncomfortable with the president’s political game. To reiterate an earlier point, while Musharraf now plays a political game, Kayani has to look after his organisation and his own interests. It is significant that Musharraf did not take off his uniform until he had made sure that he filled many key roles in the organisation with people he could trust. Such a move naturally restricts the army chief.

The relative freedom of A.Q. Khan and rumours of the president’s departure and hostile statements of former officers are all part of the same plan to give Musharraf an opportunity to exit. Of course, the president is comfortable due to the unflinching support of the present US administration. In an attempt to hedge its bets, Washington also maintains close contact with General Kayani and has often made public the esteem in which it holds Musharraf’s successor as the army chief. All this leaves one element unclear: when it is the considered opinion of all those who matter that it’s time for the president to go, how will his exit be effected?

The writer is an independent strategic and political analyst.


Courtesy: Daily Dawn, 6/6/2008

 Posted by at 11:12 am

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