Islamabad diary: Army steps to the fore once again

Ayaz Amir
There’s no escaping our fate. We are not children of midnight. We are children of ineptitude, intellectual and moral bankrupts, incapable of managing our affairs, a circumstance proven yet again by the decision at the highest level to entrust the affairs of embattled FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) to the army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani.
At a meeting presided over by Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani—we call Hamid Karzai Mayor of Kabul but Gilani, poor soul, is not even Mayor of Islamabad—it was decided that the army chief would be “the principal for application of military force.” A convoluted phrase but its meaning is clear: Kayani will be the ultimate authority to decide matters of war and peace in FATA. He will decide what troops to send into battle. The Frontier Corps and other law-enforcing agencies in the area will fall under his command for purposes of military operations. What is more, he will decide about the level of cooperation, etc, with American-led NATO forces in Afghanistan. Thus he will be his own foreign minister and his own defence adviser.

As an abdication of responsibility on the part of whatever passes for government in Islamabad nothing can be more comprehensive than this shifting of responsibility for tackling the fast-deteriorating situation in the tribal areas onto the shoulders of the army.

Not that there is no logic in this abdication because there is very little of any effective government in Islamabad. Gilani is not his own master. He takes his cue from Zardari House and the men surrounding him in key positions are Zardari appointees.

As for Zardari, he is too busy managing his own affairs and flying off to Dubai every now and then and in making inane statements, now verging on the absurd, as for instance the latest offering from him to the effect that very soon the slogan “Jiay Bhutto” would resound in the Presidency when a PPP man comes to occupy the president’s office. May Heaven preserve us from this calamity. We know the wreck created by the last PPP man to be president, Farooq Leghari, the nation, and the PPP, paying a heavy price for his obstinacy and limited outlook. No repeat performances, please. One Salmaan Taseer is enough as Punjab governor. Another Salmaan Taseer in the presidency and we’ll be that much closer to our next coup d’etat.

Not that the PML-N’s choice of president, when it had the opportunity to elect one in 1997, was much of an improvement. Justice Rafiq Tarar may be a man of many parts but as president he looked little better than a Sharif family flunkey. To his credit he has remained loyal to the PML-N ever since but the point remains that our political parties show little imagination when it comes to taking major decisions.

My choice for the next president of Pakistan, someone who can bring grace and dignity to this office: Rana Bhagwandas or Justice Wajeehuddin. The Constitution says only a Muslim can be president. Too bad for Rana Bhagwandas although I think that in his conduct he has shown himself a better Muslim than most denizens of the Islamic Republic.

Anyway, this is a digression for which I may be forgiven. As I say, there’s a grim logic to the army chief taking over the reins of FATA in his hands because the political leadership thrown to the front by the people’s verdict of February 18 is clueless and directionless, lashing out at shadows and showing scant regard for the real issues facing the country.

Gilani is not to be blamed because he was meant to be no more than his master’s voice (although I do think that if left to his own devices he would be a more effective PM than he is being allowed to be). But things are no better on the PML-N front where its leadership is hypnotized by a single issue: the restoration of the judges deposed by Musharraf’s Nov 3 emergency decree. Like a rabbit caught in the headlights of a car the PML-N is trapped in the complications of this one issue, to the exclusion of all others, including the dark clouds massing over our western marches.

Understanding all too well the PML-N’s predicament, Asif Ali Zardari, the Prince Regent of this increasingly creaky dispensation, has played a tantalizing game, holding a glass of water (or is it vinegar?) to the PML-N’s parched lips and then withdrawing it at the last minute, always holding out the promise of a deal on the judges’ issue but never quite coming close to fulfilling it.

The PML-N should have moved on. In response to Zardari’s game it could have called down a plague on his constitutional package, something dear to his heart because one of the aims of this package is to protect the Musharraf ordinance, the NRO, which did away with all the corruption cases against Zardari. But the PML-N remains impaled on the horns of this one issue.

Given these depressing circumstances what has happened was bound to happen. A vacuum can’t stay a vacuum forever. The vacuum created on the national scene by the dithering of the political forces emerging as victors in the Feb elections was bound to be filled sooner or later. And the situation in FATA becoming alarming, and indeed taking a turn for the worse, it has been filled by—no marks for guessing–the army, with Gen Kayani assuming control and the civilian leadership, all too readily, abdicating responsibility.

In the Second World War Stalin led the Soviet war effort, not Marshal Zhukov or any other marshal. American and British generals were in command of their respective battlefields but the big decisions were taken by Roosevelt and Churchill. You can say this is not a fair analogy, comparing Pakistan’s puny circumstances to the drama of the Second World War. But the principle of it remains the same: generals command the battlefield while the big decisions are taken by their civilian bosses. Not for the first time in Pakistan’s history this principle is once again being overturned. Then we talk of military adventurism, forgetting that more often than not the spur to military adventurism has been civilian inadequacy.

Anyhow, all else on the national scene is play-acting and shadow-boxing compared to the situation in FATA where the entire length and breadth of our tribal areas, all seven tribal agencies of them, are in danger of slipping out of federal control—that is, if they haven’t slipped out of it already. These are the wages of American tutelage, the consequences of Musharraf’s decision to blindly follow American dictates post-Sep 11, 2001. Musharraf thought he was securing himself and Pakistan by aligning himself with the United States. About himself he may have been correct. About Pakistan he could not have been more disastrously wrong because his decision, fateful in the extreme, has destabilized our western frontier.

There were no Taliban in FATA prior to Sep 2001. Now they are very much in control. And the genie is not remaining confined to its place of birth. Seeing how fragile the internal defences of Pakistan are, it is spreading its wings and expanding its influence into what we like to call the ‘settled’ districts of the Frontier province. At this rate, few things will remain settled for long.

The official announcement coming out of Islamabad on Wednesday evening goes on to say, “The focus (from now on) will be to initiate swift operations based on actionable intelligence to eliminate terrorists and to stop hostile movement across the border for operations against the coalition forces in Afghanistan; decide on the level of liaison, contact and cooperation with ISAF in Afghanistan and keep the government appropriately informed…”

This is a troubling paragraph which could almost have been drafted in ISAF headquarters in Kabul. Musharraf tried the same tack–actionable intelligence, swift operations, etc–resulting in heavy casualties suffered by our forces and the alienation of our Pakhtoon tribal population once it had to endure the consequences of military operations. If the mantra–actionable intelligence, swift operations, etc–remains the same, how is Kayani’s approach going to be any different?

The military option has failed in Iraq; it is on the verge of failing in Afghanistan; it has proven its failure in our tribal areas. We need new options, not the reinforcing of the old ones.

Iraq will know no peace as long as American forces remain there. Afghanistan will remain on the boil as long as foreign forces, which Afghans throughout the last two centuries of their history have never accepted, remain on their soil as occupying armies. The Pakhtoon of our tribal belt has been historically hostile to outside interference. General Headquarters need to think hard whether any military option can succeed in our tribal areas as long as Pakistan remains an American ally or, as many Pakistanis tend to think, an American lackey.


Source: The News, 27/6/2008

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