Pakistan's Man in the Shadows - Wall Street Journal

Discussion in 'Pakistan' started by ejazr, Apr 15, 2011.

  1. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

    Oct 8, 2009
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    Hyderabad and Sydney

    he U.S. and India need to better understand the military power behind the civilian throne.

    The United States and India, budding economic and political partners, share a common problem. Despite providing aid and repeatedly attempting diplomacy, both nations cannot eradicate what President Barack Obama has called the "cancer" of terrorism in Pakistan.

    The country continues to subvert American efforts in Afghanistan by remaining a hub for al Qaeda and the Taliban. This week, it demanded that Washington withdraw many of its Special Forces and CIA operatives from the country. And it threatens India by allowing terrorist outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami, who have been known to lead attacks on Indian cities, to continue to operate within its borders.

    The problem is that neither Washington nor New Delhi has a coherent strategy to coax or coerce Pakistan. Both have failed to appreciate how integral Pakistan's military has become in steering the Pakistani ship. They need to concentrate their efforts on influencing the man behind its wheel: Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Kayani.

    Consider the role the army plays in Pakistan's power structure. From Ayub Khan's coup d'état in 1958, to Zia-ul-Haq's hanging of then-Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1979, to Pervez Musharraf's takeover in 1999, the nation has become increasingly militarized. The military sees itself as the backbone of the Pakistani nation-state because it has been the core of stability amid democratic failures, assassinations, and terrorist attacks.

    During domestic crises like the floods last fall the military takes charge in providing relief. This increases its credibility in the popular mind, and its ability to assert its will against civilian leaders.

    In a country like the U.S. or India, one could at least argue that the military's interests are aligned with, or subordinate to, broader national interests. Not so in Pakistan.

    For instance, Gen. Kayani in 2007 derailed the path to an imminent solution on Kashmir between India and Pakistan. While a resolution to the Kashmir issue may be good for Pakistan's economic interests, it would have undermined the military, whose dominance depends on the bogey of Indian aggression.

    And because of the power the army wields in the political structure, its priorities end up becoming those of the Pakistani nation. Reports this week suggest that Gen. Kayani was responsible for the ultimatum Pakistan delivered to the U.S. on CIA and Special Forces presence.

    Over the course of his tenure since 2007, Gen. Kayani has increased this dominance as he consolidated power. Last year, he got a three-year extension on his term as chief of army staff, an unprecedented step which raised eyebrows in Pakistan's civil society. And he seems a part of the Pakistani military's old guard. American officials who have interacted with him acknowledge his "India-centric" bias, a mindset grounded in the traditional rivalry of the post-independence era.

    One way Gen. Kayani has made sure he retains power is by understanding—and shrewdly avoiding—the trials and tribulations of his predecessor, Pervez Musharraf. In August 2008, nine years after he had become military dictator and seven years after he had appointed himself as president, Mr. Musharraf was ousted because of troubles on the civilian front. He became deeply unpopular following the 2007 siege of an Islamabad mosque-turned-terrorist hideout, the suspension of the country's chief justice in March 2007, and continued domestic instability. Pakistan's version of democracy needed an outlet for expressing public dissatisfaction, and as the civilian leader, Mr. Musharraf became the target and faced impeachment by opportunistic political rivals.

    By 2008, the country had returned to a nominal democracy, with Asif Ali Zardari as president and Yusuf Raza Gilani as prime minister. Unlike Mr. Musharraf, Gen. Kayani faces no such political pressure under this system. The violence and economic insecurity continues, but now Zardari and Gilani oversee the civilian government—and take much of the blame. Pakistanis are increasingly disillusioned with these leaders, who likely won't survive the country's next general election, due in 2013.

    Gen. Kayani is playing it smart. In Pakistan, the civilian leadership governs in name only, but it is the lightning rod for public dissatisfaction. This is a lesson that Mr. Musharraf learned the hard way when he assumed civilian control.

    Gen. Kayani, on the other hand, has kept civilian power at arm's length, avoiding criticism while quietly ruling from behind the curtain. Messrs. Zardari and Gilani are mere puppets for him, interchangeable with the next administration.

    While both New Delhi and Washington may understand these realities on some level, they need to internalize them through their actions. India continues to be fooled by the false hope of civilian engagement. During the cricket world cup that ended earlier this month—and whose semi-final Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mr. Gilani attended—India announced the creation of a counterterrorism "hotline" between home secretaries in New Delhi and Islamabad, Pakistan's civilian capital. If Mr. Singh really wants to engage with Pakistan, the hotline should link Delhi to Rawalpindi, the city near Islamabad where the military has its headquarters.

    Washington has tried engaging with Gen. Kayani, but doesn't seem to be succeeding either. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen clearly wishes to ensure that his counterpart focuses on the Taliban in the west of Pakistan, instead of India on the east. But he has not succeeded.

    More problematic is the U.S.'s broader, schizophrenic Pakistan approach. In the course of this year, Washington has announced a new multibillion-dollar aid program, tried haphazard attempts at diplomatic engagement and, in a White House report last week, rebuked the country's tepid counterterrorism efforts.

    These discrete and often contradictory messages are the consequence of a fundamental misunderstanding. U.S. diplomats have often quipped that Pakistan is the only country in the world that negotiates with a gun held to its own head—that is, where the army threatens the civilian leadership's diplomatic efforts. But the theory that Pakistan is divided between the civilian and military side is false. The army is clearly in control.

    To succeed, the U.S. and India must first call this bluff. Instead of spending time sympathizing with the civilians, they should sternly engage with the military.

    For the U.S., this means detaching from the "frenemy" approach to engagement—a mixture of rebukes and concessions—and providing an ultimatum to Gen. Kayani. If the U.S. cannot rely on his military to fight terrorists, then his military should no longer count on America's resources.

    For India, it will begin with an understanding that the temptation of high-profile talks and small concessions will not lead to long-term peace unless they are done with the explicit approval of the army.

    In one respect, the task at hand is now more challenging. Gen. Kayani, who has every interest in preserving the status quo, won't be easy to coax or coerce. But the task is also simpler: The U.S. and India no longer have to spread their strategies thin.

    Instead of promising to help Islamabad build schools and fight corruption, Washington and New Delhi simply have to voice their concerns about terrorism and Kashmir to Rawalpindi, and refocus on the one man who can genuinely address them.

    Mr. Shah is a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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