Army Chief Driving Pakistan’s Agenda for Talks

ajtr

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Army Chief Driving Pakistan’s Agenda for Talks

KARACHI, Pakistan — In a sign of the mounting power of the army over the civilian government in Pakistan, the head of the military, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, will be the dominant Pakistani participant in important meetings in Washington this week.

T. Mughal/European Pressphoto Agency
Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has met with cabinet officials at the military's headquarters.

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At home, much has been made of how General Kayani has driven the agenda for the talks. They have been billed as cabinet-level meetings, with the foreign minister as the nominal head of the Pakistani delegation. But it has been the general who has been calling the civilian heads of major government departments, including finance and foreign affairs, to his army headquarters to discuss final details, an unusual move in a democratic system.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has been taking a public role in trying to set the tone, insisting that the United States needs to do more for Pakistan, as “we have already done too much.” And it was at his request that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton agreed this fall to reopen talks between the countries at the ministerial level.

The talks are expected to help define the relationship between the United States and Pakistan as the war against the Taliban reaches its endgame phase in Afghanistan. It is in that context that General Kayani’s role in organizing the agenda has raised alarm here in Pakistan, a country with a long history of military juntas.

The leading financial newspaper, The Business Recorder, suggested in an editorial that the civilian government of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani should act more forcefully and “shun creating an environment conducive to military intervention.”

The editorial added, “The government needs to consolidate civilian rule instead of handing over its responsibilities, like coordination between different departments, to the military.”

“General Kayani is in the driver’s seat,” said Rifaat Hussain, a professor of international relations at Islamabad University. “It is unprecedented that an army chief of staff preside over a meeting of federal secretaries.”

General Kayani visited the headquarters of the United States Central Command in Tampa, Fla., over the weekend, and will attend meetings at the Pentagon with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Monday. He is also to attend the opening ceremony of the talks between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Qureshi at the State Department on Wednesday, a spokesman at the American Embassy in Islamabad said.

The most pressing concerns in the talks, according to officials on both sides, will be trying to establish confidence after several years of a corrosive relationship between allies, which only in the past few months has started to gain some positive momentum.

But the complexity of the main topics at hand — the eventual American pullout from Afghanistan, and Pakistan’s concerns about India — is expected to make for a tough round of talks.

On the positive side for Pakistan, the Obama administration has been rethinking its policies toward the country, said Maleeha Lodhi, a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States.

“There is a realization that some of its assumptions over the past year were not correct: that Pakistan’s security paradigm could be changed, that its military could be pressured,” Ms. Lodhi said.

Meanwhile, concerned about efforts by the Afghan government to engage in talks with Taliban rebels, who have important bases and allies on Pakistani soil, the Pakistani government will offer itself as a mediator in any such negotiations, Professor Hussain said.

He said that the message would be, “If you want to talk to bring the Afghan Taliban into the mainstream, you should talk to us.”

Tensions with Afghanistan have been raised by some of Pakistan’s recent operations against the Taliban, most notably the recent capture in Pakistan of a senior Afghan Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. The former head of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, said Friday that the arrest had jeopardized back-channel negotiations with Mr. Baradar’s faction of the Taliban.

But the spokesman for the Pakistani Foreign Ministry, Abdul Basit, said Saturday that Mr. Baradar’s arrest had nothing to do with reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan.

India’s growing role in Afghanistan was also high on Pakistan’s agenda. The spokesman for the Pakistani military, Gen. Athar Abbas, said Pakistan would be “conveying very clearly” its displeasure with India’s offer to help train the Afghan Army at the behest of American and NATO forces. Pakistan has made a counteroffer to train the Afghans, an offer that Pakistan knows is unlikely to be accepted but that it made to pressure Washington to stop the Indian proposal, Pakistani analysts said.

General Kayani arrives in Washington after what the Pakistani military considers a stellar nine months in fighting the Pakistani Taliban, first in the region of Swat and most recently in South Waziristan.

The militants, according to the Pakistanis, have been weakened in their bases in the tribal areas, but at a high cost. According to Pakistani Army figures, 2,377 soldiers were killed in the two campaigns. About 1 in 10 of those killed were officers, a very high rate, Professor Hussain said.

With those sacrifices and the heavy toll on army equipment in mind, Pakistan is expecting quicker reimbursement from the United States of its expenses in fighting the militants, General Abbas said.

Pakistan has complained that the United States has unfairly held up payments of $1.2 billion for 2009 under an agreement to help finance the fight against insurgents. For its part, Washington says its auditors need to satisfy Congress that the Pakistani military has properly spent the money owed.
 

ajtr

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Limits of military power

IN a rare press briefing last month, Gen Ashfaq Kayani said the success of military operations in the tribal regions have caused a substantial decline in cross-border attacks on Nato forces in Afghanistan and warned that it was essential to address Pakistan’s long-term strategic concerns for stability in the region.

A month later, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh concluded a historic three-day visit to Saudi Arabia and signed 10 bilateral agreements and the Riyadh Declaration. In a rare honour, Manmohan Singh was invited to address the Majlis-ash-Shura, the Saudi parliament, where he not only sought investments from the Islamic kingdom but also pressed the need for Pakistan to “act decisively against terrorism”. Earlier, when he landed in Riyadh, Singh was accorded an unprecedented welcome when, setting aside protocol, the Saudi crown prince and the entire cabinet turned up at the airport to receive him.

Manmohan Singh’s Saudi visit came two years after another landmark visit by him to China, which was a turning point in Indo-China relations. The joint communiqué issued after Singh’s 2008 visit to China declared “a shared vision for the 21st century of the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of India”. It went on to state: “China and India are the two largest developing nations on earth representing more than one-third of humanity. The two sides recognise that both China and India bear a significant historical responsibility to ensure comprehensive, balanced and sustainable economic and social development of the two countries and to promote peace and development in Asia and the world as a whole.”

On March 18, 2010, the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London published a report in which Jim O’Neill, the chief economist of Goldman Sachs — the world’s largest and most powerful investment bank — declared that China’s yuan was destined to become a global reserve currency rivalling the dollar and the euro. “The dollar-based monetary system is no longer adequate for a larger and more integrated world economy,” the report said.

These events are not necessarily related but deserve a thoughtful analysis by Pakistan’s security establishment which has nothing much to boast about except a series of historic blunders and massive policy failures since 1958.

In the recent months, the Pakistan Army’s leadership has shown a newfound confidence as a direct consequence of the success of its military campaigns in the northwest. The writ of the state of Pakistan appears to be extending to the areas that were lost or were never under its writ. Emboldened by its illusory success, the army’s high command has once again taken to actively and publicly calling the shots in all areas of governance from domestic polity to conducting strategic dialogue with Washington, to even matters like scolding Punjab’s chief minister over the latter’s extremely irresponsible remarks about Taliban leaving Punjab alone.

However, somebody ought to tell Gen Kayani: not so fast! The army leadership would do well to remember some lessons from Pakistan’s and contemporary international history.

1. Economic strength and size is the primary and the ultimate source of power. Note how Japan and Russia have been demoted to second-rate powers since the 1970s.

2. Pursuit of projection of military power beyond the economic capacity of a nation has disastrous consequences. The collapse of the Warsaw Pact alliance and then that of the Soviet Union in the 1980s and the decline of the US in the last decade clearly show this.

3. The participation of the military in the formulation and conduct of foreign policy may seem an illusory necessity but the Russian experience in the 1980s, Pentagon’s failures in Afghanistan and the Pakistan Army’s own debacles including the defeat in 1971, the heavy price of the Afghan jihad, Kashmir’s tragic fall from a freedom movement to a ‘terrorist problem’, and Kargil’s humiliating experience are stark reminders of what happens when generals suffer from megalomaniac ambitions that stretch their intellectual and military capabilities.

We must keep these lessons in mind as we face the gravest crisis since 1971. The so-called war on terror and a serious economic crunch have brought Pakistan to the brink again. The state is now imploding from within primarily because the establishment has considered submission to external hegemony a convenient means to rule. Since it does not derive its power and legitimacy from the people, it has shown callous disregard for even the security and minimal needs of its people. This is evident from years of autocratic governance, economic plunder, and neglect in building infrastructure. Yesterday, India was the threat and today Afghanistan has become an excuse to put aside nation-building economic development on the back burner.

Pakistan can learn a lot from the East Asian experience, particularly from China’s policy to focus on economic development and put conflicts in cold storage. Pakistan must put its house in order now and make economic development its most important domestic and foreign policy objective. This process must start with a gradual disengagement from the conflicts in Afghanistan and Kashmir and redefining ‘security’ to include energy, water and food security as being more important, and reallocation of resources through a restructuring of the armed forces with more emphasis on brains than brawn. What a brilliant prime minister and a few scientists achieved for Pakistan’s nuclear programme could not have been accomplished by all the army divisions and corps commanders combined.

Today Pakistan faces a more crucial challenge than the Taliban. It must find a way to transform itself from a dysfunctional client national-security state to a modern democracy with a sustainable economic development model which is appropriate for a country with one of the world’s largest, fastest growing, and youngest populations. It cannot hope to move towards that goal unless it disengages itself from overt and covert conflicts, realigns its foreign and economic policy focus from the West to the East, and empowers its people.

Disengagement, realignment and empowerment are the essential pre-conditions for the process of institution-building and economic development to start and take root in a meaningful sense. Otherwise the country’s progress will remain a mirage with a higher and growing risk of failure as a state. Peace, independent foreign policy and a plural democracy have to be the pillars of a modern Pakistan that is not a client, debt-ridden security state with a large, illiterate and impoverished population.
 

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