This is a fascinating report in Dawn about a briefing given by a “top military official” to “editors, anchors, and columnists” on Sunday. The top military official gave these comments on the condition of strict anonymity. This briefing to the main opinion makers in the Pakistani media was given on Sunday on the day of the first set of leaks from Wikileaks.
The interesting thing about this meeting is that just by reading it, a few things are apparent :-
This “anonymous military official” can be no other than General Kayani. No other military official would speak so authoritatively on every aspect of Pakistani security policy.
The contents of this media briefing consist of an entire set of media talking points for the next few months’ news cycle. Note how an entire national narrative of grievance is supplied to the media personalities in order for them to project this to their viewership:
Detailing frank exchanges between the uppermost echelons of the Pakistan military and the Obama administration, the senior military official listed a catalogue of complaints the ‘people of Pakistan’ have against the US.
These include: the US still has a ‘transactional’ relationship with Pakistan; the US is interested in perpetuating a state of ‘controlled chaos’ in Pakistan; and, perhaps most explosively given the WikiLeaks’ revelations, the “real aim of US strategy is to de-nuclearise Pakistan”.
The most interesting thing to me is that this narrative is not presented as a military perspective but instead framed as “a catalogue of complaints that the people of Pakistan have against the US. See how easily General Kayani fuses the military’s interests with those of the people of Pakistan.
General Kayani then goes on to outline the entire array of talking points for the near future – he discusses US withdrawal from Afghanistan, what a satisfactory end-state in Afghanistan would look like for the Pakistani army, what Afghanistan’s relationship with India should be allowed to be, and that the Pakistani military will continue to be “India-centric”.
At first, upon reading this, one must wonder why Dawn is acting like a stenographer for General Kayani and faithfully transcribing his comments in this one. But upon later reflection, it is useful for the reader for Dawn to have described this briefing. For one thing, it’s quite obvious who is talking here, so we know that General Kayani has taken it upon himself to brief the major media players prior to the latest diplomatic crisis between Pakistan and the US. By describing everything that General Kayani said to these media persons, we, as future consumers of the media generated by these individuals gain a better understanding of some of the factors influencing these individuals. Indeed, as a daily reader/viewer of Pakistani news, these talking points should be incredibly familiar to you. For example, here is General Kayani’s talking point:
The official also repeatedly stressed that the ‘frames of reference’ of the US and Pakistan with regard to regional security matters “can never be the same and this must be acknowledged”. Furthermore, the official claimed, the dichotomy between short-term US interests and long-term Pakistani security interests needs to be kept in mind at all times.
Now here is an opinion journalist Mosharraf Zaidi, repeating the same talking point:
It boils down to this: Pakistan’s interests in Pakistan and in the region are simply not the same as those that the US and other Nato powers have. Unlike alliances that go back a long way and seem to endure all shades of politics, like the special relationship between Great Britain and the United States, Pakistan’s relationship with the United States is decidedly inorganic. To stimulate each other the right way, the United States pays the Pakistani military, and gingerly, its civilian government, to put the squeeze on the safe havens for bad guys in Pakistan that are targeting US and Nato troops in Afghanistan.
Or consider the following set of talking points issued by General Kayani on the issue of a North Waziristan operation:
Nevertheless, citing three factors, the official downplayed the possibility of an imminent operation in NWA. First, the official said, South Waziristan needs to be resettled. Second, the country had to prepare for the ‘serious blowback’ of an operation in NWA, which would include terrorist attacks in the cities and a fresh wave of Internally Displaced Persons.
Third, the official stressed the need for the “creation of a political consensus”. Referring to a similar consensus developed in the run-up to Operation Rah-i-Rast in Swat, the official suggested politicians, the media and the Pakistani public would have to demonstrate their support for a military operation in NWA before the army would undertake one.
When told of Prime Minister Gilani’s comment that there is no need for a fresh consensus because the support for the operation in South Waziristan also extends to North Waziristan, the official responded sharply: “I will not do it unless there is a political consensus on North Waziristan.”
Now read this article by Sherry Rehman who also happens to be a member of the National Security Committee in Pakistan’s Parliament. Here is what Sherry Rehman has to say about a North Waziristan operation.
The politics of a military operation are never easy. No military relishes fighting inside its own borders, and no civilian, elected government embraces the use of force as a first, or even second option. The government has thrown its full weight behind the operations, despite the costs that accrue from such initiatives. As a result, Pakistan now has its own generation of lost people, human tragedies, economic crises, internal strife and political instability.
While the military presses on with an offensive in Orakzai agency, there will be little room to divert forces for anything more than strategic strikes on NWA areas where the terrorists cluster. Pakistan must dismantle al-Qaida as well as India-centric jihadist outfits as a priority. It also must allow Kabul to form its own stable government and hope for a friendly partner. But it will need Pakhtuns to maintain stability in Afghan border provinces after the expected US troop withdrawal in 2011. Seeking more than surgical raids in NWA is asking for too much. Pakistan must act decisively against terrorists, but using its own gameplan.
How many times have we heard a journalist/analyst/anchor repeat the point that Pakistan’s interests and the US’s interests in Afghanistan are simply not the same or that Pakistan must conduct the North Waziristan operation “on its own time” and “in keeping with its own long-term strategic interests” rather than following the dictates of short-term US pressure. Perhaps General Kayani is simply a very sensible and insightful geopolitical analyst and his analysis is just so correct that it reflects reality. Or perhaps, just perhaps, sessions like the one reported by Dawn are conducted precisely in order to shape the national narrative which is then uncritically propagated by patriotic journalists across various fora. After all, it is not at all difficult to present a counter narrative to the one being presented by General Kayani (and Sherry Rehman) on North Waziristan. Readers of this blog will be aware of the many unanswered questions regarding the securing of Pakistanis “strategic assets” in North Waziristan – namely the Haqqani group. Readers will also be aware of the opinion put forward by analysts like Dr. Muhammad Taqi, Farhat Taj and Ali K Chishti that the conflict in Kurram is related to the military establishment’s frantic moves to secure these precious assets and conceal them in the event that they are forced by the US or by the discovery of another Faisal Shehzad plot to launch an operation in North Wazirstan. An intelligent person should, after reading Dr. Taqi’s article on Kurram, be able to deconstruct some of General Kayani’s talking points and perhaps even question them as being simply a cover for a deeper game being played by the Pakistani establishment. And surely, as readers, we deserve to have these questions raised in the mainstream media, on our talk shows and in our op-eds in order to question the cosy narrative that we are being forced to swallow by General Kayani.
The point is not that Sherry Rehman or General Kayani’s argument regarding the delaying of the North Waziristan operation is necessarily invalid, but that it’s not the only valid perspective given the facts that we know about the situation in Kurram and North Waziristan. And yet it has become the mainstream perspective, thanks to the line propagated by General Kayani and the ISPR being regurgitated uncritically by the mainstream media. Similarly, it is possible that Pakistani and US interests are indeed not aligned in Afghanistan. However, it is also possible (and indeed, LIKELY) that “Pakistani interests” in Afghanistan as formulated by the GHQ are suicidal and not really “Pakistani interests” but the interests of an intellectually paralyzed security state that simply cannot change its disastrous 30 year policy of slow-motion suicide at the hands of extremists.
Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa has written extensively on the deep tentacles that the GHQ has within the Pakistani media. Reading the report by Dawn on the briefing given to media personalities by General Kayani, one realizes the extent of this cancer. Who, in the media, will be bold enough to step out of this self-imposed mental cage or will we have to wait forever?