Original Articles

Whither civilian governance?

By Raza Rumi

Cross Posted from Pakteahouse

While the gurus of security and international affairs continue to unpack and make sense of the high-profile and much-hyped Pak-US ’strategic dialogue’, the people of Pakistan continue to ask questions about its direct relevance to their lives. If increased US investment in the energy sector and other poverty alleviation programmes would be outcomes of this exercise, perhaps there may be some hope for an ordinary Pakistani. However, it appears that the process of dialogue has harped on familiar tunes, adding to the sound and fury that defines Pak-US relations.

If anything, the re-emergence of the Pakistan Army’s ascendancy over national affairs has been a direct result of the much touted “strategic” dialogue. The Pakistan Army and its leadership have already taken over the foreign policy and recent developments suggest that their command and control over domestic policies of public interest remains as entrenched as ever. Whether this pertains to the meeting of top bureaucrats presided over by the Chief of the Army Staff, or the capitulation of the civilian government before the obsessively India-centric policy of our military-bureaucratic establishment, we are sure about who is calling the shots in the Land of the Pure.

Sadly, this viewpoint is now fully backed by an ultranationalist media posing as a neo-saviour of the country. Many leading journalists have openly welcomed the indirect takeover of the national policy process by the khakis . Given our history, the Pakistan Army has and will continue to play an important role in national politics. But, the resumption of civilian governance in 2008 resulted in a faint hope that Pakistan might witness key policy-shifts that were creative and different from the past trajectories. All such hopes have been dashed, for we continue to be mired in a situation where the political elites continue to wrangle and where the well-known, twisted civil-military relationship haunts us once again. The people of Sindh, Balochistan and the NWFP fail to understand why the hate-and-get-India campaign should be central to our Afghan policy. Whatever happened to the declarations made by President Zardari in 2008 about a radical departure on our India policy? We have to be realistic and cognizant of the fact that there is no alternative for a country like Pakistan except to pursue peaceful coexistence with its neighbours and solve problems through means other than strategic machinations.

The US is keen to make a deal with the Pakistan Army in a new civilian format. That may well be a short-term objective of the US establishment. However, the US is once again displaying its oblivion to history by agreeing to play ball with the khakis only. The US will always be viewed with skepticism by Pakistan’s exploding populace that now comprises a powerful group of young men and women with little hope in their country’s future (recent youth surveys testify to this fact). In addition, the rise of Islamism, thanks in part to another short-term strategy of the US to fight the Cold War as it turned a blind eye to the mock Islamisation under the Zia and later regimes, will pose a greater threat to the strategic objectives of the US in the region. Clichéd as it may sound, the Af-Pak conundrum cannot be resolved without the inclusion of the peoples of Pakistan in the decision-making process. Sadly, the parameters of policy engagement refuse to change and the political elites are once again giving in to the national security-led definitions of Pakistani statehood and society.

The partners embroiled in various strategic dialogue[s] need to learn three clear lessons of Pakistani history. First, militarisation of Pakistani society is neither in the interest of the hapless Pakistani population, nor their global allies and patrons. Second, Islamism is a brutal reality that cannot be tackled without a robust and secular political society in Pakistan. Last, Pakistan and Afghanistan’s problems can only be sorted out in the long-term by involving the regional powers such as Iran and India. Therefore, bilateral engagement needs to take place within a regional cooperation framework, based on the imperatives of trade, development and peace-building.

First published in The Friday Times

Raza Rumi is a policy advisor and a writer based in Lahore. He blogs at www.razarumi.com and edits Pak Tea House & Lahore Nama e-zines

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  • A man of destiny By Ayesha Siddiqa
    Karachi: Pakistan’s generals are reputed to be lucky. They may not start out well but eventually manage to wrap the world around their little finger. Generals Ayub, Zia and Musharraf all convinced the international community to invest in Pakistan’s military rather than the political system. Given their marketing skills, no wonder the military is into corporate ventures. If they can market security as a ‘public good’ to the outside world in return for hard cash and political support, they can sell almost anything.

    General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani is no different. It took him a year to win over the Americans, most of whom seemed ready to eat out of the palm of hand during his visit to the US late last month. Almost all South Asia experts in Washington were overawed by his style, confidence and composure and gave in to the temptation of comparing him to Gen. Musharraf, who was more like President Bush — brash and a bit of a loose cannon. Due to his inability to control his organization and rid Pakistan of all sorts of militants, Pakistan’s former military dictator began to appear pigmy-like to his western friends.

    Call it Gen. Kayani’s luck or the fact that he is a better commander, but he has succeeded in impressing the entire world. The operations in Swat and South Waziristan convinced the international community of his commitment to the war on terror and his ability of being a more productive general. His capacity is doubly appreciable since the armed forces have squarely failed in capturing the top Taliban leadership or in getting rid of militancy, which is spreading fast in mainland Pakistan.

    Credit is also due to the team of roving diplomats who were inserted into the American policymaking system to engage with both the key stakeholders and American public opinion. The GHQ must be saluted for finding novel methods to co-opt even Pakistani expatriates for financing the military’s ambassadors in Washington. Some have been exceptionally useful in convincing Congressmen and the American bureaucracy that the military has ruptured all ties with jihadi groups such as LeT. These people convince top decision-makers in Washington of Pakistan military’s naiveté of not being able to tell the difference between friend and foe. The recommendation, hence, is that the US should remain engaged with Pakistan’s armed forces and gently lead them away from the radical terrorist forces. Otherwise, the military is the only secular institution in the country which has nothing to do with religious ideology or engagement with puritanical jihadi forces.

    The army chief deserves to be at the helm of affairs since he has all the makings of a shrewd politician. He proved his capacity to engage in multiple fronts during his recent trip to the US. For instance, while he talked to the US about providing Pakistan with military hardware, he told Pakistan’s media that he could sacrifice military hardware for economic development opportunities. He was also great in pitching his message during his several power point presentations about the redundancy of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the need for the US to engage with newer players such as Sirajuddin Haqqani. There are indicators that a few people in Washington may accept Gen. Kayani’s formula. Hence, any forward movement in North Waziristan may not necessarily be at the cost of the lives of friendly Taliban.

    During a presentation at the New America Foundation headed by Steve Coll, the author of the award-winning book ‘Ghost wars’, Gen. Kayani even argued for the Obama administration to accept the Taliban as an institution. He alone knows what he would include in this term but it seems that many former culprits might find a way to become kosher. This will certainly include the jihadis operating in all non-Pakhtun areas of Pakistan.

    Gen. Kayani’s ultimate desire, however, is to acquire a civil-nuclear agreement with the US. He not only wants the technology, he wants Washington to pay for it as well. Meanwhile, he has convinced some of the South Asia experts in town of the possibility of Pakistan winding up the jihad machine in return for favorable treatment on the civil-nuclear front. It seems that special treatment and protocol accorded to most western visitors in Islamabad can go a long way.

    The general is lucky to inherit a well-oiled organisational machine which is self-serving and autonomous. It has means to play with the society’s mind and create a friendly image. Who wouldn’t want to be in the general’s shoes?