General Kayani’s Conundrum and Pakistan on the Precipice

Posted on Fri 03/20/2009 by


By MJMotley

General Ashfaq Kayani may feel justifiable pride in having come from being the son of an impoverished NCO to rising through the ranks to hold the highest position in Pakistan’s army as Army Chief of Pakistan. Referred to in the Hindustan Times as “The quiet general”, he may wish his ascension had occurred in quieter times. The times however may demand that he remain quiet no longer.

Gen. Kayani is considered to be pro-western and over the course of his exemplary career has gained wide respect both at home & abroad. This was true of his American tutors, where he gained much of his military education and training, and by both his soldiers, as well as his superiors. Even his usual opponents, the Indians, speak well of him and attribute the de-escalation along the Line of Control to his influence during the border tensions of ’01&’02, as well as after the Mumbai attacks this year.

A consummate professional, and a “muddy-boots” soldiers’ soldier, he follows in his clan’s legendary tradition. As described by the BBC, “Gen Kayani’s clan is one of the largest and most powerful in the northern Jhelum area of Pakistan’s largest province, Punjab. The harsh and arid region is famed throughout the subcontinent for only one product – soldiers.” His disposition is recognized as one of complete loyalty, and avoidance of all things political. Gen. Kayani’s career and rapid promotion led him to command the nation’s three most sensitive posts: The ISI, the X corps, and as Director General of Military Operations, (DGMO). This no doubt owes to his fierce but loyal reputation. But no matter how much he may eschew involving himself in Pakistan’s politics, there is the inescapable fact, that in his country’s pyramid of power, it is the army that sits at the top.

Throughout its history, like the “all seeing eye” of the Illuminati, the army has watched warily over the self-interested machinations of Pakistan’s political operators. The Pakistani army prides itself in being seen as the only objective and ultimate guarantor of holding together the fabric of this diverse nation. It maintains this high esteem amongst the populace of 160 million, by stepping in as a mediator only as last resort, and then only to preserve the nation as a whole. In the past there have been abuses of the unique status the army enjoys, but those instances have been the exception, not the rule.

At the moment those self-interested parties include: Asif Ali Zardari (Pakistan People’s Party), the widower of the assassinated former Presidential Candidate Benazir Bhutto (PPP), Nawaz Sharif (ex-Presidential candidate) and his brother, Shabazz Sharif (Governor.of Punjab) of the Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N) who control the dominant Punjabi province. The brothers currently maintain a loose alliance of convenience with the pro-Islamist Jamaat-i-Islami & Tehreek-i-Insaf parties. All of these have come out in support of the lawyers protesting for the reinstatement of Supreme Court Justice Chaudhry, who was removed from the bench by ex- President Pervez Musharraf.

It is these lawyers who were largely responsible for Musharaf’s removal, and threaten Mr. Zadari’s tenure today. This conglomeration makes up the body of this week’s demonstrations in Pakistan dubbed the Long March. The reinstatement of Supreme Justice Chaudhry is overwhelmingly supported by the populace. This is why Kayani paid a personal visit to Zadari and apprised him that he would not deploy his troops to disperse the protesters. So should Chaudry retake the bench as is expected, his first act may well be to declare Mr. Zadari’s election unconstitutional, and therefore null and void.

This is as entangled a web of intrigue as has ever been woven.

It is into this convoluted scenario that the general has had to wade and interject himself between the two primary players, Zadari and Nawaz. These are the same two who were supposed to form a coalition government after Benizir’s untimely demise. According to INewsIndia, the quiet general finally felt he had to speak up, “Army Chief of Pakistan Mr. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani gave warning to the President Mr. Asif Ali Zardari on March 9th, to set the country in order before one week time”. It seems that when he does speak Gen. Kayani does not mince words. From the Hindustan Times comes this, “belongs to a rare breed of military officers” and “he speaks to Musharraf in a way few other senior officers would dare.”

Earlier in this piece, I liken Pakistan’s power structure to a pyramid. The cornerstones of this pyramid are:

Popular support of the masses, particularly in the traditionally powerful Punjabi province.

Command of the Inter-Services Intelligence.

Command of the X Corps (Rawalpindi)

The DCMO, or Director of Military Operations.

As we have seen, all of these posts were at one time held by Gen. Kayani. After assuming the army’s top spot, he also affected a realignment of the army’s command structure and personally appointed his choices for these top 3 positions, sometimes over others with more seniority.

This provides him with three of the four needed cornerstones. Should he wish to seize power for himself, the one cornerstone that is now in question is the popular support of the masses. However, a return to military rule would be a hard sell, especially after Musharaf’s meddling in regards to Justice Chaudhry and the rule of law. If conditions in the country deteriorate further, despite Musharif’s overreaching, they may become receptive buyers.

So as the general surveys the field and assesses the topography around him, he must gauge the strength of the forces arrayed.

Asif Ali Zadari

Zadari, known in Pakistan as Mr.10% is notorious for his reputed skimming of substantial business ventures during his wife Benizir Bhutto’s tenure. Zadari is considered to hold the most pro-western views of the current options available, but his pedigree is wholly derived from his deceased wife, and he carries the baggage of corruption. He was however, fairly elected and so by all accounts, should be expected to fulfill his term. But as PakistanNews.Net asks, “Is Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on the way out in the wake of the government’s capitulation on the lawyers’ demand for reinstating the Supreme Court and high court judges who were sacked in 2007? Even if he stays, one thing is for sure: his reputation is in tatters and many of his powers could be taken away from the presidency and restored to the prime minister’s office.” Clearly Zadari’s hold on the reins of power, are tenuous at best. Yet Zadari was the American’s preferred choice in the aftermath of Benizir’s assassination. The Americans expected that the resultant sympathy would deter any challengers and were hoping that the situation would stabilize itself. Then Zadari backtracked on his pledge to reinstate Chaudry and further fanned the flames of instability.

Nawaz Sharif

Sharif is best known for ordering the test of A.Q.Khan’s bomb in ’98 in response to India’s tests. Sharif rode the political, right-wing, religious wave that was first created by Gen. Zia ul Haq in ’76, when he instituted Islamization of the army. Zia went on to stage a coup against Benizir’s father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in ’78. He then nationalized his policy of Islamization by bringing in Wahabbi madrassas and the attendant Saudi financial assistance.

Sharif rode Zia’s Islamic wave to become Minister of Punjab from ’85-’90, Prime Minster from ’90-’93 & PM again from ’97-’99, when he was ousted in a coup staged by Gen. Musharaf. Since then he has shed his Islamic credentials & shifted left with the political winds after 9/11/01. Yet Sharif makes the Americans uncomfortable due to his days allied with Zia. And that he continues to enjoy his cozy relations with Saudi wahabbists and their call for imposition of Sharia law in Pakistan.

With Zadari’s capitulation regarding Chaudhry, Sharif could yet end up in a coalition government after all. Or he could make a bid for power himself as his political stock has risen with his support of the lawyer’s movement. There are inherent problems with coalition governments, one being that they usually only represent confrontation delayed, and two, rarely do they manage to govern effectively. For Pakistan to survive as a secular democratic country, effective leadership is sorely needed.

The Islamists

While there are many factions in the rightwing/religious category, currently the two prominent wings are the Jamaat-i-Islami & the Tehreek-i-Insaf. They are following the tried & true Islamist methodology of seizing upon existing grievances and adding to the discord of the moment. Their prospects are on the rise and they know it. With Tehreek-i-Insaf’s recent success in the Swat region they are particularly emboldened. The control of Swat effectively bridges the gap between their Islamist strongholds in the F.A.T.A & NWFP. Moreover, that puts them within striking distance of two major Pakistani cities of Lahore and the capital, Islamabad.

Justice Chaudhry & the Lawyers

Supreme Court Justice Chaudrey, HLS Medal of Freedom winner, and the lawyers who took to the street to reinstate him to the bench, appear to have no hidden agenda. Their professional sensibilities seemed genuinely offended by Zadari’s recantation. This most likely, is why Kayani felt he had to step in and take sides in the dispute between Zadari & Sharif; that and the risk of the lawyer’s movement being hijacked by the Islamists. In the course of the protests it became apparent that the Islamists were beginning to outnumber those who were insisting on the “rule of law”, by emptying their vast network of Mosques and madrassas into the streets.

Considering all of the above….. what now?

While Kayani may not have political aspirations he must be mindful of the fact that without some semblance of political cohesion, Pakistan as a modern nation state is doomed… and with it his beloved army.

First, he has to keep the novice American administration from making matters worse. Yet he has to be sensitive to the reality that they have 50,000 troops in neighboring Afghanistan.

Second, he sees the ground that he had gained against the Islamists while in command of the ISI, crumbling under the weakening leadership of Zadari. After the Swat debacle his strategic position has become unacceptably tenuous, and quickly deteriorating. After his intervention in the Chaudhry mess, co-operation there is less than certain. At any rate, Zadari’s days are probably numbered anyway.

Third, as has already been shown, Sharif’s allegiance is merely a matter of convenience. Should the Islamists make a drive for either Lahore or Islamabad, capitulation would be unnecessary. Sharif would be there with open arms and a program to implement Sharia law in hand.

Fourth, Zayani could choose, despite the predictable, albeit insincere hue & cry from the American administration, to take the mantle himself. The Obama administration has too much riding on its Afghan gambit to offer much more than a symbolic protest. After Putin’s muscle flexing on the Manas base in Kyrgyzstan and the militants choking off the Khyber Pass, the Americans will accept security of their Afghan supply lines anyway they can get it.

Kayani does not like the Islamists. He is by all accounts genuinely pro-western and enjoys good relations with his American uniformed counterparts. He also needs the American military, intelligence & financial assistance to secure some semblance of control in the F.A.T.A. & NWFP. For domestic reasons and the restoration of army morale, he would prefer to have the task accomplished by his troops rather than have the Americans stir up a PR nightmare by infringing on Pakistani sovereignty.

Even if Kayani honestly wishes to remain out of politics, it would appear the lesser of evils to seize control now. Otherwise it is hard to see how Pakistan avoids becoming a failed state. Often a soldier is assigned to a miserable task, and this is surely one. But duty calls, General…

Carpe Diem!