Civil-military relations: the foreign policy aspect

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 30.09.17

Truth is the victim when it is said that the civil and the military in Pakistan are on the same
page. They are not and perhaps they cannot be in the near future. The reason is that,
since 9/11, there have taken place certain developments, which keep on pulling the civilian
half of Pakistan to join the page constructed by the military half of Pakistan. Hitherto, this
pull has produced insignificant results.   

What Pakistan’s new Foreign Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif could not say domestically
he said internationally and that unequivocally. On September 27, at the platform of Asia
Society in New York, Asif verbalized two points. First, former Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz
Sharif was condemned in Pakistan for making peace overtures to India. Second, Pakistan
had yet to deliver on the liabilities called non-state actors. This piece will discuss both
points.

Regarding Pak-India relations, Asif was justified in saying that former PM Sharif wanted to
calm down Pakistan’s relations with India, but Sharif was criticized bitterly. In fact, the
personal rapport developed between former PM Sharif and incumbent Indian PM Narendra
Modi became one of the major swearwords. An imprecation got added to the reviled theme
when, in December 2015, on his way back from Afghanistan, Modi’s entourage made a
surprise stopover in Lahore and met Sharif. In the media (both print and electronic), the
attack boys of the army – even if they were self-proclaimed – sneered at Sharif-Modi
relations and depicted the event as an unpardonable offence in which the GHQ was
bypassed. The attack boys overlooked the fact that that Sharif’s party, PML-N, had
garnered votes in 2013 elections on the electoral manifesto of improving relations with
India. Bracketing Sharif’s name with Modi was enough to justify the pro-India stance of
Sharif. The July 28 judgement of the Supreme Court to oust Sharif judicially on feeble,
flimsy and fragile grounds offered the attack boys sufficient latitude to condemn Sharif’s
association with Modi more than before. Both politically and socially, Sharif was condemned
for having a soft spot for Modi so much so that whenever Modi was condemned in Pakistan,
Sharif was also condemned, and whenever Sharif was condemned, Modi was also
condemned. The condemnation became essentially concomitant.

Even during the electoral campaign for by-elections in NA-120 held recently, a smart anti-
Sharif campaign was launched through two newly found right-wing parties. One of the
parties, Labbaik Ya Rasulallah (LyR), tried to woo voters in the name of religion (and
begged 6% votes), whereas the other party, Milli Muslim League (MML), a political
extension of Hafiz Saeed’s Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) visited every house of the constituency
and derided Sharif-Modi relations (and begged 5% votes). The campaigns by both parties
were less to secure votes and more to soil Sharif’s reputation on the grounds that Sharif’s
ideological and patriotic credentials were dubious. The shared objective was to pave the
way for the PTI to win the seat. However, this could not happen.

Condemning Sharif for being pro-India is not a new occurrence. Almost the same was the
allegation on Sharif when he invited former Indian PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee in February
1999 to Lahore to sign the Lahore Declaration. However, in May 1999, the Kargil war
ensued embarrassing Vajpayee and strengthening the political stance of the BJP in India,
as the timing of the war was found politically incorrect. Interestingly, after staging the
military coup in October 1999, the then COAS and coup-maker General Pervez Musharraf
also made peace overtures with India and visited Agra in July 2001 to meet the same Indian
PM Vajpayee to resolve issues including the Kashmir issue by negotiations.

General Musharraf has so far failed to accentuate the difference between the kind of
negotiations Sharif was undertaking and the one he tried afterward. Neither did General
Musharraf allow Sharif to succeed nor did he himself prosper in solving any issue with India.
Kashmir is still burning. The insidious effect fathered by General Musharraf is still writ large
upon Pakistan’s face.

Regarding non-state actors, Asif was also justified in saying that Pakistan had yet to finish
its task of delivering on stamping down certain liabilities, which actually spawned during the
Afghan-Soviet conflict (1979-1989). Just to recall, Lt. General (retired) Mahmood Ahmed
was the Corps Commander of the X Corps stationed in Rawalpindi, when he assisted
General Musharraf to make his coup of October 12, 1999 successful. On September 11,
2001, as DG ISI General Ahmed had been to Washington (since September 4), and over
breakfast with certain American officials, he came to know of the attack on the Twin Tower.
He was flabbergasted at the unexpected turn of events. Shortly afterward, General Ahmed
became the first recipient of the wrath of US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage
who actually uttered the phrase, “you have to decide if you are with us or against us”.
General Ahmed surrendered Pakistan’s role immediately to all US demands, even without
consulting General Musharraf, his boss. Hence, the history of Pakistan’s joining the war on
terror began the moment General Ahmed submitted Pakistan to the US assertion.

The moral of the story is that when in command, an army general shows no spine to say
“no” to the US, but when civilians are in charge, the army generals push civilians to say
what they themselves could not say (or do). The point is simple: when Pakistan opted for
the “with us” part of the choice, “with us or against us,” to join the war on terror, the ruling
military regime laid no pre-conditions. When Pakistan’s joining the war on terror remained
unconditional, it is difficult for Pakistan to come out of it now without violating the choice, as
the compulsion of choice is still valid and is fraught with all kind of consequences for the
civilian elected government. That is why, in no case can the incumbent civilian government
be ready to violate the choice on the dictation of the army. The speeches made by the
COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa can serve the purpose of vitiating the atmosphere in
the civil-military working domain more than strengthening it. Interestingly, as the army has
adopted a strategy to speak to its target audience through ISPR’s tweets, the US officials
have also adopted a strategy to issue statements publicly on their visit to Kabul. This trend
creates a vicious cycle. News coming from Kabul through the media causes embarrassment
for the GHQ which, in turn, pressurizes the civilian government to respond to the US, or
alternatively the GHQ takes upon itself the task of issuing an ISPR release, and so on.

What Khawaja Asif said at the platform of Asia Society in New York comes as no surprise.
One of the predicaments with the election-based democratic countries is that elected
governments listen to its voters (to win elections again) more than listening to any kind of
establishment. The army is overlooking the fact that prompting their attack boys in the
media to take on the incumbent civilian government cannot yield desired dividends. Instead,
the strategy is counter-productive, as the lack of confidence existing between the civilians
and the army may exacerbate.

If General Bajwa had been in charge of the country, he could have decided as per his
wishes, but this is not the case. Neither General Ahmed nor General Musharraf is
answerable to the people of Pakistan any more for conceding unconditionally Pakistan’s
role to the US in the war on terror. This privilege is not available to Sharif and his cohort.
Perceptibly, no decisive change in the foreign policy of Pakistan is expected.

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