Round 1 to the civilian government

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Mohammad Taqi, Columnist, Daily Times

Trust deficit The civilian-military relationship is at a nadir in Pakistan
Trust deficit The civilian-military relationship is at a nadir in Pakistan

EVER SINCE the controversial Memo in October 2011, allegedly seeking American help in case of a military coup, trouble has been brewing in Pakistan. The latest is the sacking of Lt Gen (retd) Khalid Nadeem Lodhi as defence secretary on 11 January by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. The civilian-military relationship in Pakistan is going through a churn. The military wants to get rid of President Asif Zardari. The Supreme Court allowed itself to be dragged into the situation through a PIL. But the elected Pakistani civilian government, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and its coalition partners are not going to give in without a fight. Under the circumstances, the sacking of Lodhi was inevitable. It sends a clear message in a long drawn out war of attrition that will ultimately decide which way the balance of civil-military relationship tilts.

The establishment has been speaking through press releases issued by the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR). On 11 January, it issued a fourth statement criticising the government. Previously, the prime minister had retaliated by implying the army was trying to become a State within the State and had issued a visa to Osama bin Laden. That did not go down well. The civil-military relationship has not recovered from this blow, and relations are souring. The judiciary appears to be allied with the military establishment or at least feels that their interests are in confluence.

The army wants the current PPP dispensation to go, but a text-book coup d’état is not possible in the present day. With an active social media, a questioning press and Pakistan’s economic condition, it is not a feasible option. The army is frustrated and is making this public but with everyone harping on about democracy for so long, it’s not easy for anyone — not Kayani, not the top judge — to sack the present system. They might be facing allegations of corruption or bad governance, but you have to vote them out.

Gilani’s statement says the army chief and the DG, ISI, Shuja Pasha did not follow the protocol in the Memogate proceedings in court. The briefs the three filed with the court were diametrically opposed to the government’s position in the Memogate scandal. Constitutionally, the ISI is under the prime minister. The army chief reports to the president and also the PM via the defence ministry. The defence secretary made a statement in the court saying the government has administrative and not operational control over the army and the ISI.

Prior to that, Pasha met Pakistan-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz in London. The ISI is an intelligence-gathering and not an investigating agency. He brought back evidence that is now being made admissible in the civil court. Pasha went without the permission of the civilian leadership. The PM was informed through Kayani only after he returned.

Things would have been different a decade ago; the army would have toppled the government. Today, it’s a battle of nerves. Whoever blinks first, loses. So far, Gilani has not blinked, but his options are limited. Even if he fires Pasha and Kayani, he has to select from a pool of 200 generals, as he has no one in the PPP to replace him. Pasha’s head is certainly on the chopping block, but the PPP will not win this by a knockout, but on points. Taking it to the last round will mean they have won. As long as Zardari, Gilani and Hussain Haqqani — and the general public — stick together, the civilian government will prevail

(as told to Kunal Majumder)

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