September 05, 2009

Pak army banks on US : India watches with cautious optimism

by Air Marshal R.S. Bedi (retd)

Pakistan’s current war against the Taliban represents the first real war between the Islamic extremists and the army. The army had to employ all sorts of heavy weapons that are normally not used against the insurgents or the terrorists. However, it managed notable successes against the Taliban in Swat and elsewhere in months.
The army even pulled out troops from the eastern border with India for action along the western border with Afghanistan, some thing the army would never have done normally. The army’s outlook changed largely after May 2009.
Whatever the reason for this change, the American pressure on account of their own Afghan-Pak policy compulsions or their economic aid so urgently needed or Pakistan’s own internal threat perception that it was time for action and curtail likes of Baitullah Mehsud and his hordes who were gradually marching ahead with impunity.
Obviously, Pakistan and the army are entirely dependent on American largesse. Apparently, the army is no longer as powerful and dominant as hitherto. These developments are a welcome step from both India and Pakistan’s point of view.
Pakistan Supreme Court’s judgement on July 14 declaring November 2007 emergency imposed by Musharraf unconstitutional has also far-reaching consequences for Pak society. Even the lower judiciary has displayed rare courage by ordering registration of an FIR against the General for illegally detaining 60 judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts after promulgating emergency. These measures have emboldened the democratic forces in Pakistan which may change its future course besides deterring any General in the future from imposing dictatorial rule as in the past.
Though the Supreme Court judgement makes it easier to try Musharraf for high treason in Pakistan Assembly, the army may not be happy with the government taking such an extreme action against its former Chief. The fact that General Kyani has met Prime Minister Gilani a couple of times suggests army’s concern about it. Besides, some Generals including General Kyani himself were Musharraf’s “consultants” and hence a party in imposing the emergency in 2007.
Prime Minister Gilani took a cautious line that Musharraf could be tried for treason only if the National Assembly adopted a unanimous resolution which he knew wouldn’t be possible. Besides, President Zardari is also one of the beneficiaries of Musharraf’s clemency. The fact that such unprecedented measures are being considered publicly by the government against a former army Chief for usurping power is a positive indicator of gradual changes taking place in Pakistan society. The Army exercising authority without legitimacy is not being taken kindly any more.
Again, by presenting a list of 25 banned terrorists’ outfits to the National Assembly, the government seems to be telling the nation that it is fully conscious of its responsibility of tackling terrorism that has begun to hurt the very roots of Pakistan society. Hard to believe but the banned outfits include the likes of Jamaa-ud-Dawa (JUD), Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, amongst others. These were the groups that were involved in a variety of destructive activities including suicide bombings etc, often with the covert support of security agencies.
That’s how the Jud founder Hafiz Saeed was let off despite sufficient proof of his involvement in Mumbai rampage on 26/11. Unfortunately, the army still considers some of them as its useful “strategic assets.” Only time will tell whether Pakistan has really realised the dangers it faces to its own existence as a state from their home grown terrorists of varying hues.
Interestingly, President Asif Ali Zardari’s uninhibited address to former civil servants at the presidency on July 7 about the extremist shows how the thinking in Pakistan is changing as regards Indo-Pak relations. However, the President was careful in not stating that the security agencies under the military rulers created and nurtured these extremist organisations for meeting the requirements of internal and external agenda. In fact, these outfits were dubbed as “assets” in furtherance of strategic objectives in Kashmir and Afghanistan.
Apparently, this realisation has come about only after the extremists attacked the Continental hotel in Peshawar on June 9, the Federal Investigation Agency headquarters in Lahore on May 27, the police academy in Lahore on March 30 and the bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore on March 3, 2009.
This is the first-ever admission by the Pakistan President days after he said that the army would even target militants it had backed in the past for use against India as a proxy force. There has to be some understanding amongst the “top three”. Otherwise, such statements cannot not be aired in public so blatantly. Moreover, unlike in the past, President Zardari’s utterance have neither been denied nor retracted. The Army’s acquiescence in all these cases only suggests that it now stands weakened.
President Asif Ali Zardari also told his audience while speaking on the occasion of 62nd Independence Day, “From today, political activities will be started and will be allowed in FATA.” He further said” In the long run, we must defeat the militant mindset to defend our country, our democracy, our institutions and our way of life.” This can be seen as Pakistan’s attempt to draw the lawless region closer in main stream politics in order to overcome the problem of terrorism within the country. This also fits in well with the US strategy to defeat the Taliban and the Al-qaeda insurgents in Pakistan and Afghanistan
Over a period, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan had become a strong hold for hundreds of extremists who escaped from adjoining regions of Afghanistan into FATA after the Americans toppled the Taliban regime towards the end of 2001. These comprise seven “agencies” and six “frontier regions” and are governed through political agents who are appointed by the President. Political activities are banned in FATA and no foreigners are allowed there without the government’s permission.
By all accounts, while the Pakistan army and its ISI are seriously engaging the terrorists of varying hues operating along the western borders, they continue to provide shelter and succour to those operating across the eastern border. These extremists are considered “national assets” to be employed for destructive activities against India. As long as the Pakistan army remains paranoid of India, it is unlikely to shed its dual approach and Pakistan will remain embroiled in chaos. Terrorism ultimately strikes at its own mentor; a lesson the army refuses to learn despite the chaos created by multifarious terrorist organisations operating within Pakistan and having varying aims and objectives; some of them even challenging the state as well as the society. The army, despite its diminishing dominance, continues to assert itself.
Thus, the Pakistan government’s quest for restarting the dialogue with India in pursuance of trade and economic benefits urgently required for the country’s long-term interests will come to naught only. India at best can view these developments in Pakistan with cautious optimism.

The writer is a former Director-General, Defence Planning Staff

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