An interesting aside of the Osama killing is the emerging mother of all political battles in Pakistan between Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML N) leader and two time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistan Army. Nawaz who was exiled from the country for almost a decade when he took on the powerful military last time in 1999 is possibly seeing a window of opportunity with a weakened army brass facing flak from all quarters, political and security for the poor showing in the Osama incident followed by the PNS Mehran naval base terrorist attack.
Nawaz Sharif’s love hate relationship with the military is not new. Some see him as a hand maiden of the military dictatorial regime of Zia ul Haque on the other hand he suffered when he took on Army Chief Pervez Musharraf after the Kargil operation in 1999. Now whether he would be able to manage another “Parvez,” Kayani remains to be seen?
The PML N launched the first offensive against the military when the general budget was presented to the parliament questioning increase in allotment to the defence forces when the country was going through a major economic crisis with growth stunted at just over 2 percent. Open insinuations of profligacy were made against the military leadership with PML-N’s Khwaja Mohammad Asif directly taking on the armed forces chiefs stating, “The chiefs of staff who travel in cars worth eight crore rupees each cannot fight,” an allusion to the Naval Chiefs bullet proof vehicle. Nawaz Sharif also called for scrutiny of the intelligence budget and ranted against the military dictating foreign and strategic policy.
The Army hit back at the 139th Corps Commanders Conference on 9 June making a strong pitch against so called divisive forces and stating that military aid from the United States should be converted into development for the benefit of the people of Pakistan. The press statement issued after the Conference highlighted, “some quarters, because of their perceptual biases, were trying to deliberately run down the Armed Forces and Army in particular.” Noticeably this quote along with other major features of the Press statement was in block letters in the release on the web site of Inter Services Public Relations.
The aim was obviously to release some of the pressure posed by Mr Nawaz Sharif and the PML N who called for greater scrutiny of the military and the intelligence budget. The unity of the Corps Commanders conference was used to blunt the edge of some of the arguments and also attempt to sustain public support.
Reports also indicated that there were internal pressures on the Army Chief, with some even talking about a Colonel’s Coup. There were also differences between the Corps Commanders on cooperation with America. Some of these were made public when Lt. Gen. Asif Yasin Malik, corps commander of the 11th Corps of the Pakistan Army in Peshawar said he had no plans to launch a military operation in North Waziristan on June 2 even when there were reports that aid agencies were asked to cater for an influx of refugees from that region. It was expected that the Americans were forcing the General HQs to launch an offensive in the troubled tribal region which had become the hub of al Qaeda and other foreign terrorists in the country.
Despite the rebuff on 9 June the PML-N appeared determined and launched a second offensive on 18 June in the debate on the defence budget in the National Assembly introducing many cut motions. “Pakistan’s people are now compelled (to ask questions)”, the PML-N’s main speaker on the subject and former Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief minister, Sardar Mehtab Ahmed Khan, thundered. “Pakistan’s defence failures for some years have shaken the people of Pakistan,” Sardar Mehtab added, “In the past few years, particularly in the past one year; people’s confidence has been badly affected”.
Quite obviously the PML N was not giving up and a hard slogging match is now likely. While the opposition lacked the numbers and thus the Defence Budget was approved in the Assembly, the call that heads of expenditure on the Armed forces account be made transparent is likely to catch imagination of the people and the civil society.
Seeing this turmoil, US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullens known to be close to Pakistan Army Chief had to come to his rescue stating in a Pentagon press conference, that the Osama bin Laden raid had been a cause of much turbulence in the Pakistan Army which should be given time for introspection and coming out of the trough.
Some writers are comparing the present period to the post 1971 trauma that the Army underwent when thousands of soldiers were taken prisoners by the Indian Army in what is now Bangladesh. While this perception may be some what of an exaggeration there are concerns over growing resentment.
The Army seems to be split between those who are anti US and West, due to violation of sovereignty and those who are out and out fundamentalists who support extremist forces. There is also a small minority particularly in the central hierarchy in Rawalpindi GHQ which sees support to the West on countering terrorism as inevitable. Thus there is a power struggle evident within the Army. Some of the generals are seething because they have lost out on a shot at the top job in the Army as General Kayani got an extension of three years in November 2010. So there are possibly fissures within fissures so to say.
To what extent Nawaz Sharif will be able to follow through the present diatribe against to achieve his aim of reining in the Army remains to be seen, but he has made his intentions quite clear, it will be a no holds barred battle now. If history is a witness the Army has so far come out winners, will PML N be able to turn the tables this time around remains to be seen.