Pakistan Military: The Profession of Politics

The objections to the Kerry Lugar Act raised by the Pakistan military as reported in the national media from Islamabad have once again focused attention on the dominant role played by the Army in the politics of Pakistan. The Tehreek-e- Taliban were quick to sense the opportunity of diversion of the top brass on non professional issues and struck at the General Headquarters in a daring complex terrorist attack over the week end.

While it may be argued that the attack was incidental and it is not the responsibility of the higher commanders to prevent the same, yet with media rife with reports of a rift between the civil and the military, this would have also affected the lower ranks thereby diverting the attention from their primary duties and thus creating the opportunity for the Taliban. 

Ironically the News International Pakistan states that it had reported “four months back”, the unambiguous warning by the Punjab (Pakistan) CID about the likely terrorist attack on the General Headquarters of the Pakistan Army. Obviously the military never took these reports seriously even when these were projected in the national media. Perhaps there were other pressing issues as the Kerry Lugar Bill.

The obsession of the top brass with the Bill was evident with the matter discussed in the Corps Commanders Conference, the highest professional body of the Army in the country. How would we perceive President Obama’s Health reforms being discussed by the top brass at the Pentagon, or the Indian Army Commander’s discussing the Indo US 123 Agreement? This would surely be sacrilege but the Pakistani governance structure with the dominance of the military evidently does not feel any compunction over discussing political issues. What is also surprising is that many people in the country seemed to be happy to see the military intervene; thereby indicating that civil democracy remains a far cry in the country.

So what is it about the Kerry Lugar Bill that has irked the Pakistan Army? The Bill places the responsibility of spending American aid and assistance on Pakistani civil government and therefore empowers civil authorities. This would have placed the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in an advantageous position, thus Mr Zardari and Gillani were very keen to see it through, while the opposition Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML N) is ironically opposing it for the same reason in the process joining hands with the military.

The Army has taken up cudgels with the political party in power this time the PPP. At a previous occasion it had undermined the PML N. Now curiously an impression is being gained that the PML N is supporting the army possibly for its own political motives. Thus instead of the army’s role in national politics being curtailed after the February 2008 elections, the same may be growing as the political parties are effectively divided.

The accusing fingers are now being pointed at Mr Hussein Haqqani, Pakistan ambassador to the United States. If past experience is anything to go by, the only winner in the Pakistani political games so far has been the Army. Thus it remains to be seen how the US government and the Pakistani political parties will play it out this time around.

However the Pakistan Army need not worry on one account at least, sovereignty. The process of reporting as outlined in the Bill is so complex that there would be only minimal oversight in spending. How the democratically elected government will exercise control over its own sphere of influence remains to be seen for it lacks the mechanisms which can ensure accountability. More over the elaborate nature of checks and reports that the American Secretary of State is required to submit also seems difficult for the US. When combined with metrics specified by the President in his Af-Pak policy it may just turn out to be an exercise in book keeping for there would be a requirement of large government machinery to specifically assess these issues which is not on ground at present.

What Kerry Lugar Bill has effectively done however is to create a political hiatus in the ruling class in Pakistan and also diverted the attention of the military brass from their professional commitments. Perhaps the exact opposite of what the honorable Senators had desired.


More by :  Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle

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