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Belling the cat

Published Jul 14, 2013 12:00pm


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FORGET for whom the bell tolls. We already know: for all of us. More pertinent: who will bell the cat?

Pasha’s testimony before the OBL commission has simplified matters. The army cannot, will not, submit to civilian supremacy. The civilians are corrupt, incompetent, unpatriotic and dumb. The army is well intentioned and, more to the point, knows what’s best, for all of us.

So now what?

Conferences, summits, consultations, moots, strategy, tactics, operational expediencies — it’s all a waste of time, really. Who, in God’s name, will bell the cat?

Nawaz has been cautious. He knows it’s down to him, but he’s not ready to pull the trigger yet.

So the boys have had it all their way so far. They want to own Afghanistan? Let them. They want to pound Tirah? Go ahead. They want to chuck foreign journos out? So be it. They want to wield a soft veto on India? Whatever. They’re OK with drones, but want others to hate them? Sure.

For now. The problem is, the longer Nawaz waits, the more he becomes hostage to circumstances.

The OBL report leak helped make that point. Maybe — probably — someone sold it for a tidy sum. But will they, the boys, ever really believe that?

With your conspiracy hat on, the possibilities are obvious: either the PML-N did it to embarrass the boys or the PPP threw an early curveball.

Plumb the depths of conspiracy and the missing page suggests another possibility: some of the boys did it themselves, perhaps to head off the possibility of yet another term for Gen K.

It doesn’t matter what’s real and what isn’t: as Pasha so arrogantly demonstrated, a belief is a belief is a belief, the facts be damned.

The problem, then, for Nawaz is that in waiting for the right window of opportunity, many other, wrong windows can, and probably will, open first.

What, for example, are the risks of waiting until Nov, when a new chief could mean, in Nawaz’s mind, a new opportunity to reset ties? June to Nov is, after all, just a few months of a five-year term; why hurry?

Because stuff, events, tends to happen here. Like the OBL report leak.

Before you know it, you’re in fire-fighting mode and the great strategic things you may have wanted to work on become more and more elusive.

Wait till Nov on India, for example, and it means the Indians will be about to plunge into their election campaign.

But there has been some movement this week and it looks like Nawaz has zeroed in on two goals: intel sharing and police reforms.

The first goes to the heart of the civ-mil imbalance. The second is the Trojan horse or analgesic, depending on your point of view, necessary to get the first job done.

Again, Pasha’s testimony helps illustrate the point. From para 469:

“With regard to sharing information with the police, the concern was one of the need for confidentiality. There were too many instances where information shared with the police had been compromised. Accordingly, the ISI preferred to act alone. It was important that the Internal Security and Counter Terrorism Wings of the ISI be granted powers of arrest. Similarly the Police needed to be restructured and made a professional force based on merit.”

The only point that matters is “the ISI preferred to act alone”. It’s the only point that matters because Pasha — and let’s not pretend his are the views of an individual — tells us what he ultimately wants: more power for his agency.

But, because the boys are smart, they don’t say it directly. That would be bad form. Instead, they blame the alternative for not being up to scratch. The police is corrupt, incompetent and politicised, as are the civilian intel agencies, Pasha tell us.

Since we can’t wait to have an honest, competent and depoliticised police and civilian intel apparatus — can’t wait because the threat from terrorism is clear and present — the ISI should formally be given the powers it has arrogated to itself anyway, Pasha explains.

Clever, isn’t it?

Nawaz’s one-two is meant to corner the clever ones.

Boys, the PM is saying, this business of intel sharing and coordination has to be figured out. You know it, I know it, everybody knows it. And I understand your concerns about the other folk not being up to scratch, so I’m going to work on that, too.

Intel coordination made possible by the Trojan Horse/analgesic of police and civilian intel reforms. Can it work? Possibly.

But it depends, ultimately, on how much resistance the army will put up. And how much resistance is put up depends on how the army ultimately sees its role inside Pakistan, which takes us back to the civ-mil imbalance and the question of, who will bell the cat?

Or perhaps, will the cat allow itself to be belled?

For the ISI’s predominance in the intel arena is the very tool through which the lopsided civilian-military balance is engineered. Take that away and you’re in an entirely different world of relations between institutions.

There is a possibility the army may relent. A core national interest — domestic stability — is under threat in a way that the army alone cannot fix. So circumstances may force the army to reconsider its prerogatives in the greater national interest, or even just institutional survival — the army itself being a direct and systematic target of militancy, terrorism and extremism.

But it is only a possibility. Pasha’s contempt for civilians could be where the matter actually rests.

And if that’s the case, who in God’s name will bell that cat? Godspeed, Nawaz.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (14) Closed

qamar Jul 14, 2013 12:40pm

Pasha was very correct about incomptent and corrupt police.

bilal Jul 14, 2013 12:51pm

There ain't a bell, never will be!

Shah Jul 14, 2013 12:56pm

The One who couldn't tax the rich will bell the biggest fattest cat in land?

khan Jul 14, 2013 01:39pm

It is very clear that who is responsible for the mess in the country but no one dare question cant be allowed to run the state affairs bcz they r there to guard the the way what benifit have they given to the country by ruling it for more than two decades...

a.k.lal Jul 14, 2013 02:42pm

America will bell the cat. Army has bitten the hand that fed it, and is slowly paying the price.

Parvez Jul 14, 2013 03:09pm of your best. When one sees the guy / guys with the bell in one hand and a begging bowl in the other, with one eye on their own backside and the other on their pockets it is easier to understand that the only way the cat could be belled is if it does it itself.

Naeem Jul 14, 2013 07:27pm

The ISI is so incompetent that they have not been able to pinpoint the Pakisani leadership of the Taliban. We can only defeat terrorism by have good intellegence. One has to question why we are spending more the 17% of the GDP on the army and starving spending on education.

The last budget increased the army budget by 10 % .How disappointing. When will the civilian leadership sa no this blackmail

pathanoo Jul 14, 2013 10:18pm

An excellent article and even a better question (Who will bell the cat), the answer to which will go a long way to deciding the fate of Nawaz Government vis-a-vis of Pakistan over the next five years. If I were a betting man, I would be scared to bet on Nawaz based on his previous performances as the PM. But then again, he may want to avenge his humiliation by army and in so doing might benefit Pakistan.

Maulik Jul 14, 2013 10:39pm

Curve ball is a baseball term. Only your North American readers will understand it. I suppose it's equivalent term in cricket will be a googly.

pakistani Jul 14, 2013 10:59pm

Well its civilians that need to be belled.they are trying demoralize armed forces by leaking OBL report. you are not a 'mohibay watan ' Pakistani for questioning PAK Army.

s.khan Jul 14, 2013 11:28pm

Restructuring ISI is absolutely necessary in the light of Abottabad commission report. Why can't ISI exclusively focus on external threat and CID or its new version on internal threats. It will be on British model of MI5 & MI6 or CIA and FBI. Right now it has too much power concentrated and abuse it. One would think that ISI will show some humility after its glaring failure revealed in the commission report. Politicians should raise their standard by being better informed, communicate with public and exercise better judgment. PM Sharif and his cabinet should take lessons in public speaking and should read a book every three months( not fiction).PM Sharif shouldn't rush the confrontation. He should spend his time and energy on fixing the economy to provide more electricity,jobs and lower inflation. This would strengthen his hand to take on DG Islam and new military chief.

Tahir Jul 15, 2013 05:17am

It's now or never. Shariif is riding the wave of a recent and overwhelming election victory. Everyday that goes by his power and popularity will wane. He should bring the army under civilian control, retiring any officers that object. I don't think the military has the stomach for another coup. And if they (military) object to civilian oversight let the matter come to head now.

Mysitc Jul 15, 2013 01:09pm

A bell that could contain THE CAT is yet to be designed and manufactured.

Masood Jul 16, 2013 11:54am

@pakistani: Respect army, yes when it is defending the interest of Pakistan instead of defining them. It should concern itself with matters of defence instead of running Pakistan as its mega industrial financial business. No other army runs bakeries and farming and sells Land! but guess who does.