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Two chiefs, one army

July 06, 2014


The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

YOU gotta love the boys. Admire them even. They’ve elevated this stuff to an art form.

Throw the previous guy under the bus, then ride that jalopy to your own version of Gloryville. Once there, hang around until everyone figures out you’re no better than the last chap.

Then, hand over the mess to the next chap and assume the position — it’s your turn to be thrown under the bus. For the glory of the institution!

In all of this silliness of boo to the last chief/hail to the new chief, it’s easy to forget we’ve seen all of this before.

It’s not how they start that matters because they all start well. It’s how they end that matters.

Kayani was the anti-Musharraf, Musharraf the anti-Karamat, Beg wasn’t Zia, Zia wasn’t Yahya — each different, until they became the same, ie passed on a mess bigger than they had inherited.

But the past is another country. To the present. The Kayani doctrine is dead, long live the Raheel doctrine.

Except, really? Back to toggling, back to that other country.

From the front page of this newspaper, Nov 30, 2010:

“In detailed comments on the military’s approach to North Waziristan Agency, the senior official said, ‘(The US) has an increased focus on North Waziristan for understandable reasons’.

“But the official added there was serious domestic cause for concern, too: ‘Most terrorist attacks inside Pakistan originate from North Waziristan. So the question is not if but when and how to tackle it militarily’.”

It was a background briefing, so his name couldn’t be printed. Four years on, we don’t have to be so coy.

Officially, Kayani gave three reasons for not going into NWA then: wrapping up the South Waziristan operation first; blowback in Pakistan proper, in terms of terror attacks and IDPs; and the lack of a political consensus.

Unofficially, there were two other — arguably, more fundamental — reasons: shielding the Haqqanis; and waiting out the American ‘do more’ mantra on NWA — because an American connection would fuel the militants’ propaganda.

Put all of that together and one year always loomed large: 2014.

And here we are, in 2014, a military operation in North Waziristan under way. The Kayani doctrine doesn’t look so dead after all, does it?

Too complicated, almost conspiratorial? Only if you’re more interested in seeing Raheel crowned as the next saviour-in-chief, the latest general worshipped by his adoring masses.

Conversely, there is nothing really to be had in denying Raheel the glory about to come his way. In politics and war, credit usually goes to the guy who’s around when a job gets done. It’s just the way things work.

But there is a deeper problem with this Decisive Raheel/Dithering Kayani business: it ignores the historical pattern, and it’s possible continuation into the present.

Kayani too was decisive once. As was Musharraf. As was, probably, Zia. It’s not how they start that matters because they all start well. It’s how they end that matters. But in the beginnings do lie clues about what the end may look like.

Already we have an IDP crisis, the very thing the army knew — what Kayani knew and what Raheel knows — should not happen. The difference is, Raheel’s army has been in the counter-insurgency business for a decade. Kayani’s army largely learned on the job.

Well, the boys would argue that the problem is the same as it always has been: the civilians aren’t up to scratch. And this time it’s even worse because Nawaz was unwilling to even accept that an operation was necessary.

The army can’t do everything, but neither can it stand by and do nothing — the, possibly not unreasonable, army contention is.

OK, so move on to the next big thing: what next? The army will do reasonably well at pushing out militants from NWA and retaking lost territory. Then, the civilians will have to do their job, to provide administration, justice, development and reforms.

Already though everyone knows that won’t happen — arguably cannot happen while a massive troop presence is on the ground. If you’ve ever seen a civil servant or local politician around even a junior military officer, you wouldn’t even need to ask why.

So then why do this at all, when counter-insurgency will slowly sink into the quagmire of civilian ineptitude and civ-mil imbalance?

Again, the same answer from the boys: we know we can’t do everything, but neither can we stand by and do nothing. The corollary: some results are better than no results.

Again, both are not unreasonable contentions. Something really had to be done about North Waziristan.

Still, if the same problems and compromises of the past are already spilling into the present, then where does that leave soon-to-be hero Raheel’s purposefulness?

The same as where it left Kayani’s. With one difference though: the era.

Kayani was a squeezed-in-the-middle general. There was nothing really for him to do in his era. Musharraf caught the start of the militant explosion/war in Afghanistan and had to make the big decisions, eventually botching them.

Raheel is around for the beginning of the next phase — and may have to make some of the next big decisions.

Some of those decisions are path dependent. Fata will never be the same. The army is there to stay. Afghanistan too will never be the same. The army needs to prevent it from spilling into Pakistan.

But some decisions will depend on Raheel’s mettle. To wit, will he be the general to at long last subordinate narrow military strategy to the much wider national-security strategy?

Or would he rather be the next saviour-in-chief, trying to save us all until he can’t even save himself?

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, July 6th, 2014