IT could just be the absence of meaty stuff. No Panama, Fasaad already inducing yawns — the national circus needed some excitement.

And there’s nothing like a bit of civilian bashing to energise the system again.

Maybe it’ll disappear once Panama returns or something new and unexpected happens — never say never in this land of ours.

But already it has taken a turn for the nasty. History is being rewritten at will.

On, then, to this Osama business. World’s deadliest terrorist found in Pakistan; Pakistan caught with either its trousers down or hand in hand with said world’s deadliest terrorist.

Not a great place to be, was always going to have repercussions, etc.

It takes a special kind of distortion though for, six years later, a contrived dispute over visas to eclipse the real issue.

But there’s a reason for it.

From Raymond Davis to the Abbottabad raid to Mike ‘Haqqani Network is a Veritable Arm of the ISI’ Mullen to Memogate — 2011 was an annus horribilis, for civ-mil and Pak-US.

And, improbably, it was all connected.

Years later, there’s no real reason to disbelieve the core of the boys’ public claim.

Zardari and co probably did facilitate a surge in American intel types in Pakistan, and Zardari and co probably did make some kind of misguided/foolish/idiotic offer to the Americans in Memogate.

But — and this is important — that’s not really what angered the boys.

What scared them was that a master dealmaker in Zardari and a frustrated Pentagon and disillusioned White House on the other side might actually pull off something.

Something that would loosen the boys’ iron grip.

Rewind to 2010. Kayani was popular and had forced Zardari into retreat. By year end, Kayani had grabbed an extension for himself and things were looking pretty bleak for the PPP.

The more exotic the fear, the better — it prevents debate on even the more reasonable aims that the civilians may have in mind.

Bleak not in survival terms — the extension all but guaranteed a full term for the PPP as a quid pro quo — but in terms of policy.

After the no-first-strike and ISI-to-Interior missteps early on, the PPP had been muscled out. The Mumbai attacks sealed the civilians’ irrelevance.

But Zardari, for all his love of money and property, wanted something more than mere puppet or figurehead status.

Maybe it was the memory of BB and a desperation to be seen as her equal, but he wanted back in the policy game.

And that’s where the trouble began — again.

If you hate Zardari, you believe he’ll do anything for money and is motivated by nothing else. If you can allow yourself a wee bit of generosity, you may be able to put your finger on the policy disagreement.

It’s not very hard to see what both sides may have been thinking.

The civilian preference was straightforward and timeless — though, equally obviously, fiendishly difficult to effect: shut down the jihad network at home, bolster the precarious Afghan state and open up to India.

Rebuffed by the boys within months of arriving, and having complicated partners in Kabul and Delhi, Zardari turned to the obvious power with the obvious interest and the obvious clout: the US.

His recent publicly expressed disappointment with Obama tells its own tale, but back then Zardari did what all civilians, desperate and uncertain but dogged in their own way, do:

Offered whatever the hell he thought may cause the Americans to show interest in him again.

On the other side, the boys didn’t — couldn’t — really think that Zardari would succeed.

After all, 9/11 and Bush’s ‘bombed back to the stone age’ had only resulted in a shelving of the jihad project, not dismantling it.

But allow a large-scale American intel presence inside Pakistan, ostensibly in the hunt for Bin Laden, and dangerous, funny, other things could start to happen.

Take your pick. Targeted militant eliminations outside the Fata box where drone strikes weren’t permitted.

Mapping the jihad infrastructure minutely. Updating war plans against Pakistan. Defections by military types secretly cultivated.

And, of course, gathering information on and potentially disrupting the build-up of what the US says is the world’s fastest growing nuclear arsenal. Think North Korea.

If all of that sounds exotic, it is. The more exotic the fear, the better — it prevents debate on even the more reasonable aims that the civilians may have in mind.

Reasonable, but far-reaching.

When Memogate exploded, the public justification was found.

The visa issue had been brewing from the previous summer. Mullen, who famously courted Kayani, had launched an attack on his way out.

The Abbottabad raid had become a local humiliation; not because Osama was holed up near Kakul, but because the vaunted military had been powerless to stop the raid.

Memo or no memo, American spies running around Pakistan or not, the year until late 2011 had created a systemic disturbance.

The military was reeling under internal tumult and external criticism; Zardari was prowling around for more influence; and the Americans had soured on Pakistan.

It was time for an intervention.

We all know how that turned out. Husain was too conniving, Zardari naive, Obama already disengaged and the boys unduly paranoid.

So, the boys won — as they mostly do. Pakistan? That’s another matter.

But if they’re old wounds, why the fresh fake outrage? Because the civilians can’t be allowed to forget who’s boss, or what the boys can do to them.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2017


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