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The creeping coup

Published Dec 23, 2012 03:00am


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BY most accounts, Gen K is a lame duck.

Battered by events, undermined by indecision, compromised by the extension — few chiefs who haven’t run the country directly have appeared so weak before. Beware the premature political obituary.

Quietly and deliberately, the chief has tightened his control over the mother of all institutions in Pakistan.

From the ISPR to the ISI, Gen K exercises full and direct operational control in a manner few other chiefs have managed.

Every chief appoints loyalists to key positions but it’s the extent to which some offices have become invisible under Gen K that is striking.

After Pasha, the ISI needed a lower-profile DG, but to the extent Islam has been? The myth of a state within a state, of rogue sub-institutions and the like has always been just that — a myth.

The chief directed policy and the ISI — sometimes reluctantly; mostly marching in lockstep — followed orders. But there was still some air between the two before; space that Gen K appears to have swallowed up.

The former DG ISI is the de facto current DG ISI.

Elsewhere, five years of controlling appointments and careers has meant a council of elders, i.e. the corps commanders, that reflects a very personal taste.

There may be widening snark and emasculatory nicknames being bandied around at lower levels, but at the top, the ranks have closed around the chief.

It helps that the cost of dissent is unacceptably high, given that with a stroke of the pen the special ones can be cast into oblivion.

But all of this power, to what end?

In 2010, when the extension was wanted and so granted, the guess was, to be chief-for-life.

Quickly enough, events intervened and that goal seemed to slip out of reach.

Then, events intervened again, this time towards a more fortuitous bend.

Perhaps the most dispiriting of all developments in recent months has been the Americans, and to some extent, the British, rediscovering their love for our boys in uniform.

That the US has seen Pakistan through the prism of Afghanistan over the past decade is well known enough.

But as 2014 approaches and political deadlines exert ever-more-urgent pressure, the prism itself, never clear or coherent to begin with, is becoming murkier and murkier.

There is much talk about fundamentals and bare minimums and red lines in the Afghan project but when push comes to shove, it will ultimately come down to this:

The US wants a dignified exit from Afghanistan after 2014 — essentially, to wind down combat operations without the whiff of defeat — and for Afghanistan to hold together long enough to put some distance between the war and collapse, if collapse is in fact inevitable.

For that minimal project in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s help is needed.

And when the Americans look at Pakistan and who can deliver what here, their eyes inevitably drift towards the boys.

Call it naivety, call it desperation, or perhaps a bit of both, but all the chatter of a changing Pakistani approach to Afghanistan — a last-minute change of heart that neatly fits into American drawdown timelines — flows from the hope that Pakistan will not play the role of spoiler.

As ever, sensing an opportunity to mask its own fears with the aura of indispensability — and also having absorbed the lesson of overplaying its hands after the Salala attack — the Pakistan Army has dangled the carrot of cooperation just so.

Prisoner releases, action against some cross-border militant activity, healthy conversations, convergences — it’s as if after a decade of being on opposite sides of a war, the US and Pakistan have suddenly woken up to the realisation that they have common interests after all.

If you don’t quite buy the theory of converging interests, there is another, more realistic explanation:

Sensing a new chapter about to begin in Afghanistan and unsure how it will play out, Gen K is hedging his bets. Better to keep the lines of communication with the US open and be privy to their evolving approach than to be shut out and unable to head off harmful choices by the US or see them coming and adjust for them.

In many ways, it reflects the Musharraf approach in 2001, when he embraced the war on terror and seemingly also the foreign mission in Afghanistan, only to slowly roll out the ‘double game’ once the rules of the new game and its direction had been absorbed.

Ten years on, the Americans ought to know better — but in the world of policy, trying to do something ahead of a significant shift in policy is better than not doing anything.

The generals here may well not cooperate in the end, the Americans will know, but who’s in charge of Afghan policy in Pakistan and who can deliver, if the incentives to deliver are created?

The answer, dispiritingly for those invested in the democratic project in Pakistan, is the same as ever: the boys, now guided by the chief-for-life, Gen K himself.

Combine the vice-like control of the army and its intelligence apparatus with a powerful external player once again courting a ‘pragmatist’ and a general they can ‘do business with’, and we’re back in the realm of indispensability.

Indispensability is not immune to events, of course, as 2011 proved. But a mind focused on survival, and continuity, can adjust when the unexpected hits.

And few have proved better at survival and continuity than Gen K.

Put it this way. 2013 brings with it the expiry of the terms of parliament, the president, the chief justice and the chief — and alone among those four, the chief seems to hold his destiny in his own hands. Twitter: @cyalm


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

Comments (27) Closed

I. Kamal Dec 23, 2012 03:08pm
Mr. Almeida is thoroughly confused. There is no head or tail to this article.
Faiza G R Bhatt Dec 23, 2012 07:09pm
the only political person who can bring military and establishment under his civilian control is charismatic Imran Khan. army generals themselves will not mind yielding to him. he is the only person who can defend Pakistan, its people, democracy, judiciary, military and ISI in the west.
Hamza Dec 23, 2012 05:51pm
he should not have taken the extension and gone earlier if he is as sweet as you think
Aj Dec 23, 2012 05:49pm
Thats how people behave when freedom of speech goes in to the hands of secularists. Rightly pointed out
deep Dec 23, 2012 05:31pm
Love the analysis Cyril - and the picture you draw is scary for the future of pakistan, afghanistan and india - it seems like we are sliding into square one behind the facade of democracy.
Raoul Ciao Dec 23, 2012 10:22am
v.interesting and insigightful read. Thanks you Mr Almeida. And merry Xmas to you.
Silajit Dec 23, 2012 03:25pm
Since you're so full of praise of the army's intentions, ambitions and agenda, where then do you go to read articles that look past the rose colored glasses? If you call yourself a patriot, you ought to be praising Cyril's courage in criticizing the establishment - something that scores of journalists have paid for with their lives.
wbwise Dec 23, 2012 04:34pm
In most third world developing nations, the military retains the most power and Pakistan is no different. One could argue that the reason why India and China were able to throw off their third-world shackles is because their militaries are subservient to civilian rule - democratic and autocratic.
Patriotic Muslim Dec 23, 2012 04:11pm
You are an expatriate charged with distributing the certificates of patriotism to those who say what you want to hear and denying them to those who dare to speak up the truth!!
Haider Dec 23, 2012 11:26am
What a brilliant piece. Almeida is probably the best columnist at Dawn and one of the best I've ever read.
Hasan Dec 24, 2012 09:08am
The "army as an institution" is responsible for four martial laws and all the resultant ills. Mr. Almeida has only called a spade a spade.
Nina Dec 23, 2012 12:33pm
We have people like Almeida, NFP and (RIP) Cowasjee. How can anyone in their right state of mind even think for a moment that we are a failed state?
Hasan Dec 24, 2012 09:05am
For that Mr. Khan would first need to be independent of the military, won't he?
Shahzad Saqlain Dec 23, 2012 12:36pm
Well said Tariq. DAWN is not what it used to be under the illustrious Ahmad Ali Khan sahib. It doesn't even look like a Pakistani newspaper anymore.
NASAH (USA) Dec 23, 2012 12:32pm
And what about the new civilian government -- you don't factor any of them in the new equation?
Tariq Dec 23, 2012 12:31pm
Full of conjucture...General Kiyani didn't ask for extension in service, rather it was the political government that wanted to give it to him. Cyril likes to denigrate the army as an institution. Pakistan wouldn't exist if it wasn't for the Army and its efforts to keep the country united. I have never heard a word of praise in favor of Pakistan Army from Cyril and for that matter from any enlightened moderate columnist of DAWN. It has become more of an Indian and Western mouthpiece than a truly national newspaper. Shame on DAWN for towing the foreign masters agenda. By the way, I do not serve in the military or any of its arms; infact I am an expatriate Pakistan.
Parvez Dec 23, 2012 03:51pm
You are normally 'middle of the road' and keep an exit door open for safety. This time your are clear and what I understood was that the army's priorities are the army and America, period. Have a great Christmas and hope to keep reading you throughout the coming year.
NASAH (USA) Dec 23, 2012 01:19pm
In many people's views all FOUR should retire in 2013 -- for some peace & quiet in the country.
Anwar Saadat(Karak,KPK) Dec 23, 2012 03:37am
America will go on relying on Pakistan Army intead of the politicians, because our politicians are still immature.Look at the mess they have created in the whole country especially in Karachi.The nation should bring educated, honest and confident leadership in the upcoming elections.
zahid Dec 23, 2012 04:35am
As always! Bravo for a well thought out article... But here i will differ with Cyril ! the impression is given tht Gen K is building a case for another exension. However as far as i know Gen K has played all his cards and as a professional and upright soldier he is ready to leave the post for fresh minds,who can bring new ideas and and work with vigour to end the myriad of crisis counry is facing. It would be very unfortunate for pakistan if Gen K decides otherwise. He should prove tht he is a man of wisdom and at the same time he must uphold the sancity of institution he so dearly loves and has served with distinction for four decades.
SS Dec 23, 2012 02:54pm
Bravo!!! Sir, Very insightful, as usual. Merry X'MAS
Levaranti Beria Dec 23, 2012 07:02am
You are a brave man Cyril Almeida!
abbastoronto Dec 23, 2012 09:47pm
The Military has smartened up. They no longer seek direct power.
Victor Dec 23, 2012 09:49pm
Why always blame India/Israel/USA. Why not blame Pakistanis for all of Pakistans problems?
Munaeem Jamal Mallick Dec 24, 2012 02:08am
No can bring anyone in Pakistan. Everyone is trying to grab his share. Gen K and his members are doing the same.
Irritated Dec 25, 2012 07:21am
Oh for once stop being such a cynic.
Ahmer Dec 25, 2012 07:32pm
Stars themselves seem to conspire to make Gen K a chief for almost life. With foreign forces withdrawing from Afghanistan in 2014, there will be no point in changing horses in mid stream. We need to keep Gen K till we know for certain which way does Afghanistan go. Not granting him an extension of at least another three uears will be unwise.