The Takeover Ques­tion

In the pre­vail­ing en­vi­ron­ment, it would be mad­ness on the Pak­istani mil­i­tary’s part to even think in terms of a takeover. And the army com­mand is not mad.

Southasia - - COVER STORY - By Javed Hus­sain

The prece­dent for mil­i­tary takeovers was set in 1958 when Gen­eral Ayub Khan staged a coup and jus­ti­fied it on the grounds of chaos in the coun­try caused by the in­ep­ti­tude of the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship. Con­se­quently, Gen­er­als Yahya Khan, Zi­aul Haq and Pervez Mushar­raf also ad­vanced the same pre­text for tak­ing over. The mil­i­tary ruled over the coun­try over a span of thirty three years. That is why a demo­cratic en­vi­ron­ment could not be cre­ated, democ­racy could not take root and de­vel­op­ment could not be­come an in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized ac­tiv­ity. None of the mil­i­tary rulers had any mis­giv­ings about sac­ri­fic­ing na­tional in­ter­ests on the al­tar of am­bi­tion.

To­day, the state of Pak­istan is faced with multi-di­men­sional chal­lenges, the great­est be­ing the in­sur­gency that started in FATA and Balochis­tan, which, over the years, has en­veloped the whole coun­try and threat­ens to un­der­mine its foun­da­tions. In the process, it has filled the people with ap­pre­hen­sion and cre­ated a sense of in­se­cu­rity and un­cer­tainty in their minds. As a re­sult, they are look­ing to­wards the army to rid the coun­try of ter­ror­ism to en­able them to lead a tran­quil life.

Mean­while, the Tehreek-e-Tal­iban Pak­istan has be­gun to treat the state with haughty con­tempt by or­ches­trat­ing acts of ter­ror even dur­ing the course of the talks. As a con­se­quence, it seems that the govern­ment will soon be di­rect­ing the mil­i­tary to es­tab­lish the writ of the state in North Waziris­tan, the hub of the ter­ror­ists. All eyes are thus on the mil­i­tary.

Against this back­drop, there is a re­port car­ried by the Wash­ing­ton Post, which says that Pak­istan is among those coun­tries where a mil­i­tary takeover is pos­si­ble. Is it? The hy­poth­e­sis seems rather far-fetched in­so­far as it re­lates to Pak­istan. It ig­nores the fact that in the pre­vail­ing en­vi­ron­ment, it would be mad­ness on the mil­i­tary’s part to even think in terms of a takeover. And the army com­mand is not mad.

The army knows that North Waziris­tan will be the hard­est nut to crack. It will have to con­tend with the harsh ge­og­ra­phy of the area which fa­vors the in­sur­gents – a mass of rugged hills and moun­tains, cliffs, ravines and de­files; the few roads in the area lack the ca­pac­ity to sup­port large forces lo­gis­ti­cally and move­ment on these is vul­ner­a­ble to am­bush. Among the 600,000 people who in­habit the area live thou­sands of in­sur­gents – Chechens, Uzbeks, fighters of the Haqqani net­work, the Hafiz Gul Ba­hadur group, the TTP and a num­ber of other ji­hadi groups. They are skilled in their craft – guerilla war­fare, are highly mo­ti­vated and are said to en­joy the sup­port of the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion – some out of fear, oth­ers out of con­vic­tion. There is also a close affin­ity be­tween them and the Afghan Tal­iban. Amal­ga­mated, they would be a for­mi­da­ble force. All in all, the op­er­a­tional en­vi­ron­ment would be less than fa­vor­able.

There are other chal­lenges also that the army will have to sur­mount, the big­gest be­ing the strat­egy to be em­ployed. If it repli­cates the strat­egy em­ployed in Swat and South Waziris­tan that was space ori­ented, hence, could not pre­vent the in­sur­gents from

es­cap­ing to other agencies in FATA and places out­side it, the army would get into a pro­tracted war.

Pak­istan can­not af­ford a pro­tracted war for a num­ber of rea­sons, some of which are; one, ter­ror­ism across the coun­try would get ex­ac­er­bated; two, it would sig­nify fail­ure of the army and this would plunge the people into de­spair; three, it would have a detri­men­tal ef­fect on the coun­try’s frag­ile econ­omy which would bring the people un­der greater pres­sure; four, it would pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties to coun­tries in­im­i­cal to Pak­istan to ex­ploit its tribu­la­tions

The army would thus be re­quired to for­mu­late a strat­egy that would not only lead to oc­cu­pa­tion of space, but also lead to an­ni­hi­la­tion of the en­emy. Only then can it be said that North Waziris­tan has been cleared. It would help the army enor­mously if the Afghan Tal­iban, the Haqqani net­work and Hafiz Gul Ba­hadur are per­suaded not to join the fray, while the Amer­i­cans are asked to sup­port the oper­a­tion by tak­ing out the Pak­istani in­sur­gents, Fa­zlul­lah et al, present in the bor­der­ing Afghan prov­inces and by em­ploy­ing their killer drones in con­junc­tion with the Pak Army. If this can be achieved, the op­er­a­tional en­vi­ron­ment would be­come fa­vor­able.

An­other di­men­sion of the prob­lem is the back­lash in the ur­ban ar­eas that would fol­low the launch of the North Waziris­tan oper­a­tion. As this would have a dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect on the people, si­mul­ta­ne­ous in­tel­li­gence­based op­er­a­tions will have to be launched against the TTP cadres and ter­ror­ists of dif­fer­ent hues, by the lawen­force­ment agencies, as­sisted by the army and spear­headed by el­e­ments of the SSG.

These are some of the chal­lenges fac­ing the army. It has its hands full. There­fore, there is ab­so­lutely no pos­si­bil­ity of a mil­i­tary takeover prior to the launch of the oper­a­tion. And once the oper­a­tion gets un­der­way, the army’s fo­cus would be on the con­duct of war in FATA. Up­per­most in its mind would be the ac­com­plish­ment of the mis­sion as­signed in the time frame es­tab­lished for it. There­fore, dur­ing the oper­a­tion also, there is no pos­si­bil­ity of a mil­i­tary takeover. It would be pre­pos­ter­ous to think other­wise.

Next, con­sider the out­come of the war. The war could end on a win­ning note, that is, mis­sion ac­com­plished. Or, mis­sion not ac­com­plished, that is, the in­sur­gents have es­caped the drag­net to fight an­other day and the mil­i­tary gets into a pro­tracted war. In the for­mer, the mil­i­tary would be hailed as he­roes, the govern­ment would bask in glory in the shad­ows of the mil­i­tary, and the people will re­joice over the vic­tory. Would the mil­i­tary like to takeover while the coun­try cel­e­brates? No pos­si­bil­ity. In the lat­ter case, the mil­i­tary would again have its hands full. How long it will take to crush the in­sur­gency no­body can sur­mise, least of all the army. But what one can say with some cer­tainty is that, if the mil­i­tary is un­able to fin­ish the job be­fore the exit of for­eign forces from Afghanistan by the end of this year, it is likely that the op­er­a­tional sit­u­a­tion be­comes worse. In these cir­cum­stances, would the mil­i­tary be in­clined to take over? No pos­si­bil­ity.

The mil­i­tary rulers had jus­ti­fied their takeovers on the grounds of chaos in the coun­try caused by the in­ep­ti­tude of the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship. To­day, the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship may be inept, but, mer­ci­fully, there is no chaos – ex­cept that caused by ter­ror­ism. Thus a mil­i­tary takeover on this pre­text can also be ruled out.

The worst thing that the govern­ment can do is to make things worse by con­tin­u­ing to in­sist on talks with the ter­ror­ists, who con­tinue to pro­voke them, and the govern­ment pro­cras­ti­nates. In the event, in­stead of tak­ing over, it would be prag­matic on the part of the army to con­tinue with the tar­geted strikes against the ter­ror­ists in FATA and wait for the sig­nal to pro­ceed with the of­fen­sive, and in the worst case, launch the of­fen­sive in North Waziris­tan with­out wait­ing for the govern­ment’s ap­proval, an ini­tia­tive that would have the people’s ap­proval. And the army com­mand is prag­matic.

Apart from the chal­lenges that the army is faced with, if the mul­tidi­men­sional prob­lems that the coun­try is con­fronted are also taken into con­sid­er­a­tion, it would be an act of folly by the mil­i­tary if it takes over.

As long as the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship fos­ters eco­nomic growth, pro­motes so­cial jus­tice and en­hances the people’s qual­ity of life, the people will re­main con­tented. It is only good gov­er­nance that would de­ter the mil­i­tary from in­ter­ven­ing.

PTV in Is­lam­abad or the 111 Bri­gade had been given cer­tain or­ders. But a feel­ing of re­straint and mod­er­a­tion pre­vailed in Rawalpindi and the civil­ian politi­cians sit­ting in the seat of power were left to their own de­vices.

In line with new in­ter­na­tional (read US) think­ing, it has now been thought pru­dent to tone down uni­formed lead­er­ship in var­i­ous coun­tries around the world and to dis­cour­age mil­i­tary takeovers. The ef­fort is to bring civil­ian rulers to the fore and to pro­vide them with a fair op­por­tu­nity to gov­ern – or to at least project them­selves as the real rulers. It is well un­der­stood that in some coun­tries, like Pak­istan, Egypt and Turkey, it is just not pos­si­ble to re­move the mil­i­tary from the shad­ows. In Pak­istan, for one, the mil­i­tary has al­ways been treated as a priv­i­leged class, a su­pe­rior cat­e­gory of people that is deemed as be­ing fit as well as qual­i­fied to rule over the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion. The armed forces are hon­oured and revered in any coun­try for the role they play or are ex­pected to play in the preser­va­tion and pro­tec­tion of the phys­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal borders. In Pak­istan, this re­spect and ad­mi­ra­tion is taken a bit too far and, in the mind of the com­mon man, the mil­i­tary is not per­ceived as be­ing an in­sti­tu­tion that should be sub­servient to civil­ian power but as a su­pe­rior class that is equipped and ready to rule and run the af­fairs of the state.

It is true that the re­sources of the Pak­istani mil­i­tary have been over­stretched over the past few years, in view of the ter­ror­ism and in­sur­gency that it has had to deal with in­side the coun­try be­sides guard­ing both the east­ern and western borders from the en­emy out­side. Civil­ian ad­min­is­tra­tion is, of course, an­other ball game and it is com­mend­able that in­stead of ar­ro­gat­ing this role to them­selves as they have done in the past, Pak­istan’s armed forces have steered them­selves clear of such a mis­ad­ven­ture though the temp­ta­tion to take over power must have been very hard to re­sist on cer­tain oc­ca­sions.

The Pak­istani mil­i­tary has come to re­alise – and also told - that gov­er­nance of the coun­try should be left to civil­ian gov­ern­ments though how­ever poorly the lat­ter may per­form the task. The mil­i­tary has its own con­sti­tu­tional role cut out for it, namely guard­ing the na­tional fron­tiers. It is oc­cu­pied at present in fight­ing those el­e­ments that are gnaw­ing at the coun­try’s sovereignty from in­side the borders - a job the ter­ror­ists are do­ing so well that the armed forces are hav­ing to rally all their ca­pa­bil­i­ties and pro­fes­sional might to fight this en­emy. There is al­ways the pos­si­bil­ity that they may have to de­ploy forces to fight a war on the borders too but if they were to em­broil them­selves in mat­ters of civil­ian ad­min­is­tra­tion, this 7th largest army in the world would just not have enough men and re­sources to per­form both tasks si­mul­ta­ne­ously and would be likely to lose their cut­ting teeth.

There would be many a politi­cian in the coun­try who still hears the sound of boots in his af­ter­noon reverie while he is hav­ing a post-lunch siesta. Some­times the com­mon man too, driven to the edge, wishes that the civil­ian rulers, elected but inept, were re­placed by men in uni­form. But these are only wishes and re­al­ity is some­thing else.

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