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.
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.