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Sunday, June 15, 2008

Kiyani rules Pakistan

A defiant President Pervez Musharraf frontally took on his critics in a wide-ranging Press conference on May 7, rejecting widespread public demand for an inquiry on the Kargil fiasco, defending his policies and his handling of the judiciary and vowing that he would not yield to demands that he should quit. But the embattled President knows that he has reached the twilight of his controversial career and that it is only a question of time before he, like the proverbial "Lone Ranger", would have to "ride into the sunset". The squabbling politicians now ruling Pakistan are already daggers drawn on how to deal with Gen Musharraf, but are not able to decide how they can get rid of him, while simultaneously protecting their own personal interests and political turf.
Even as the political soap opera between Gen Musharraf and the politicians is played out, it is apparent that real power behind the scenes is wielded by the country's Army chief, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani, with the Army having been proclaimed as the protector of Pakistan's "ideological frontiers" by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. Gen Kiyani, who recently had three hour long midnight meeting with the besieged Gen Musharraf, is consolidating his position as the country's ultimate arbiter. Even supporters of Mr Nawaz Sharif acknowledge that while Gen Kiyani will not interfere in the President being eased out in a constitutional and graceful manner by parliamentary action, the Army will not countenance its former chief being humiliated. Mr Sharif cannot, after all, forget that when the personal vendetta between him and the then crusty old President Ghulam Ishaq Khan got out of hand, the then Army chief, Gen Abdul Waheed Kakar, forced both the President and the Prime Minister to resign on July 18, 1993.
Gen Kiyani appears determined to put his own stamp on Pakistan's turbulent history by easing out Gen Musharraf's protégés and reversing his predecessor's policies on both Afghanistan and India. Gen Musharraf earned the wrath of traditionalists in the Army establishment and their jihadi followers by providing support to the US-led ouster of the Taliban and thereafter deploying, under American pressure, over 80,000 troops to fight pro-Taliban Pashtun tribals in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province (NWFP). In the bloody conflict that followed, estimated 1,564 armed forces personnel were killed and 570 captured in operations in the NWFP between March 2004 and May 2008. There have also been numerous cases of desertions and refusals to fight by members of the armed forces. In the meantime, the pro-Taliban jihadis have united under the banner of the Tehriq-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan and carried their fight with the establishment into the very heart of the capital, Islamabad.
Shaken by the ferocity of the tribal resistance, the Pakistan Army has tried to work out "peace deals" with the militant tribals only to find the "deals" flounder because of the refusal of the tribals to end cross-border support for their Taliban kinsmen in Afghanistan. A recent "peace deal" in the picturesque valley of Swat has resulted in the Pakistan Government accepting that the district will be governed by shar'iah, not by Pakistani laws.
In the meantime, Gen Kiyani and the ISI agreed on a ceasefire with Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud on February 7 and are negotiating another "peace deal" with Mehsud, which will result in the withdrawal of the Pakistani Army from the tribal areas. This has provoked widespread concern in Kabul and Washington, as Mehsud has publicly declared that "jihad in Afghanistan will continue", adding: "Islam does not recognise any man-made boundaries or barriers".
Despite American concern, Gen Kiyani appears determined to strike yet another "peace deal" with pro-Taliban elements in Pakistan. Pakistan's foremost expert on the Taliban, Ahmed Rashid, has recently revealed that Gen Kiyani has told American and NATO officials that he will not retain or reequip troops to fight a counter-insurgency war in the NWFP, as the Americans are demanding. Mr Rashid notes that "Taliban virtually rules" in the seven tribal agencies bordering Afghanistan.
NATO officials have reported a sharp increase in the number of Pakistanis, Arabs and other nationalities fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan. While the US has provided over $ 8 billion in military assistance to Pakistan, virtually the entire assistance has been used to "buy expensive weapons for the Indian front, rather than smaller items needed for counter-insurgency". Mr Rashid adds that because of these developments, the US is now delaying supply of arms that Pakistan intends to use on its eastern front (against India) and is asking its NATO allies to do likewise. The Americans will learn that while Gen Kiyani may have been trained at the US Command and Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, he remains a traditionalist in using militant Islam as a tool of Pakistan's foreign policy.
Speaking to his troops along the LoC on February 12, Gen Kiyani averred that the Pakistan Army will never "turn its back" on the aspirations of the people of Jammu & Kashmir. He made similar remarks when speaking to his retired colleagues on Pakistan's national day on March 23. Taking the cue from the Army chief, the politicians led by Mr Gilani have disowned Mr Asif Zardari's suggestion that differences on Jammu & Kashmir should not affect the normalisation of India-Pakistan relations and reverted to the old hackneyed rhetoric on Kashmir being the "core issue" in India-Pakistan relations.
New Delhi would do well to remember that Gen Kiyani was commanding the 12 Infantry Division located in Murree, with its troops deployed in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir between 1998 and 2000 -- a period when cross border terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir was at its height. He was Director General of Military Operations during the tensions that followed the attack on the Indian Parliament by Jaish-e-Mohammed. Moreover, as Director General of the ISI, he was more than familiar with various means of "bleeding India".
General Kiyani will continue as Army chief till November 28, 2010, and is already putting his stamp on the directions that Pakistan's military establishment will take in determining the country's foreign and national security policies. Those in New Delhi, who were rejoicing at the "restoration of democracy" in Pakistan, would do well to remember the realities of how political power is exercised by the Army in our turbulent neighbour -- realities that will have to be equally well understood in Washington, London, Berlin and Kabul.

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