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In Pakistan, the army is firmly in control

August 23, 2010 20:11 IST

India must carefully weigh its options, says strategic expert Gurmeet Kanwal.

The revelations on WikiLeaks about the damage done to US, NATO and Indian interests in Afghanistan by the sinister nexus between the Inter Services Intelligence, Pakistan's external intelligence agency, and the various factions of the Taliban supported by it, have  caused irreparable harm to Pakistan's fledging democracy and the civilian government's already floundering foreign policy.

Also, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has given General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the army chief and a former director general of the ISI, an unprecedented extension for three years. The last such extension was given to General Ayub Khan and the world knows how it turned out. Has Gilani set in motion events that will lead up to another military coup in Pakistan? Kayani has carefully scripted the façade that he supports democracy, but only time and the internal security situation will reveal his real intentions.

Incidentally, Gilani did not consult the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), the main opposition party before announcing the extension. Though Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has denied it, American pressure contributed substantially to the decision. US and NATO-ISAF forces in Afghanistan have come to believe that though Kayani is not a perfect partner in the war on terror, any one else would be far worse.

Clearly, civilian rule over two years has failed to usher in genuine democracy in Pakistan and the army chief continues to remain the ultimate arbiter of the nation's destiny. Whispers of a nexus between Gilani and the army top brass have now turned out to be true.

When the US and its NATO allies launched an invasion of Afghanistan after the attacks on September 11, 2001, then President Pervez Musharraf succeeded in pitch forking his country once again to the status of a frontline state. The Pakistan army gleefully accepted all the goodies that the Americans offered without reciprocating in a manner that the Americans had wanted them to; i.e. to fight the Taliban-al Qaeda terrorists on Pakistan soil and to stop aiding and abetting their Taliban protégés in Afghanistan.

Under Musharraf, the Pakistan army mastered the fine art of running with the Taliban hare while pretending to hunt them down with the US hounds. President Barack Obama's hard-headed Af-Pak strategy gradually came to haunt the Pakistan Army and it knew that denouement was at hand. It reluctantly launched counter-insurgency operations against the TTP to stop its march to Islamabad.

The clearest lesson to emerge from the civil-military imbroglio in Pakistan is that, as long as the Pakistani armed forces remain far more powerful than the country's legitimate security considerations warrant, repeated military coups will continue to hang over Pakistan's fledgling democracy like the proverbial sword of Damocles. The well-wishers of Pakistan in the west, who have consistently and rather naively, been supporting the Pakistan Army, ostensibly in order to strengthen democracy in Pakistan, including premier think-tanks like the Washington-based Council for Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institution, need to re-assess the warped calculus of their analyses.

General Musharraf's military regime had declared that, "Pakistan would continue to support with moral, political and diplomatic backing militants seeking independence of Kashmir from India." Despite his peace overtures towards India, Nawaz Sharif had also promised 'many more Kargils'. Indian policy planners clearly understand that Pakistan's military president had merely reiterated Pakistan's proxy war policy to annex Kashmir by any means and to continue Pakistan's strategy to bleed India through a thousand cuts.

Perhaps the Mumbai terror attacks that are known to have been perpetuated by the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and directed throughout by the ISI were part of this strategy of aggressive engagement. The real problem between India and Pakistan is the Pakistan Army and its abnormal influence in Pakistan's affairs, and not the Kashmir issue or any other issue. Till the Pakistan army is tamed and genuine democracy takes root in Pakistan, India-Pakistan problems will remain irreconcilable.

While the Pakistan Army will for some more time remain preoccupied with fighting the emerging scourge of fundamentalist terrorism within Pakistan and from across its western borders, India can ill-afford to let its guard slacken for, sooner rather than later, new attempts will invariably be made by the Pakistani generals to again enlarge the scope of the proxy war in Kashmir and other parts of India.

In keeping with its tradition of doing things on a grand scale without due thought being given to the consequences, the Pakistan Army, aided by the ISI, may attempt to get its mercenary marauders to 'seize' a small town in Kashmir and proclaim that it has been liberated by the mujahideen. Such attempts need to be guarded against through effective intelligence networks and vigorous operations by the security forces.

Pakistan is now recognised as the world's mother nation in spreading the cult of radical fundamentalism through state-sponsored terrorism. It could not have achieved this dubious distinction but for the machinations of its unjustifiably large army. Concerted international efforts must be made in the long-term interest of Pakistani democracy and regional stability to ensure that the Pakistan Army is not allowed to rule unhindered from behind the scenes and further build itself into an even more powerful force. In this respect, the conventional military aid being given to the Pakistan Army by the US and its allies is a retrograde step.

India must leverage its influence with Western democracies to prevail on them to refrain from conducting business as usual with the Pakistan military and from encouraging it in any manner, despite the so-called global war on terrorism. Under the prevailing circumstances, with political and internal security instability forming an explosive cocktail in Pakistan, India must carefully think through its moves towards resuming the stalled rapprochement process.

While it is necessary to continue the ongoing dialogue with Pakistan, it would be counter-productive to pin hopes on early resolution of the complex issues that have plagued the relationship for over 60 years.

Gurmeet Kanwal is director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.

Gurmeet Kanwal