Wednesday, 30 May 2012

General Kayani: Implications of Extension

The ‘great man’ school of history would not consider it amiss that General Kayani has got his long-expected extension as Pakistan Army Chief for another three years. Continuity in the appointment, critical to the culminating war in the vicinity, is the persuasive reason. The Pakistani Prime Minister, Gilani, exercised his new found prerogatives under the 18th Amendment. This will be taken as an exercise of civil authority; thereby helping forge the principle of civil control over the military. While it is futile to point out that this authority would have been greatly reinforced in case a successor had been named instead, this article argues that the Kayani extension has an underside.

The bright part is the message from this expression of confidence in Kayani; that the civilians do not see him as a threat to the renascent civilian institutions. Instead, his being in charge is taken as a symbol of a return to parliamentary democracy, from the presidential flirtation under Musharraf. Since the polity needs time to settle in, a general in control of his Bonapartist tendencies is preferable to chancing another one who may prove, as in the case of Ayub, Zia and Musharraf earlier, to be less so inclined.

Since stability in the Pakistani Army is crucial to Pakistan staving off ‘failed state’ status, changing horses midstream does not make sense. Kayani has proven his credentials in conducting operations in Swat and South Waziristan against Islamists. The operations were certainly less duplicitous than those under the Musharraf regime, even if the charge that they constituted much smoke without fire sticks. At present, retaining him points to the next sector of operations being North Waziristan, in conjunction perhaps with the impending US thrust into Kandahar. Leadership turbulence, already witnessed in the US camp, could do without replication on the Pakistani side. With US trained Kayani and Petraeus known to share an understanding, there would be little dissonance in Obama’s War of necessity in AfPak.

In any case, the extension was more or less a dictate from Rawalpindi, endorsed no doubt by Washington DC. Kayani’s role in the strategic dialogue in Washington DC bears recall. The ruling civilian camp is currently divided between political players and the best that the civilians can do under the circumstance is to take some credit, even if the outcome was predictable. The positive side is that it helps to strengthen the office of the Prime Minister, who has the military’s backing, as against that of the constitutionally disarmed President. Eventually, with precedent being reinforced, civilian authority would gain primacy.

As a counter-factual case, if the civilian camp had shaken the boat by selecting another Ziauddin, then two outcomes could have been witnessed: Kayani leaving with the grace of Karamat, or Kayani staying on with the ruthlessness of Musharraf. This is not to say that there is no depth in Pakistani military leadership. There was also mention of ISI chief, Shuja Pasha, as a potential candidate. Like Kayani he had been the ISI boss and the DGMO, besides also having strategic acumen evident from his having headed the Staff College in Quetta. Naming someone else would have helped in instilling in the Army a sense of being a subordinate institution and also helped in building the Army’s institutional strength.

The campaign against Islamism is a political project and can do without over burdening military personalities or choosing the military as solution. While individuals matter, as Kamal Ataturk’s case suggests, the experience with Musharraf provides a counter-point. Radicalism in Pakistan owes in part to socio-economic causes, as also to a nationalist sentiment. The answer lies in social and political reforms. While the latter is underway, the former, that could upset the landed oligarchy, are not in sight. Cooption of the Army’s leadership into the elite keeps it as a balancer and here Kayani’s lower middle class background helps. Key areas like education remain unaddressed adding to radicalism, making the Army appear as part of the solution. In the battle of ideas, military men have little space. Pakistan in placing its eggs in one basket, threatens its future.

The extension suggests that the military prong of strategy towards AfPak will continue as dominant till the Petraeus review due late in the year. Whether herding the Taliban to the table can be done with the political prong of talks being outsourced to Karzai at the Kabul conference, is debatable. The implication is that the war is set to continue; the deadlines of 2011 and the latest one of 2014 being dead at inception.

Kayani has reneged from the progress made in the back channel with India. The mid-July set of talks with India in Islamabad were sabotaged by the Army using the Pakistani Foreign Minister. This indicates a hard-line in store strengthened by the belief of a US backing. In a seeming refutation of India’s Army Chief’s indication of readiness with ‘Cold Start’, in a power presentation, Kayani said that Pakistan Army would remain ‘India centric’.

While wishing Kayani good luck, his extension is not an unmixed blessing. 

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