Shaukat Qadir: Who is gunning for Pakistan’s top generals?


I read the article in The New York Times on June 16, 2011, which quotes me (but gets my name wrong) and creates an erroneous impression that a “colonels’ coup” was a possibility and leaves the impression that I might have said so, which is also erroneous. I emphatically stated, and explained, why, in fact, it was not a possibility. I make this effort to explain why such an event is very far from being a possibility.

What this piece in The Times did succeed in doing was to dispel any lingering doubt in my mind that there is a deliberate coordinated effort to undermine the authority of the Pakistan army chief by the US and the US media. The only question that remains is: To what end? Since no one is likely to share that with me, I will have to resort to some conjecture to arrive at a conclusion. However, before doing so, some background.

In November 2007, General Ashfaq Kayani took over a demoralized, dysfunctional Pakistan army, which had no faith in its leadership and was not respected by the Pakistani people. In August of the same year, 208 soldiers under the command of a lieutenant colonel surrendered to a handful of Taliban, without firing a shot. In an op-ed, explaining the incident, I emphasized that it was an act of moral courage.

Under general Pervez Musharraf and his ambivalent policy, particularly post the disastrous Lal Masjid episode, they were not convinced that they were justified in killing their fellow citizens.

Within a year, General Kayani had turned the army on its head, remodeled it into an efficient fighting force. He restored not only the self-respect of the soldiers, he restored their respect in the eyes of the citizens; what is more, he succeeded in convincing his officers, as well as the rank and file that the threat from terrorists who targeted us was an existentialist threat, the greatest that we had faced. No mean achievement, by any standards.

By 2009, the peoples of Pakistan stood unified behind a military, they once again respected and backed the decision to use force against these militant extremists amongst us.

It was this situation that made possible the two remarkably swift victories by our military to retake Swat and South Waziristan (SWA) from the terrorists/extremists. This was a different army; a well-oiled, well-led, professional army, fighting for a just cause; one they all believed in.

It was at this stage that the entire US administration fell in love with General Kayani.

Among the encomiums General Kayani received:

“There had never been a chief like him.”

“He could work miracles.”

“He was indispensable.”

Under the unrelenting US pressure, Pakistan’s President, Asif Ali Zardari, who had been prepared to offer General Kayani a year’s extension, offered him another complete tenure; an extension of three years.

In fact, appreciation for the Pakistan military extended to include the ISI and, sometime after general Pasha took over as DG ISI, recriminations and accusations against the ISI suddenly ceased. Of course, these too were destined to recommence, but that comes later.

What changed it all? Why should the US administration now be determined to bring the Kayani/Pasha duo down?

If I were to attempt to identify the watershed event that began the change in the US outlook, I would probably identify the Pakistan-US strategic dialogue 2010. During this visit to Washington, General Kayani was granted the distinction of being invited to the White House, for a one-on-one with President Obama.

Apparently, during their 30-minute meeting, Mr. Obama did most of the talking, listing US demands and expectations of the Pakistan army. However, General Kayani is never unprepared. Getting up to take leave, he handed over a folder to President Obama and told him that the folder contained his analysis of where and why US policy in Afghanistan was in error and why the Pakistan army would not be able to meet American demands.

According to media reports, Mr. Obama was “completely taken aback” (shocked, would have been my choice of adjectives), but he assured General Kayani that this document would receive his personal and most serious attention.

Yes, I think that was the watershed. That was when it was driven home to the US administration that this soft-spoken, laid-back, easy-going general, far from being overawed by the privilege of meeting President Obama, would still give back better than he got.

In my article, “Why Joe Biden rushed to Pakistan”, carried by Counterpunch, I explained the series of events, clearly approved of and, perhaps, manipulated by General Kayani, which were intended to lead into an Afghan solution for Afghanistan. While facilitated by Pakistan, it successfully excluded the US, a situation that could hardly be acceptable to the US, causing Vice President Biden to hurriedly program a day’s visit to Pakistan.

But things might still have dragged on without reaching the level that they have, had it not been for the Raymond Davis affair.

Raymond Davis’ brazen murder of two Pakistani intelligence agents in broad daylight hit the headlines and caught the attention of the entire country and everybody was baying for Mr. Davis’ blood.

The US was so desperate to have him released that even the US president publicly lied, claiming Mr. Davis enjoyed diplomatic immunity! On the other hand, neither the Pakistan government nor the military/ISI was prepared to let him go, without due process. It was at this delicate juncture of a serious impasse, that Admiral Mike Mullen and General Kayani met somewhere offshore in the Middle East to find a military-diplomatic solution to this impasse.

In “How Pentagon arranged Raymond Davis’ release and the CIA took revenge,”, again carried by Counterpunch, I explained how General Kayani turned this fiasco into an opportunity by ensuring that all the rogue CIA (and affiliated) agents were ousted before the question of “Blood Money,” in accordance with Pakistani laws could be broached to release Davis.

However, if his meeting with President Obama was the watershed of his amiable relations with the US, his use of this opportunity to turn a potential fiasco into a singular achievement, was the last straw. It had finally been brought home to the US establishment that, if the Pakistani government was unable to use the word “No” in responding to the US demands, General Kayani could and frequently would.

From here onward, relations could not but have deteriorated. The Washington Post reported a “slanging match” between Leon E. Panetta, Director of Central Intelligence, and General Pasha, in which the latter more than held his own. Recriminations, accusations, and demands to “do more” recommenced.

And at about this stage, the US administration, read Pentagon/Langley, since US policies for this region are made there, not at the White House or Capitol Hill, just as ours are made in GHQ, decided that the army’s stranglehold over Pakistan’s US foreign policy had to be broken. General Kayani and the military had to be cut to size!

Given the benefit of hindsight, I think the manner of Osama Bin Laden’s execution has to be viewed against this backdrop i.e. that the Pakistan military and the ISI have to be cut down to size.

I have no intention here, of dwelling on “conspiracy theories” or suspicions that surround Osama’s death. I intend to accept the official US version at face value, and proceed from there.

The history of Pakistan-US relations is full of crests and troughs, but one thing has been constant: during even the lowest of troughs, as a matter of policy, the US has encouraged the Pentagon to keep lines open to GHQ. As a result, during the most acrimonious of relations between the two countries, the militaries have remained friendly.

With this background, the Pakistan military would not have had unrealistic expectations of a timely warning that the US had information regarding a “High Value Target” in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and were planning to take it out. The US decision not to share this with the political government makes eminent sense, since our political government leaks like a sieve!

Had the Pentagon shared this information with GHQ, Pakistani troops could have arrived while the operation was in progress and GHQ (General Kayani/ISI) would not have been as embarrassed as it was. But, if the purpose was to ensure maximum embarrassment, it succeeded beyond US imagination.

The attack on PNS Mehran targeting P3 C Orions, and the foul murder of the journalist Saleem Shahzad further compounded the Pakistan military’s misery and the alleged murder of a robber by Rangers personnel let the cup overflow. Incidentally, the last incident has been called into question and a video representation questioning the authenticity of the video which originally accused the Rangers of the murder can be viewed here:

Even though Mr. Obama, in his original speech announcing Osama’s execution, acknowledged, the contribution of Pakistani intelligence services, our government’s failure to pick that up resulted in further recriminations and accusations of either complicity or incompetence. Mr. Panetta was, in fact, publicly baying for General Pasha’s blood, which did seem a little odd since the CIA’s failure permitting the occurrence of 9/11, did not result in anybody being held to account. In fact, from the Bay of Pigs fiasco, Vietnam, drug smuggling, Iran-Gate, Guatemala, Venezuela, to date, no Director CIA has resigned or been fired for obvious failures and/or deliberate misdeeds, violating the US constitution.

It is an unfortunate military that is forced to declare war on a misguided segment of its own people. That, in itself, is an enormous challenge for military commanders at all levels. But, with the support of a united nation, the challenge reduces in intensity.

Events of the recent six weeks since May 2, have resulted in a phenomenal reduction in the, virtually unanimous, support that the nation offered its armed forces. Not just that, there is a deep-rooted resentment even within the armed forces resulting from the US execution of Osama.

Without mincing words, irrespective of rank, from general to soldier in the Pakistan military is equally filled with a deep anger; Pentagon deliberately chose to insult the Pakistan military where it hurts the most. In effect, telling them, “we can violate your territorial sovereignty and do what we want to with your citizens (or residents) and there isn’t a damn thing you can do about it.” That really, really hurts. It hurts even more when the country doing this calls itself an ally.

Obviously, General Kayani is in the eye of the storm; he has to be. Everybody in and outside the military, Pakistan, and beyond Pakistani borders, knows he was the Pentagon’s darling! Post May 2, he has gone round all garrisons, addressing officers and troops, facing their wrath and fielding all kinds of questions. He has expressed his sense of “personal betrayal” and stated that “military-to-military ties between the US and Pakistan need to be redefined.”

But that is not all. Everybody in the country, in or out of uniform, is aware that if American demands are not acceded to, it is only by General Kayani. That is why there is no possibility of a “colonels coup.” While the soldiers, of all ranks hold him responsible for whatever has gone wrong, they are also fully aware of his contributions and the fact that he is equally responsible for bridling the US. No, there is no threat of a colonels coup.

The real challenge that General Kayani faces is in winning back the entire respect of the soldiers that he commands, but far more importantly, in again uniting the nation behind him. While still doable, the latter poses a far greater challenge, considering how much ground he, personally, has lost. But he will need to re-establish himself more through his deeds than actions; and those deeds will have to be transparently public.

Personally speaking, I was not comfortable with the three-year extension to General Kayani; three years means two tenures and implies indispensability. Another year would have been appropriate and would not have given rise to the negative speculations that followed his extension.

In General Pasha’s case, I have long held the view that a two-year tenure as the DG of the premier intelligence agency is sheer bureaucratic stupidity. Just as he learns the ropes of the intricate intelligence business, he is replaced by another novice who, in turn, hands over to another novice. It is of no importance to me as to who is selected for this sensitive assignment, Pasha or another, a military officer or civilian, it is highly unfair to the institute and the individual, to give him/her a tenure of less than four to five years!

However, I now base my support for both, on totally different grounds. If the US so desperately wants to get rid of this pair, that they will go to any lengths to achieve this end; it can only be because, in the American perception, these two pose a threat to their (US) interests (designs). If that be so, I say, they must stay and foil American designs before we are sold out for dollars that line the pockets of powerful individuals who have no loyalty to this country and its people.

(Shaukat Qadir is a prominent analyst based in Pakistan. He can be reached at: [email protected])