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Pakistan army’s ‘peace’

Sankar Sen |

President Trump has threatened to punish Pakistan, if it continues to provide safe haven to the terrorists, particularly the Haqqani network that is operating in Afghanistan. The US reckons that sending more American troops to Afghanistan will be of no avail if the Afghan Taliban can safely operate from their sanctuaries in Pakistan.

Similar warnings have been issued to Pakistan by the US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, and Defence Secretary Jim Mattis. It is unlikely that Pakistan will bend to American pressure and change its policy, but in its own self interest it may adopt token gestures, such as imposing curbs on the operations of the Taliban. These will be cosmetic in nature.

But its support for terrorist groups in India, notably Lashkar-eToiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, will continue. The Lashkar chief, Hafiz Saeed, is being released from detention and will be allowed to roam the country and make seditious incendiary speeches and rant against India which will have no respite from cross-border terrorism.

The Pakistan army’s hatred and antagonism towards India is visceral. India is portrayed by it as an existential threat to Pakistan.

The Rawalpindi Army GHQ has thus far scuttled efforts by different civilian governments of Pakistan to mend fences with India. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was acutely aware of the limitations of civilian power, had tried to improve relations with India. His efforts had been vehemently resented by the Generals.

A “judicial coup” of sorts, which was reportedly backed by the Army, sealed his fate. The Army believes that it is Pakistan’s guardian and will remain its most important institution for years to come.

It alone has the professional ability to handle national security and other important issues. Opposition to India and obsession with Kashmir are at the core of Pakistan’s official policy, as formulated the army over the past 50 years. The majority of Pakistani soldiers have served in Kashmir at some point in their careers and this has influenced their worldview. Kashmir is an obsessive concern of the Pakistan army like Alsace-Lorraine with France after 1871, Tireste with Italy after 1886, and Serbia with Bosnia after 1879.

Daniel Markey, in a very perceptive article in Foreign Affairs, has pointed out that civilian rulers in Pakistan had to negotiate a working relationship with the army in which the Generals always held the whip-band and retained significant powers of decision-making. In the 18th century, Frederick the Great’s Prussia was once referred to as “not a state with an army but an army with a state”.

This perhaps is the complex reality with today’s Pakistan. Its army is the world’s largest after China, Russia and India which of course is the rub. It has approximately 480,000 men with another 304,000 serving in para military units. They are as large as the American and much larger than the British army. They are not the demoralised conscripts of Iraq in 2003 or the rag-tag Taliban militants in Afghanistan in 2001, but highly motivated volunteers.

Anatol Lieven says in his book Pakistan ~ a Hard Country that western fears of the fate of the nuclear missiles, if Pakistan collapses, are genuine. However, an immediate and absolutely inevitable result would be the flow of a large number of trained solders including explosives experts to terrorist groups. Further, the Pakistan military more than most militaries regards itself as a class apart. The army makes great and conscious efforts to inculcate the feeling that they belong to the military family different from and superior to the country’s civil society.

The middle-rank officers hold the feudal political class in contempt and consider themselves morally superior and better educated. They are proud of the army and are fiercely loyal. Rewards of loyal military service have helped to prevent military coups and mutinies by junior officers ~ an eventuality that would plunge Pakistan overnight into cataclysmic chaos and usher in civil war and Islamist revolts. Further, the army remains a popular institution and viewed by the majority of the populace as the defender of the country’s integrity against threats posed by India.

In 2009, a survey by the US Institute of Peace found that 84 per cent of Pakistanis feel that the army is doing an excellent job of defending the country and helping the nation’s growth. A year later, PEW Research Centre reported that the army chief was more popular than the elected President. It has also developed extensive commercial and financial interests and is involved in economic enterprises with thousands of employees.

Ayesha Siddique, in her well-researched book Military Inc., has examined the structure and value of these enterprises and has pointed out how the vast military conglomerate sometime functions without any oversight at all. The military constantly uses its might and mystique to protect its members and advance its interest. The civilian rulers have often joined hands with the army to settle scores against their political rivals. The army also has deftly played one against the other. In a weak democratic state like Pakistan the people are used to authoritarianism and hence any army takeover does not upset them much.

Today, the Rawalpindi GHQ is riding high on popular support. Its decision to launch an all-out offensive against the Pakistani Taliban has been greeted with strong public approval. It has hunted down the militants and recovered many areas in North Waziristan which had been under Taliban control. According to the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, militant violence has markedly declined. The army has also launched a drive against the militants and other criminal elements in Karachi through the para-military forces.

Military courts are functioning with very little judicial oversight. It does not want to formally seize power as it would have little to gain. A military coup will invite international sanctions which cash-strapped Pakistan can ill-afford. But the Pakistan army remains obdurately opposed to any rapprochement with India. A permanent adversarial position suits its interest perfectly.

Ashley Tellis, a distinguished expert on South-east Asia, in an incisive monograph, Are India-Pakistan Peace Talks Worth a Damn? has said that Pakistan’s hostile and irrational behaviour is intensified by its army’s ambition to preserve its dominance in domestic politics. It seeks to subvert India’s emergence as a great power. Its ambition is to be treated on a par with India, despite differences in size, resources and capabilities.

Hence, Tellis feels that international appeals to India for talks with Pakistan can be counter-productive as they embolden Pakistan in its reckless strategies of aiding and abetting cross-border terrorism. Peace between India and Pakistan is possible if there is a structural change and alternation of the neighbour’s strategic praxis. Nuclear weapons provide it with the licence to support terrorism against India.

Tellis concludes that the USA today lacks the means to force Pakistan to change its strategic calculus and China wants to utilise Pakistan to keep India, its emerging regional competitor, off-balance. The situation may change if genuine civilian rule is established in Pakistan, but there is no possibility of such a development in the foreseeable future.

The Army will continue to call the shots in Pakistan. Its army is a powerful institution but this obsession with India will prove disastrous and may even destroy the country and its armed forces altogether.

( writer is Senior Fellow, Institute of Social Sciences; former Director-General, National Human Rights Commission; and former Director, National Police Academy)