Umer Farooq

Only a week before dismissing Prime Minister Mohammad Khan Junejo’s government in May 1988, military dictator General Ziaul Haq angrily remarked to his subordinates in Rawalpindi’s army house, “Have you noticed how arrogant Junejo has become? He even walks and behaves like [Zulfikar Ali] Bhutto.”

Zia’s anger was not without cause. A month earlier, the prime minister had not only gone against the general’s advice to sign the Geneva Peace Accord with the Afghan government but had also rallied the country’s political leadership behind this decision. In the process, Junejo isolated Zia and the military leadership and, perhaps, came as close to achieving civilian supremacy over security and foreign policy issues as any civilian leader in Pakistan ever has.

In March 1988, Junejo called an All Parties Conference (APC) on Afghanistan. He wanted Benazir Bhutto to participate in the conference, in order to ensure its success, and she demanded that Zia would not be invited to attend the event. Junejo accepted this condition. A piqued Zia then instructed Junejo not to sign the Geneva Peace Accord in haste. However, buoyed by the APC’s support for his point of view, Junejo dispatched foreign minister Zain Noorani to sign it.

Junejo’s attitude towards the military’s top brass is in stark contrast with the way Pakistan’s present political leadership is playing second fiddle to the military and intelligence establishment’s decisions. In an APC on September 29, leading politicians endorsed a resolution supporting a change of policy in dealing with militants in the tribal areas. The new policy, summed up as “Give peace a chance,” is intended to initiate dialogue with the tribal militants.

As the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Khalid Shamim Wyne, the Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Director-General Shuja Pasha briefed the APC participants, no one questioned the rationale for the policy change. Ironically, only two years ago, these political leaders had supported a military operation in Swat — again, no questions were asked.

Some participants at the September APC say the gathering was not meant to encourage, let alone ask, critical questions. Abid Hassan Minto, the senior Supreme Court lawyer known for his left-wing politics, was present at the APC and had some questions; he left the conference midway when he was not allowed to ask any. “The format of the APC was not conducive to questioning and the mood was not of critically examining the issues,” he says. There were dozens of political leaders present and all of them wanted to deliver hard-hitting speeches, he adds.

Minto says nobody questioned the military commanders about Pakistan’s internal security situation or the practical purpose of negotiating with militants after more than seven years of intermittent military operations. The APC did not question the political objective of successive military operations in the tribal areas and numerous peace deals forged with tribal militant groups.

Minto says he did not sign the resolution, “because after listening to the prime minister’s speech and briefings by Kayani, Pasha and the foreign minister, I had a clear understanding of the exact purpose of the APC.” It was, he says, “organised to endorse the decision of the military leadership”.

APC participants from almost all major political parties say they did not float the idea of initiating dialogue with militants. Only minor parties like Imran Khan’s Tehrik-e-Insaaf and extreme right-wing parties urged the government to start the dialogue, sources within the APC say. That they managed to make it the most important part of the resolution confirms that their agenda was being pushed by the military leadership.

The APC was convened at a time when Pakistan’s military leadership came under pressure from their counterparts in the United States military and intelligence establishment. Official circles perceived American allegations that Pakistani intelligence services were providing logistical support to militant groups such as the Haqqani network as threats. However, even before the politicians could meet, the Americans had already started a diplomatic effort to calm the Pakistani leadership’s nerves by issuing conciliatory statements and praising Pakistan for its role in the war against militancy.

No political leader, however, asked the military commanders and intelligence chief about the nature of their interactions with the Americans. None of them knew that Pakistani spies had, indeed, facilitated a meeting between the Haqqani network and American interlocutors only months before they placed their collective weight behind the military as a show of defiance to the United States. This meeting came to light last month when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton revealed the information during her visit to Pakistan.

A senior member of a major opposition party admits that the ISI-facilitated meeting between the Haqqanis and the US has had serious foreign policy implications and should have been critically examined in the APC before any endorsement of the resolution. He cannot explain, however, why this could not happen. The commanders were not asked why or how the Americans accused Pakistan of harbouring Haqqani militants and providing them logistical support only a month after meeting with the militants. Whether the military opts to corral political support for itself only when in trouble and does not even so much as bother to talk to politicians when things are hunky-dory is certainly open to question.

Observers say such a situation usually arises when the line between foreign policy and the murky world of intelligence blurs. When this happens, spymasters take over where politicians and diplomats should have been in charge. Such a shift is not only the result of recent events — the absence of strong democratic and civilian institutions through much of Pakistan’s history has allowed the military and intelligence establishment to dominate the policymaking process, enabled by an eager-to-please political class willing to do the military’s bidding to settle internal scores.

If the politicians had not made their internal discord visible and had avoided strengthening Zia in the wake of the Junejo government’s dismissal, his regime would have collapsed before his plane crashed. Zia was already feeling nervous as he witnessed his trusted officials being shown the door by Junejo in the months preceding the Geneva Peace Accord. Junejo first sacked Major-General Agha Nek Mohammad who was heading the civilian intelligence agency, the Intelligence Bureau, and was considered close to Zia. He subsequently sacked foreign minister Sahibzada Yaqub Khan, another close Zia associate. The message was clear — Junejo wanted to exclude Zia and the military from the domain of internal security and foreign policy.

“The single biggest mistake the Pakistani politicians made was that they were not organised when Zia moved against the Junejo government,” says Minto. Some of the politicians, in fact, sent congratulatory messages to Zia over the government’s dismissal. Others joined his post-Junejo administration — Nawaz Sharif opted to stay as chief minister of Punjab, with the general’s blessing, even after Sharif’s seniors and counterparts in the centre and other provinces had been unceremoniously removed.

Even during the post-Zia period, the military continued to dictate the decision-making process. Much to the chagrin of the military establishment, Benazir Bhutto challenged the military’s hold on foreign policy before she was ousted from power in 1990. In the run-up to her sacking, the military leadership as well as the opposition Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) severely criticised her for trying to improve ties with India during Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s 1989 visit to Pakistan to attend a summit meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc). Benazir Bhutto also disagreed with the military over the resolution of problems in Afghanistan — while her government favoured the policy of continuing negotiations on the basis of the Geneva Accord, the military and intelligence agencies supported warlords such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in their attempts to take over Kabul by force. Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto annoyed the military leadership when she attempted to bring the intelligence services under her control and appointed a committee to review the role and relationship of intelligence agencies in a democratic set-up in February 1989. In May 1989, she replaced the powerful ISI chief Lieutenant-General Hamid Gul, posting him as corps commander Multan, a demotion in the military hierarchy.

Benazir Bhutto was cautious when she returned in 1993 — she avoided major foreign policy decisions or interference in security policy during her second tenure. Importantly, she resisted international pressures to decrease defence expenditure, which remained fixed at 26 per cent of the national budget during her two and half years in office. She also vigorously campaigned in Washington to get the military a waiver from sanctions through the Brown Amendment, which made it possible for the United States to supply much-needed military hardware to Pakistan’s armed forces. This mollycoddling did not save her second government from dismissal, that too at the behest of the military establishment. Politicians – both in power and in the opposition – took note and never missed a chance to warm up to the military and intelligence chiefs.

“Over the years, the civilian leadership has conceded its role in security related policymaking,” acknowledges Khawaja Asif, a central leader of the Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz (PMLN). “But, in the present situation, this is true only for the government. We in the opposition want to assert our role in the security-related decision-making process,” he asserts. Asif claims his party has shunned the political tactics of the past, when politicians were ready to do the military’s bidding to defeat their opponents. He, however, does not have convincing answers when asked to explain why his party leader and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has had secret meetings with the army and ISI chiefs. Asif was cagey when asked why his party head, Nawaz Sharif, endorsed an unequivocally pro-military resolution at the APC. Before attending the APC in Islamabad, Sharif presided over a meeting of his party leaders in Lahore, seeking their opinion on the question of attending the conference, Asif says. “Many in the meeting opposed going to the APC as they said that it would be useless,” he tells the Herald. “This is a new method that the army has adopted to give cover to its decisions … previously they have been taking decisions on their own without consulting anyone … now they are doing the same with the APC — providing a cover for their continued dominance over the decision-making process on security and foreign policy issues,” says Asif. Nawaz Sharif nevertheless attended the APC and, despite raising a few rhetorical questions as reported in the press, did not press the issue of civilian supremacy over foreign policy and security issues.

This is not the first time Nawaz Sharif has shown such ambivalence towards the military. The first time he did so it cost him his second government. By late June 1999, he was convinced that the army’s intrusion into Kargil was a fiasco; instead of confronting the military leaders, he proceeded to Washington, uninvited, to seek President Bill Clinton’s help for a face-saving arrangement allowing the army to withdraw. The army leadership also knew by then that they could not sustain their Kargil adventure but, according to a former diplomat, “wanted to shift the blame for defeat on to the civilian leadership.” In less than two months, Nawaz Sharif was ousted from power in a bloodless coup.

In this, and so many similar examples of civilian leaders paying heavily for cozying up to the military establishment, is a bitter truth: democratic governments have not survived even after continuing to do the army’s bidding. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari’s government seems to have forgotten this.

March 25, 2015


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