Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani may have erred in pulling up the Army brass — Army Chief Pervez Ashfaq Kayani and ISI Chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha — for bypassing the civilian government, and been a bit over the top in sacking his Defence Secretary Lt Gen Khalid Nayeem Lodhi for “gross misconduct”. But no one can question his authority in taking those steps.
The Pakistan Army’s reaction however, is something else. On Wednesday the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) directorate issued a press release observing that the PM’s actions have “very serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences for the country”. This is something that would never be countenanced by a truly democratic polity.
And this is just the beginning of the game. On Thursday Kayani has summoned a meeting of his Corps Commanders, who arguably have more authority than that possessed by the Pakistan government’s Cabinet. On Wednesday we have also had the announcement that 111th Brigade, based in Rawalpindi, the General Headquarters of the Pakistan Army, has a new commander, Brigadier Sarfaraz Ali. This could be a coincidence, but so could the fact that the formation has led all the coups that have taken place in Pakistan.
Tensions have been rising between the People’s Party of Pakistan (PPP) government and the Army in the past couple of months. But the issue that has brought things to a head seems to be submissions made by Kayani and ISI chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha to the Supreme Court of Pakistan on the Memogate case. This refers to a memo given by Pakistani Ambassador to the US Hussain Haqqani, to the US Joint Chiefs of Staff through Pakistani-American Mansur Ijaz, requesting US support to cut the Pakistan Army to size in the wake of the Bin Laden killing. The request was curiously revealed to the media by Ijaz, and the fallout was that Haqqani lost his job and is currently hiding out in Gilani’s official residence in Islamabad.
Curiously, as the ISPR release notes, Kayani and Pasha had been submitting their papers to the Supreme Court through the Attorney General’s office since the last week of December when the Memogate panel of the court began its inquiries. Curiously, Gilani chose to use People’s Daily Online of China to declare that the responses of the two were “unconstitutional and illegal” and that, too, on January 9 when Kayani was on a visit to Beijing. Clearly he wanted the Pakistan Army chief to get the message, or he was waving a red rag in front of the bull.
This is a confrontation that Gilani cannot win. Both he and his boss, President Asif Zardari are not the most popular men in Pakistan. At the same time, the Army cannot easily contemplate a coup. On paper, at least, Zardari is the Supreme Commander of the Army and any coup against him could lead to the charge of treason against its perpetrators.
The Army also has to be careful because in the past the Pakistani judiciary has rubber-stamped the illegal actions of the Army under the Doctrine of Necessity. But the feisty Chief Justice Ifthikar Muhammad Chaudhry has made it clear that those days are over. On Tuesday, while hearing some matter, he once again reiterated that the judiciary will not follow the doctrine of necessity and will uphold the constitution regardless of the consequences. Of course coups being coups, if the situation is untenable and its corporate interests threatened, the Army will go ahead and do the needful.
The way out could be a replacement of Gilani by another PPP man, or the replacement of both the PM and President Zardari. The PPP may be strong, but neither of these two individuals count for much. Early elections, too, are an option, but the Pakistan Army would still have to worry about that because the result could see the return of Nawaz Sharif whose estrangement from the Army are arguably deeper because of his 1999 experience. And if Zardari and Gilani come back, the Army would have more egg on its face.
Many observers place great faith in the Pakistani civil society emerging as a bulwark against the Army. That faith is probably misplaced since the size of that group is minuscule. When it comes to the Army, Pakistanis have been trained to salute and that is what is likely to happen in the event of a coup, if indeed it takes place. As of now, the aam Pakistani is unlikely to support his civilian government against the Army.
Mail Today January 12, 2012