By M D Nalapat
If the U.S. is floundering in a region hosting some of the world’s most dangerous religious extremists, a leading cause is the tribe of “South-Asia experts” nestling comfortably in think tanks, government agencies, and university departments across the U.S. Almost all of them have been apologists for the Pakistan army, as even a cursory reading of their published works during the previous three decades would testify. For years, these analysts and scholars have fed off the disinformation abundant in the ISI trough. Even after 9/11, when the BJP-led government then ruling New Delhi offered Washington an alliance against Wahabbi terror, these “experts” ensured that the offer got spurned, and that once again, the Pakistan army was entrusted with the job of guarding the chicken coop. Unfortunately for U.S. interests, the Clintons’ share with the Bushes’ and the Cheneys’ enormous faith in the “South-Asia” experts who evolved from the crucible of the Cold War, when India leant towards the USSR while the Pakistan army was an alliance partner, albeit on its own terms.
What those in charge of the formulation of policy towards Pakistan have consistently failed to factor in is the contradiction between a stable Pakistan and a strong military.”South-Asia” experts in the U.S. have been voluble in their claim that it is the military that is imparting stability to Pakistan, and have been dismissive of the few who have pointed out that the reverse is the case. That instability in Pakistan is caused by the bloated power of the military, principally the army, which controls domestic and foreign policy within Pakistan to the same degree as the junta in Myanmar did before the last election.
It is the irredentist adventurism of the Pakistan military and its nurturing of terrorism as a strategy of war that has combined with its Wahabbi outlook and its huge demands on the economy to steadily bring Pakistan to the edge of collapse. Although the “experts” favored by successive U.S. administrations may not be aware of this, the reality is that the Pakistan army is involved in a host of criminal activities, including the transport and refining of narcotics, counterfeiting of currency, and the training of extremist groups. Sadly, all this has been facilitated by the U.S. policy of (effectively) unconditional support for the Pakistan army.
This is not the occasion to recite a litany of the policy errors made by the Clinton administration in South Asia, except to point out to a grievous error of judgment made by the Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2009, when she secretly joined hands with the Chief of Army Staff Parvez Ashfaq Kayani in forcing the Zardari-Gilani civilian government in Pakistan to reinstate the dismissed Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Choudhury. At that time, this columnist had warned that this move would neuter the efforts of the Zardari-Gilani duo to establish civilian supremacy over the military. And unless this is done, there is zero prospect of a “stable” Pakistan. The military is the wild card in the pack that has ceaselessly fomented a jihadist mentality within Pakistan society, and has created conditions that have led to contempt for democracy within the establishment in that country.
Secretary of State Clinton has not hidden her antipathy for the President of Pakistan, nor her backing of the Chief of Army Staff.
Perhaps the “South-Asia experts” she relies on for guidance have not told her that General Kayani comes from a fundamentalist background: one that is almost completely Wahabbi. Or that throughout his career he has been a votary of the Zia Doctrine of the unity of jihadis with the Pakistan army. In contrast, while President Zardari shares with Bill Clinton a propensity for making overtures towards seductive females, he comes from a Sufi background, one where there is zero space for religious extremism. Indeed, the ethos of the Zardari family is even more moderate than that of the Bhuttos, whose apparent lack of fundamentalist beliefs cloaks a vacuum in religious attitude that was filled by a pseudo-western lifestyle. The Zardaris are religious, but in the Sufi rather than the Tablighi tradition favored by Kayani
This being the case, Asif Ali Zardari has from the start shown his willingness to take on the Pakistan military and cleanse it of extremists and their sympathizers. Instead of assisting him in this task, the Obama administration drove a dagger into its heart by conniving at the re-instatement of Iftikhar Choudhury as Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) in 2009. While there has been a much effusive comment about the “corruption-fighting” credentials of the CJP, what the U.S. “South-Asia experts” have failed to mention is the fact that Choudhury has not a word to say against an institution that is among the most corrupt in South Asia, which is the Pakistan army. The generals, as also lower-level staff, wallow in graft, to be met by a Nelson’s eye from the Chief Justice, who is equally indulgent towards Mian Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League, whose family leapfrogged from poverty to plenty within a generation by use of methods that defy characterization as ethical or legal. The U.S.-facilitated re-instatement of Choudhury has turned out to be a disaster for democracy in Pakistan, because of the CJP’s obsession with ensuring the dismissal of the elected PPP-led civilian government in Pakistan. Once Kayani got his man in as Chief Justice, and forced through an extension to his tenure as COAS (again with help from Washington), he became even more open in implementing the policy that has been his signature tune since the time he took over as chief of the army.
This is to do to NATO in Afghanistan what the Pakistan army did to the USSR during the 1980s, ensure defeat. It is no secret that China has entered the Great Game as a major player, or that Beijing is adopting the same strategy in Afghanistan that the U.S. followed two decades ago, which is to use the Pakistan army to ensure the defeat of rival militaries active in the Afghan theater. In 1998, this columnist first mentioned that China was more influential among the senior levels of the Pakistan military than the U.S. This and pointing out the Punjabi domination of the army earned him an effort from Pervez Musharraf to block him from writing in the Times of India. The Pakistan strongman complained to the former Times of India Editorial Director Dileep Padgaonkar about the unflattering comments (though accurate) being made about the Pakistan army and asked why “such writing was being tolerated by the newspaper”. Today, the most recent Kayani visit to Beijing, and his long meetings with Xi Jinping, Wen Jiabao, and other top Communist Party leaders have made clear that Beijing supports the brass in Pakistan in its struggle with the civilian establishment. After all, it is the Pakistan army that is expected to ensure that NATO leave Afghanistan in disgrace by 2014.
This is the precise reason why President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton need to avoid repeating their 2009 mistake (of backing Kayani over Zardari), and instead support the civilian establishment in Pakistan. If President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani are given backing from the U.S. and the rest of NATO, they can resume the task that was aborted in 2009, which is to de-radicalize the Pakistan army and make it a professional force that would battle terror groups rather than nourish them.