Sunday 15 January 2012

Will Hillary again trip Zardari? (Sunday Guardian)


Hillary Clinton
hat successive US administrations tango with the Pakistan military is no secret. The men in khaki appear to exercise the same fascination over otherwise hard-bitten US officials that Ingrid Bergman had over Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca. Even the incoming US envoy to Delhi, Nancy Powell, has been an admirer of the generals in the Pakistan Army, especially the one going by the name of Pervez Musharraf. The dapper commando may not have been able to hold on to Kargil, but he certainly succeeded in winning over US envoys to Pakistan. Support from Washington was a critical factor in Musharraf's success in persuading the world that the very military that was propping up the Taliban was somehow the only agency that was succeeding in the battle against this terror group.
This columnist has been a critic of Pervez Musharraf, especially his (lack of) sincerity in fighting against terror groups, but it needs to be admitted that it was under his rule that the Pakistan media finally secured its independence. These days, even the Sacred Cow of Pakistan, aka the Pakistan Army, is finding itself the subject of some unpleasant commentary. Although Chief Justice Iftikhar Choudhury of the Pakistan Supreme Court seems unaware of this, the Pakistan Army is engaged in some of the most unpleasant and criminal activities that take place in the subcontinent, including narcotics, counterfeiting and the use of terror groups to inflict punishment on selected targets. Apart from the grants of house plots and other largesse that have been taken to be a normal perquisite in the life of a top-level officer in that military, several of the generals are involved in other businesses, using to pecuniary advantage the clout they enjoy in a country that has been dominated by the army since Ayub Khan launched his 1958 coup against Iskander Mirza. Thus far, while Chief Justice Choudhury has been fulminating against elected politicians (all from the People's Party, he being strangely indulgent towards Nawaz Sharif), he has ignored corruption in the military, as indeed has the US. Not that he does not have reason to be grateful. It was Kayani, with the backing of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who forced the PPP-led civilian government in Pakistan to reinstate Choudhury as Chief Justice in 2009, nearly two years after he had been dismissed by Musharraf. Indeed, by re-instating Choudhury, Kayani placed a stiletto into the political heart of the government, given the jurist's antipathy towards Zardari and his party. Since he took over, Choudhury's single-point programme has been to engineer the removal of Zardari (and now Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani as well), an outcome that would be welcomed by Kayani and the ISI.
Asif Ali Zardari
That Asif Ali Zardari did not want Choudhury to be reinstated is no secret, nor is the President's desire to establish civilian control over the military, and to clean up its act, especially in the matter of helping terror groups. Had Hillary Clinton backed him and not Kayani, the military in Pakistan may have finally gone the way of its counterpart in Turkey and been banishe0d to the barracks, something essential if Pakistan is to save itself from a meltdown. Unfortunately for democracy in Pakistan, the Clinton team teems with "South Asia experts", who in effect have long acted as publicists for the Pakistan military. Combine this with the numerous Pakistan Army boosters in the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and it becomes clear why the Clinton Lite "Obama" administration has continuously weakened the civilian establishment vis-à-vis the military. Interestingly, this is despite the fact that from 2007 onwards, the majority of the top brass is much more pro-China than it is pro-US. Today, it is Beijing that holds the levers of influence within the Pakistan Army, even more than it influences the military in North Korea and in Myanmar. Indeed, Chief of Army Staff P.A. Kayani has just returned from what may be called his "operational headquarters", Beijing. There, although a mere soldier with no legal post in the civilian administration, Kayani was given a 75-minute meeting with Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. He also met key Politburo members, including incoming General Secretary Xi Jinping. Such access would be impossible for any visiting Indian Army Chief of Staff, who would be fortunate to even have a meeting with the PRC Defence Minister. That Beijing has joined hands with Hillary Clinton in supporting Kayani became clear when People's Daily online blacked out their own interview of Prime Minister Gilani. Spiking an interview given by the Head of Government of an ally is no everyday event, and shows that the Chinese leadership has taken sides in the ongoing battle between the military and the civilian government in Pakistan. Beijing backs the brass.
nless the Pakistan Army is made to behave as a professional force, so that "the government controls the gun", to paraphrase Mao Zedong, it will continue to boost the capabilities of extremists and terror groups, the way it has done since its inception. Nawaz Sharif, when Prime Minister of Pakistan the second time around, sought to take power away from the generals, but his own record in office was similar to that of Z.A. Bhutto or Benazir Bhutto, both of whom had little hesitation in seeking to impose their will over the people and the establishment. Both the Bhuttos as well as Sharif have dealt much more harshly with the media and with civil society in Pakistan than has Pervez Musharraf, a military dictator. Asif Ali Zardari may perhaps want to follow in their path, but he is too weak politically to attempt such a clampdown. Hence, a continuing Zardari administration is a far better guarantor of civil liberties in Pakistan than another military-inspired regime, such as the one being planned under a Musharraf-Imran Khan combo. The military hopes that the PR skills of the two will be enough to once again lull NATO into complacency, while it goes about ensuring that the Taliban retake control over Afghanistan. If NATO is facing defeat in Afghanistan (and the abject surrender to the Taliban reflected in the grant of a base office in Qatar for the militia indicates this), it is because of the alliance's outsourcing of key components of the war to the Pakistan military. Rather than guard the chickens, the fox has busied itself by eating them up. Hence, the need for major democratic powers to stand by the civilian government in Pakistan and to warn the generals of consequences, were they to engineer a "soft coup" by replacing Zardari and Gilani with puppets. While there seems very little likelihood that the much-feted (including in India) Chief Justice Choudhury will ever acknowledge that corruption is present not only within the PPP but in the military and the PML as well, hopefully, this time around Hillary Clinton will side with the elected representatives of the people of Pakistan, rather than with the generals.

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