The US-sponsored government in Islamabad made a futile attempt to rein in the military and intelligence

by Zaki Khalid

Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari ordered his associate Husain Haqqani in Washington to request then Admiral Mike Mullen to make way for removing Pakistan’s Army Chief General Kayani and ISI Chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha.

 

It is well understood that geopolitical relations between Pakistan and the US suffer repeated climb-falls after a new clash of interests between the militaries of both respective countries emerges on the forefront. Politics depends on diplomacy and vying for maintenance of relations in the worst of circumstances imaginable, whereas military interests are based purely on strategic motives and security. When military relations between the top echelons are at stake, politics becomes worthless; even the most well-conceived back-channel diplomacy fails to resolve the mutual differences that develop when both parties expose their distrust to the media at large.

Such was the case between Rawalpindi and Washington right after the May 2 incident at Abbottabad in which Navy SEALs were sent on a suicide mission by the Pentagon apparently to get rid of the OBL menace but in reality, that well-conceived hoax which corporate media around the world readily projected as the truth led to tectonic shifts in Pakistan’s domestic apparatus. The people of Pakistan, like all gullible television viewers elsewhere, readily believed the official account of the event and diverted all their anger towards their Army and intelligence agency, the ISI. There was an uproar against the US for breaching the territorial sanctity of Pakistan. Taking full advantage of this scenario, the civilian setup in Pakistan (which is itself sponsored by Washington as always) engaged in point-scoring whereby the COAS General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and ISI Chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha were called in to brief the National Assembly on why they failed to counter the breach of sovereignty from the Western border. It is well-known that Pakistan’s Army is India-centric, as has been accepted by General Kayani. On the other hand, troops are also busy engaging foreign and local militants in the north’s tribal belt. An attack from Afghanistan by air was unimaginable for many but in military circles; this probability can never be rounded to zero. They have to remain vigilant and alert at all costs.

My communication with an intelligence official here in Pakistan, a few hours after the Abbottabad raid, was very bewildering. I was told that “more than a dozen” US Navy SEALs had been killed when their helicopter was manually shot down in the alleged compound; that their burnt bodies were spread around. When I asked how this could be possible since Obama had been observing the operation in The Situation Room, the official gave a grin and said, So you believe Obama to be credible? The communication ended. I was in my room all night trying to join the bits and pieces together, after which a detailed series of reports were published on my website followed by an interview on this issue to TVN Chile. With time, the issue gradually phased-out like all others. The civilian government was surging upwards in popularity and the Pakistan military was bearing the brunt of all criticism. A step forward towards democracy for some in Pakistan, no one at the time knew what was going on behind-the-scenes.

On October 10, Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz came out with a piece in the Financial Times in which he revealed:

Early on May 9, a week after US Special Forces stormed the hideout of Osama bin Laden and killed him, a senior Pakistani diplomat telephoned me with an urgent request. Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s president, needed to communicate a message to White House national security officials that would bypass Pakistan’s military and intelligence channels. The embarrassment of bin Laden being found on Pakistani soil had humiliated Mr Zardari’s weak civilian government to such an extent that the president feared a military takeover was imminent. He needed an American fist on his army chief’s desk to end any misguided notions of a coup and fast.

There was a hullabaloo within the Pakistani media: “Who could it be? Did the President really send a memo?” On various talk shows, Ministers of the Pakistan government kept defending Asif Ali Zardari by outrightly denying the existence of any such memo. One minister even went so far as to declare Ijaz as “a dastardly MOSSAD agent“. Official statements were issued simultaneously alleging that there was a planned international conspiracy against the democratic civilian government. Without getting into the nitty gritty of what politicians of the country had to say on this, I will share the response by Pakistan’s military and intelligence so far.

Photo: Anjum Naveed/AP

An official of the Pakistan Army told me today that unlike General (R) Pervez Musharraf who subjected the country to a dragging dictatorship, the current Army Chief General Kayani has an exceptional level of tolerance and is known for his foresightedness. Infact, he grinned to while adding, “He is one of a kind, very silent. A few puffs of Marlboro and he’s out with a new effective counter-strategy”. Unfortunately for Pakistan, the track record has shown that although military takeovers have caused damage to the country’s infrastructure, the civilian ones have comparatively caused even more losses.

The official with whom I was talking today made it clear that General Kayani will not call the 111 Brigade to impose a reactionary martial-law. This is exactly what would benefit the US administration if it happens. The only case something similar takes place is if the Supreme Court invokes the Army’s help in suspending this government to pave way for an interim government which will then hold general elections and most importantly, which will safeguard the interests and stability of the country on political and diplomatic grounds. General Kayani was the Director of the ISI before taking charge as the Army Chief and is well-versed in the realpolitik of the South and Central Asian region. Imposing a dictatorship means spiraling the nation down the same drain where Musharraf took it. This is a move which will not be done, especially keeping the developments in Afghanistan in mind. He knows his game well for both Kayani and Pasha have interacted in peak years with American military; Pasha was the Director General of Military Operations during the Musharraf era.

An overview of the memo’s content

The memo notes:

Request your direct intervention in conveying a strong, urgent and direct message to Gen Kayani that delivers Washington‘s demand for him and Gen Pasha to end their brinkmanship aimed at bringing down the civilian apparatus that this is a 1971 moment in Pakistan’s history. Should you be willing to do so, Washington‘s political/military backing would result in a revamp of the civilian government that, while weak at the top echelon in terms of strategic direction and implementation (even though mandated by domestic political forces), in a wholesale manner replaces the national security adviser and other national security officials with trusted advisers that include ex-military and civilian leaders favorably viewed by Washington, each of whom have long and historical ties to the US military, political and intelligence communities. Names will