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Pakistan: The Silent Coup

Posted by yourpakistan on March 25, 2011

Feroz Khan is a Toronto based political analyst with interests in military history and issues of conflict management and conflict resolution. Khan has contributed this exclusive piece for PTH which we are posting here. We should clarify that the views expressed are those of the author and PTH does not subscribe to them. However, this piece raises pertinent issues for a debate. Therefore, we are publishing it without prejudice to anyone.

The pointing finger points to the silence of the Pakistani army towards the murders of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti. Has no one wondered why the security establishment has been so silent on the issue? Can no one hear the loudness of this silence? When something is too obvious, it is not really obvious and when all other possibilities are eliminated, what is left no matter how improbable is always the truth.

There are serious things presently afoot in Pakistan and the events clearly hint of a massive imbalancing of the scales of political power in Pakistan. There is a silent coup d’ etat underway in Pakistan and Pakistan, as a state, is quickly becoming a state of martial law. Two events, isolated yet connected, have changed the nature of power in Pakistan and those two events were the extensions given to General Kayani as the Chief of Army Staff and to General Pasha as the head of Inter-Services-Intelligence (ISI).

What these extensions imply is that the Pakistani military and the Pakistani military intelligence (ISI) have institutionally merged and the idea of a political power, which was always considered to rest with the chief of the army staff, will now be equally shared between the chief of the army staff and the director-general of the ISI.

This means that the pantomime of a civilian democracy in Pakistan has become irrelevant and the civilian government has become a bonsai government and the Pakistani army, sub voce, has become an autonomous center of power in Pakistan accountable to no one but its own ideological worldview and its own metrics of interest in the Pakistani political system. It also means that interregnum of democracy in Pakistani politics, which started in 2008, may be coming to an end.

In a sense, both Generals Kayani and Pasha had held important positions during General Musharraf’s military rule and with both having secure extensions to their tenures, it can be safely said that Pakistan has reverted to the status quo of February 2008; a state of political reality which had existed in Pakistan before the elections of February 2008.

Also, the military rule that started in 1999, with a lapse of three years from 2008-2011, has been reestablished. It means that the policies of the Musharraf era vis-a-vis Afghanistan, India and towards the United States will be followed faithfully by the dyarchy of Kayani and Pasha. This means that with the end game in Afghanistan fast approaching its point of eventual terminality, there will be resurgence in the Pakistani Army-ISI’s support of jihadi organizations and groups as possible strategic assets to secure its interests in a post-Americanized Afghanistan.

This also means that the military-mullah alliance had to be re -calibrated in view of these newly emerging realities and obstacles to that alliance had to be removed. The murders of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti and the silencing of all liberal dissent against the spread of an intolerant religious ideology have to been seen and understood in the light of this shared consensus between the Pakistani military, ISI and the religious groups in Pakistan.

The Pakistani media’s role is, and has been, the vocalization of this agreement and to facilitate this aim by creating a climate of fear, hostility and insecurity in which no voice can be raised against this development; the cementing of the Pakistani military’s ideological and political view point onto the politics of Pakistan.

This coup d’ etat, by the Pakistani military, is different from the past coups in Pakistani history. Unlike the past coups, this time the military has no wish to share power with the civilian politicians and unlike the past, where it covertly supported the religious parties; it is now overtly supporting the religious parties’ attempts to influence political power by its silence and refusal to condemn their acts of terror and violence in Pakistan.

The glue, which is binding and reinforcing this alliance is the fact that both the military and the religious groups in Pakistan see eye to eye and agree on the key issues of foreign policy, domestic politics, ideological moorings of Pakistan and on their political perceptions on what is the right course of action in Pakistani politics: the move towards an ideologically conservative society, which protects the traditional roles of the military and the religious groups as the defenders of Pakistan’s ideological, geographic and moral frontiers.

It is in this vortex that the story of Raymond Davis starts to make sense and it is this logic which explains the outbreak of the intelligence war between ISI and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Once the CIA realized that it could not count on ISI to tackle the problem of jihadi organizations acting against the United States interests, it decided to act unilaterally to deal with the problem and this act of independence by CIA threatened ISI, and Pakistani military’s strategic calculations towards the region (read post- United States’ influenced Afghanistan).

Therefore, CIA and its unilateral policies in Pakistan had to be stopped at all costs and it is within this prism that the murders of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti also make sense. If the politics of Taseer and Bhatti had been allowed to be successful, and the repeals to the Blasphemy Laws had, indeed, been affected, it would have immeasurably strengthened the cause of liberal-secular politics in Pakistan and would have caused untold harm to the military-mullah alliance itself. Both Samaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti were seen as a threat not because they had the political constituencies of support behind them, but because they had the potential to galvanize such a constituency not only within Pakistan, but also internationally and that would have undermined the military’s traditional importance to the United States as the sole interlocutor for the United States’ interests in Pakistani politics.

Frederick the Great of Prussia had once remarked “audace, tojour, audace” on the eve of a battle to his generals telling them that it was audacity, which won battles and not courage. The first rule of a successful coup is not to be losing side and the second rule is to do everything possible to make sure that one comes out on the winning side and this is exactly what has happened in Pakistan.

Faced with the prospect of a defeat and the lessening of its role in Pakistani politics and internationally, the Pakistani military mounted a desperate coup d’etat inside Pakistan to secure its long term interests and the first shots of this coup, which were heard all over the world were fired on January 4th 2011 and since then, Pakistan has become a different country and because of this, may be, the world has also changed.



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