Thursday, July 29, 2010

Kayani Extension – Implications for India

The US Secretary of State on visit to a “strategic ally” nation dropping in to meet the Chief of Army Staff of that strategic ally does not seem a significant enough departure from protocol to raise eyebrows. Yet the fact that Ms. Hillary Clinton did have an unscheduled meeting with the Chief of the Army Staff on her trip to Islamabad highlights the fact that if you are dealing with Pakistan, then Rawalpindi is as much the capital of Pakistan as Islamabad and arguably more so.

Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s three year extension as Chief of the Army Staff by a democratically elected civilian government is a significant event. Even though the democratically elected government has been at pains to “explain” that his extension was needed to ensure a “continuity” of policies and strategy for a nation going through “turbulent” and “critical” times. Not that Pakistan watchers could not have seen it coming. Articles and discussion in popular media suggesting how vital Kayani had become to ensure the victory in the war on terror had begun appearing in 2009 and by the beginning of 2010, the articles and discussions had graduated from describing his importance to clamouring for his extension. Kayani’s extension and Lt. General Shuja Pasha’s extension as the head of ISI has once again underscored the fact that despite obvious moves towards democratization, the Army-ISI nexus in Pakistan remains as strong as ever.

Why is this trouble for India?
Gen Kayani seems to be gentler version of the army chiefs Pakistan has seen. Gen Kayani was commissioned in the Pakistan Army in 29 August, 1971 after passing out of the 45th Pakistan Military Academy Long Course into the 5th Battalion of the Baloch Regiment. During his career in the army, he has commanded an Infantry Battalion, an Infantry Brigade, the 12th Infantry Division based in Kashmir and the prestigious X Corps at Rawalpindi. Kayani became the Director General of the ISI in 2004 when the Pakistan was going through rather tough times with insurgencies in North-West Pakistan and Balochistan, Abdul Qadeer Khan's nuclear proliferation scandal, and waves of suicide attacks throughout Pakistan emanating from the northwestern tribal belt. In his final days at the ISI, he also led the talks with Benazir Bhutto for a possible power sharing deal with Musharraf.

A quiet guy who loves his golf and his smoke has not been caught making overt rants against India. But the fact still remains that Gen. Kayani belongs to that breed of Pakistani Army officers who have not been able to forget the slight of 1971 and still harbor perceptions of India as the enemy number one. Add to that the fact that at least 16 lieutenant-generals in the Pakistan Army including some are now corps commanders are due to retire after November 23, 2010 and before Gen. Kayani’s extended term expires in November 2013. Waiting to replace them is the next generation of army officers recruited during Gen. Zia-ul Haq’s days of excessive Islamisation. Of more concern will be the fact that this generation of officers slated to become the top Generals of the Pakistani Army in a few years time has significant Wahabi influence amidst them. This Wahabi influence was by design as Zia-ul Haq aligned himself with the local Mullahs and invited Saudi aid to build Saudi style madarssas and other religious infrastructure. The famous Binori Madarssa in Karachi, Pakistan has been built with Saudi oil money. It’s illustrious graduates include Osama bin Laden and Omar Saeed Sheikh who was arrested in India in 1994 and was one of the three militants exchanged for the passengers of Flight IC 814 in Kandahar. Sheikh’s role in the Daniel Pearl killing catapulted him, the Jaish and the obscure world of extremist institutions flourishing in Pakistan onto the international stage.

The coming of age of that crop of officers along with many still smarting from the 71 defeat will further strengthen the already strong obsession with India. It is only logical that unresolved issues will provide enough fodder for being used as leverage to provide a greater momentum to the anti India wave among the people of Pakistan and escalate the covert asymmetric war being fought in the Jammu and Kashmir by utilizing violent non state actors. Had the Pakistani civil society and the democratic institutions been powerful enough, any such overt or covert move would have met popular resistance and would have withered away. But Pakistan is a nation that was reared by successive generations of dictators and weak civilian rulers who have allowed extremist interpretation of religion and geo-politics to thrive. As a nation, Pakistan has given birth to and nurtured radical elements that were vital to the maintenance of dictatorships but the same elements now do not allow the civil society to express itself. The absence of any meaningful democracy has aided that.

The recent unbecoming public spat at the Krishna-Qureshi press meet and the near collapse of the recently resumed engagement between the two countries has shown to the world (not for the first time) that in Pakistan it is Rawalpindi where decisions are made and not in Islamabad.

Implications for India
The first implication is that India needs to find some way of engaging the Army-ISI complex. Even though most Indians would question the wisdom of Mr. Shah Mehmood Qureshi for his insistence on guarantees of a “result oriented” dialogue on issues that have been simmering for six decades between neighbours who have fought at least three major wars, the need for a meaningful dialogue is worth appreciating. But we need to take stock of the situation and ask ourselves if by engaging the Zardari-Gilani government, we are actually engaging the people who matter. Enough evidence has been presented at various for a by different agencies and is widely accepted that the Army-SIS nexus calls the shots and remote controls the policies in Pakistan. It is therefore obvious that if the Indian Government is actually serious about using talks as a method to resolve the outstanding bilateral issue, they will have to find some way of engaging with the Army-ISI complex. Not that it will be easy as any overt attempt to do so will further undermine the civilian government in Pakistan and will probably be frowned upon by the world (read USA) as a stable civilian government is in global interests. The reasons for that are not hard to understand too. The A Q Khan imbroglio and a fully structured trained armed forces with extremist ideologies is threat enough and any simulation of what could happen if the civil government were to fall does not have a good ending. No one would want to see the classical definition of a terrorist as relatively small groups of individuals with limited training and arms get transformed into a large well structured army with access to nuclear weapons.

The second implication is more sinister. India should start preparing for an escalation in violence along the LOC, the international border, the unprotected coast line, the valley, insurgents and sleeper cells elsewhere.

Kayani’s extension and the imminent change of guard in the Pakistan Army will mean an intensified low intensity conflict. The use of VSNAs (violent non state actors) for the “cause” of Kashmir and the policy to “bleed India by a thousand cuts” is not working as was planned. The terrorist operations of Pakistan sponsored terror groups and the use of state support to violent insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir as state policy has received widespread condemnation from the world community. Pakistan has realized that it has painted itself into a corner with the policy of rearing extremists as it has worked against them not only in India but all over the world. Pakistan realizes that it is now recognized as the single largest nursery of terror on the planet and it only a matter of time before that recognition fuels action. The post Times Square bombing attempt warning from United States that any future terror operation traced back to Pakistan will invite decisive action is not insignificant. This need for Pakistan to reassess its policies has manifested itself in the decreased number of terrorist attacks in Kashmir but an increased use of “sponsored stone throwing protests” probably inspired by the Intifada. Though more effective at painting the Indian administration as brutal occupiers, it may be too passive to appease the hardliners in the Pakistan Army. Today they may not be in positions to influence state policy but in a couple of year’s time they will be.

It is then prudence to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. It is in the interests of people of both India and Pakistan that sense and moderate outlooks prevail and despite no end being in sight, multidimensional positive engagements with all sections of the Pakistani establishment continue.

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