VIEW: Towards the ‘quartet’? —Imtiaz Alam - Sunday, July 25, 2010

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Enforcing the writ of the state in every nook and corner of Pakistan is General Kayani’s primary job that he must focus on rather than allowing it to dissipate at the hands of the so-called strategic assets turning against their benefactors due to their anti-state paradigm

By conceding a three-year-term to Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani thinks the continuity of the “quartet”, consisting of the president, prime minister, chief justice of Pakistan and the chief of army staff (COAS), has been secured till 2013. For the first time the office of the chief justice of Pakistan has been added to a quasi-constitutional power equation, which was known as a ‘troika’ in the 1990s — president, prime minister and the COAS. Contrary to the expectations of a non-Napoleonic conduct by an apparently apolitical COAS, every army chief who got an extension or out of turn promotion staged a coup, except General Musa Khan. The “quartet” may have the illusion of being secured, but what about democracy?

As compared to 12 Pakistani army chiefs who had on average over five years of tenure and four military rulers who ruled on average for over eight years, Pakistan had 16 prime ministers whose average tenure did not last two years. This shows a precarious equation of civil-military relations that did not let democracy and constitutional rule work. With the activation of new civilian institutions, a hyperactive judiciary and highly dramatic media, the erstwhile equation of the troika now faces a powerful judiciary-media combine that can potentially exploit the cleavages within the troika and can be manipulated by the strongest among the troika to its advantage at the cost of the president-prime minister combine.

With the induction of PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari into the presidency, the civil-military establishment lost its traditional leverage against the executive prime minister. In the post-Musharraf power structure, General Kayani was instrumental in making the security establishment retreat into its forte while consolidating its strong hold over both the internal and external dimensions of national security affairs, which involved strategic areas of foreign policy, including US/NATO, Afghanistan and India. But it took time and through a very interesting interplay of forces a new civil-military equation emerged.

Thanks to a policy of reconciliation between the major political parties, in the spirit of the Charter of Democracy (CoD) signed between Ms Benazir Bhutto and Mr Nawaz Sharif, and sharing of power at federal and provincial levels, the elected leadership, especially the president, tried to expand his space in the power structure. Exploiting his support among the parliamentary forces, Mr Zardari succeeded in ousting General Musharraf and capturing the presidency equipped with the powers of the 17th Amendment. That sent worrying signals all round and soon President Zardari had to face pressures from various quarters, including his CoD allies, the bar-bench-media combine and the establishment. His reluctance to restore Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry brought him in conflict with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) that in combination with the bar, media and civil society pushed him into a tight corner that allowed the first intervention by the COAS to get CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry restored — paving the way for a judiciary up in arms against the executive, the president in particular.

An overconfident Zardari tried to expand his area of influence by directly negotiating with the Americans, culminating in the Kerry-Lugar-Berman legislation that tended to strengthen democratic oversight of the army, and by sending most friendly overtures to India and President Karzai. Benefitting from the media-judiciary onslaught against the president, the army openly frustrated Zardari’s moves to expand his writ to the national security matters and institutions. His move to place the ISI under civilian control, his olive branch to New Delhi and efforts to build a direct equation with the Americans met with tough resistance from the security establishment. He lost the first round of this power struggle, not as much to the judiciary or big media tycoons but to the security establishment, which succeeded in keeping its traditional turf under its belt with the helping hand of an aggressive media and assertive judiciary.

In the meantime, parliament exerted its authority and expanded its writ by unanimously passing the 18th Amendment that deprived the president of all those powers that General Musharraf had usurped, devolved greater power to the provinces, restored all executive powers of the prime minister and expanded its oversight in some crucial constitutional appointments, sans the armed forces. The expansion of the war on terror in the north-western frontier regions increased the army’s role, which found the American military establishment only too eager to directly line-up with its counterpart. This encouraged General Kayani to exclusively define Pakistan’s national security interests and the civilian leadership had to concede a lot of ground to the military establishment, which the latter has been trying to expand.

Against this background, the extension of General Kayani had become foretold, despite speculations for and against. Although it was not in the interest of a fragile democracy to grant a full tenure to a quite powerful incumbent, the civilian leadership tried to make a good bargain out of it with the active mediation of the US, which needs him the most. His extension has in fact taken place under the imperatives of extremely conflicting forces and increasing demands of the war against terrorism that has become the core issue for Pakistan as much as it is for the west and the region.

No doubt General Kayani had proved his worth and from the institutional standpoint of the army he balanced the demands of the allies in the war on terror with what he thought to be the pivotal national security interests. After getting another tenure his role in national security matters will tremendously increase, depending on how he plays it out with the elected leadership and the international community. Before him are quite challenging strategic tasks. He will be under increasing obligations and pressures to revisit some of the beaten tracks of Pakistan’s national security paradigm as the war on terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan enters a crucial stage and the potential threat of an Indo-Pak war, provoked by yet another Mumbai-like terrorist attack in India, is being feared. Two immediate demands of the US will seek his immediate attention — taking on the Haqqani group to make the American troops surge in southern Afghanistan a success and restraining Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and other militants groups on the Kashmir front from attempting yet another terrorist attack in India. Both Holbrooke and Admiral Mullen have strongly spoken about it in London and New Delhi.

Most importantly, a moderate and seemingly apolitical General Kayani is in a unique position to redefine Pakistan’s national security interests while breaking with the legacy of Bonarpartism, reversing General Zia’s legacy of ‘jihadification’ and General Musharraf’s dualism. He will have to clean up the security establishment of all those elements who have their own private agendas and allegedly flirt with the non-state actors. No state can afford to abandon its monopoly over coercive power to private militias, which was allowed during General Zia’s and General Musharraf’s tenures. Nor can a state allow the non-state militant actors or rogue elements within to dictate their terms or plunge it into war with another state. Enforcing the writ of the state in every nook and corner of Pakistan is his primary job that he must focus on rather than allowing it to dissipate at the hands of the so-called strategic assets turning against their benefactors due to their anti-state paradigm. A nation state cannot reconcile with the supra-national ideology of international terrorism, which binds all hues of ‘Islamic’ terrorism.

Imtiaz Alam is Editor of South Asian Journal. He can be reached at

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