The mess that is civil-military relations
The prime minister of late has developed a penchant for first making statements critical of the military establishment and subsequently backtracking. Is it pure humbug or is there a method in this madness?
If seen in proper context, this brinkmanship by Gilani epitomises the tenuous nature of civil-military relations in the Islamic Republic. Nonetheless, this carefully crafted strategy is good politics.
The prime minister retracting his earlier statement that the COAS’ and the DG ISI’s replies on the memo case were unconstitutional has clarified that the statement was given under “certain circumstances”. What exactly were the special circumstances that forced Gilani to do the unthinkable i.e. baiting the military hierarchy?
Apparently, the situation has exponentially changed in the past week or so. Back-channel diplomacy between the military and civilian leadership conducted by certain important players has cleared the air. Albeit the army is unhappy over the Memogate issue, it has become clearer now that it is not about to, or perhaps is not able to, boot out the PPP-led coalition.
An equally if not more pressing issue at hand is the continuing stalemate with the US over NATO air strikes. Gilani, on the eve of his departure for Davos, held a meeting with General Kayani and Pasha with foreign minister Khar in tow, to discuss the future role of Pakistan in talks between Washington and the Taliban.
With internal stability absent and the standoff with Washington simply not going away, Islamabad is in no position to play a pivotal role in the impending negotiations. But there are still those who argue that Pakistan can continue to play hard to get owing to its strategic importance.
Considering our tenuous and fragmented polity and the dire economic straits we are in, there are hardly any trump cards up our sleeve. In the long run, a single dimensional relationship between the GHQ and the Pentagon is simply not sustainable.
Our foreign ministry has to look up to the GHQ for guidance on policy options. This is not equally true for Washington where the generals do give crucial input on strategic and tactical matters, but are ultimately accountable to the administration. If unwilling to fall in line, they are simply shown the door.
Diplomacy has to come in play for a better understanding between Pakistan and the US. Poor Husain Haqqani was mistrusted by the army from day one and ultimately had to fall on his sword. Unfortunately, the good press that he is getting in the US will strengthen the perception of his detractors that he is not our but their man.
With President Obama keen to bring troops home in an election year, we can rub the sole superpower the wrong way only to an extent. Sherry Rehman, our new envoy in Washington, has an extremely tough job cut out for her under the circumstances.
The virtual collapse of the memo case before it even nears closure has boosted the sagging morale of the PPP-led government. The no show by Mansoor Ijaz, the key witness around whose testimony hinges the decision about the authenticity or otherwise of the memo allegedly written to thwart a military coup in Pakistan, is a setback for those who thought that they had a smoking gun to nail Zardari.
The judicial commission investigating the scandal has given all kinds of blandishments to Ijaz to testify. The Pakistani American businessman, no fool, is surely privy to good legal advice. He must have been told that a memo dictated or texted over a mobile phone cannot stand the scrutiny of an independent court.
Even the ISI, whose chief surreptitiously flew to London to interview him, should be wary of Mansoor. Being a traditional bull in a china shop, he has boasted that he would have exposed the premier spy agency as well if he had visited Pakistan.
Mansoor Ijaz’s counsel has bitterly complained that Nawaz Sharif, the main petitioner in the memo case, for all practical purposes has abandoned the case. Better late than never. It was a folly on the part of the PML(N) supremo to lend his name to the petition after having almost lost his government in a somewhat similar situation back in 1997.
The Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) while expressing satisfaction at the security arrangements has decided to provide Mansoor another opportunity to appear before the committee on February 10. This is not going to happen. The Pakistani American businessman out to damage Pakistan in every way possible wants to keep the issue alive by simply not showing up by making flimsy excuses about security concerns.
Smelling a nexus between the ubiquitous establishment and the judiciary, the jiyalas were overtly worried that there was a diabolical conspiracy to oust the PPP-led government before the Senate elections. They need to relax now. As things stand, elections to the Upper House will be held as scheduled on the PPP’s watch. It seems that even Sharif has reconciled to the holding of these elections in early March in which he also stands to gain.
As for the general elections, the prime minister, inan interview with the BBC, has confidently ruled out holding them earlier. But given the state of affairs, it will be difficult for the ruling coalition not to hold them later this year. The prime minister in the same interview has claimed that all is well now with the military and the judiciary. Whatever the basis of his optimism, the next few weeks are crucial for the government.
It is evident from the first hearing of the contempt proceedings against Prime Minister Gilani that the apex court is all set to re-interpret Article 248 of the constitution under which the office of the president enjoys immunity from prosecution. It is precisely this Article that forms the basis of Prime Minister Gilani’s defence for not writing to the Swiss authorities.
Unfortunately, an unsavoury debate has been initiated on the issue with a recently retired judge of the Supreme Court taking issue with those who claim that the president enjoys automatic immunity under the constitution. The government has embroiled itself into a labyrinth of legal issues - most of them of its own making. However, the apex court needs to be cautious regarding the president and prime minister lest it lays itself open to the criticism of engaging in a witch-hunt.
The writer is Editor, Pakistan Today