INTERVIEW: General (retd) Talat Masud
Army’s hold over important matters is not new
Islamabad’s political paralysis has reached a point where talk of army intervention has started doing the rounds more forcefully than before. Chatter of the ‘third umpire’ raising his finger, implying the brass stepping in to resolve the impasse, is gaining prominence as the prime minister and his inner circle have so far been unable to make progress through negotiations.
With both PTI and PAT refusing to move forward unless the prime minister resigns, it seems the ruling party has lost the initiative and the final arbitration, in whatever form, must come from the military. One reason for this perception is the military’s predominant role in politics throughout Pakistan’s chequered history. To help end this confusion, DNA talks to someone equally familiar with the military and media. With so many different predictions being floated, perhaps his experience and understand can help sift through the noise.
Q: With political polarisation high and the civilian administration looking paralysed, what, in your opinion, would the establishment be thinking right now?
TM: The army’s thinking is based on the assessments and opinions shared by top army elite — the corps commanders — during the corps commanders’ conference. The chief of army staff (COAS) takes stock of the views expressed by the top military brass and then he forms his own opinion based on the deliberations of the corps commanders’ conference.
Since General Raheel Sharif has recently been appointed, he will take some time to settle and influence and dominate the army’s thinking. However, being the chief, his word is final in such affairs. But even the COAS can’t go totally in the opposite direction of what his commanders think in such matters. So General Raheel Sharif would take some more time to influence and dominate the military’s thinking.
Nonetheless, in a way it’s very collegial institutional decision-making process based on the information gathered and analysis and assessment of this information. Moreover, since there are a few corps commanders and top generals who are set to retire in a month or so, General Raheel Sharif will strengthen his new team. Only then he could have a sway over the army’s thinking as enjoyed by General Musharraf or General Kayani in the past.
Q: Keeping in view the trump card of resignations from assemblies by PTI, do you think that the establishment is behind the sit-ins being staged by PTI and PAT leaders?
TM: Well, keeping in view the recent developments taking place on the political stage and the confidence of Imran Khan and Dr Tahirul Qadri, I think to some extent there are certain elements that are unhappy with the Nawaz government’s policies and are rather sympathetic towards PTI and PAT. They might have been trying to bring them into the government. But such elements are not in a position to topple the government. They must be pulling the strings of these politicians to help create a situation where the army would have to jump in finally.
Q: While the military is busy in a fight against TTP terrorists in North Waziristan, according to reports, the PML-N government has provided funds to extremist banned outfits’ leaders like ASWJ and others to take out rallies to support the Nawaz regime. Do you think it will increase tensions between the government and the army as Nawaz Sharif also was not willing to launch operation against TTP?
TM: Let me tell you that it’s true that it is unfortunate that the military plays a major role in Pakistani politics. But the demonstrations will not result in toppling of the PML-N government until and unless confrontation reaches a scale where threats to the democratic system reach a critical mass and signal a stage of collapse.
So the army will wait till the stage comes where all signs will hint towards a total collapse of the system. But this stage will never come unless a real confrontation is triggered between the protesting parties and the government.
In case these demos continue, they may not directly intervene but they would like to facilitate both the sides to start a meaningful dialogue. In such a scenario, the army will have an upper hand because it will be in a better position to facilitate dialogue.
However, having said that, the responsibility of taking the crisis to this stage rests with civilian leadership.
As far as demos by banned outfits in favour of Nawaz Sharif are concerned, I don’t know why Nawaz had to fall back on banned outfits seeking support while he still has political support. Rather than seeking support from sectarian outfits, Nawaz Sharif should have encouraged his own party for political support. It is very surprising and intriguing to note that a political leader has to rely on support from militant outfits. I don’t think Nawaz Sharif is losing political support.
Q: When Imran Khan says the third umpire will raise this finger in his favour, does he refer to the establishment? Moreover, what do you think of Imran Khan’s demand of installing a caretaker regime under the Supreme Court?
TM: Yes, Imran Khan is talking about support from the establishment but I don’t think that the establishment will openly support Khan or Qadri. In my view, the judiciary should not be involved in political matters. I also think it’s unlikely that the judiciary would like this idea either. It would be detrimental for the system if judiciary or army get involved in this affair. This is a serious political problem and any intervention by judiciary or military will harm the political system as well as institutions.
Q: Do you think the army has asked Nawaz Sharif to “share the space” with it vis-a-vis foreign affairs and strategic issues as reported in the media recently?
TM: Army’s hold on sensitive matters like India, Afghanistan policy and strategic issues is nothing new for the world. Actually the army already has influence over these affairs rather they run the whole show. They already have a hold over these subjects for so many decades. This is not something new.