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Rediff News  All News  » News » Why can't the generals just stay in their barracks?

Why can't the generals just stay in their barracks?

Last updated on: May 10, 2011 12:50 IST

Image: Pakistan Military Academy's Main Gate, Abbottabad
Photographs: Wikimedia Jyoti Malhotra in New Delhi

Over the past week, in the wake of Osama bin Laden's death, a text message on Pakistan's various cell networks is said to have gone viral. The message reads: For sale! Obsolete Army radar, can't detect copters, but can receive signals of Star Plus. Only Rs 999.

Pakistan is in the middle of one of its phases of self-doubting these days, believing it can, at least partially, be rescued through humour.

In Islamabad last week, before Pakistan's world fell apart -- and the rest of the universe, more or less, was rejoined -- several private conversations contained the plea that India, despite being periodically and systematically maimed by Pakistan, must reach out and help its western neighbour.

It was a simple enough argument, made much before the effect of boot-legged alcohol could hold sway.


'We actually have the same enemy'

Image: Pakistan Army Chief Ashfaq Kayani

"Pakistan won't collapse, but it is a failing state. India is a democracy, it must be able to see that this thing called 'terrorism' was created by our Army to hurt you. Now these terrorists have outgrown their master and turned inwards upon the people of Pakistan. In the name of Islam, Muslim is killing Muslim, but the 'terrorists' continue to be in the hands of the Pakistani Army. It is the Army which believes India is its main enemy and it is the Army which exercises control over a divided political class inside Pakistan."

We actually have, the Pakistani gentleman said in conclusion, the same enemy.

Clearly, a week is a long time in the life of any state. The people's jury in Pakistan is still out on how deeply (Pakistan Army chief) Ashfaq Kayani's army and its handmaiden, the Inter-Services Intelligence, was implicated in protecting bin Laden in his Abbottabad preserve.

Even as this goes to press, ISI chief Shuja Pasha was in Washington DC to explain his agency's failure or complicity -- depending whom you're listening to -- in the Osama affair.

The rumour is that Pasha will quit, if only to assuage the growing anger, shame and humiliation inside Pakistan, and the feeling that someone must take responsibility for creating a country which protects the world's most wanted men.

Did Pasha and Kayani apologise to their own govt?

From the Kuwaiti-born Khalid Sheikh Mohammed captured in Rawalpindi in March 2003 -- he is said to have been the 'architect' of the September 11, 2001 incidents and the murder of Daniel Pearl -- to the Indonesian terrorist Umar Patek, the mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings, they have all been found in the vicinity of Abbottabad in recent years.

Apart from the fact that Pasha's urgent flight out to Washington DC underlines the dysfunctional nature of the US-Pakistani relationship (on the one hand, Pasha must answer the summons of his master who pays the bills that runs his country, on the other, Pakistani officials, reflecting a deep resentment of the US, have at least publicly refused to allow the Americans to independently interrogate Osama's wives and many children left behind in the Abbottabad compound), it calls to mind the fundamental question: Did Pasha, and indeed Kayani, apologise to their own elected government for the biggest intelligence failure in its history?

Or, if the Pakistanis, along with the rest of the world, believe that the Army-ISI protected Osama bin Laden and that he couldn't have lived in Abbottabad for six long years without their permission, then did the Pakistani Army-ISI do this with the permission of Yousaf Raza Gilani's elected government?

Nature of India and Indians

It boggles the mind to think that Asif Ali Zardari, whose party swept to power in the 2008 elections that threw out the dictator Pervez Musharraf, could have sanctioned a Kayani-Pasha decision that Osama must be kept alive because he could come in handy to resurrect Pakistani influence in Afghanistan once the Americans had left.

In this ongoing battle between the people and the Pakistani Army, mostly fought under the radar but sometimes emerging overground, India has always been both witness and player.

India's elected political class, its people and media have contained both strains within, the aggressive and the reflective.

Both Atal Behari Vajpayee of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Manmohan Singh of the Congress repeatedly sought to build bridges with the Pakistani people because they know it is only they who can fray the skeins of Army control they have allowed themselves to be wrapped in.

'India's own generals are desperate to take a leaf out of their Pakistan officers' book'

In this complicated scenario, it looks as if India's own generals, not content with safeguarding India's frontiers, are desperate to take a leaf out of their brother officers' book in Pakistan: interfering in the civilian business of politics.

For army chief General VK Singh to say, in the wake of the US operation that killed Osama bin Laden, that India also had the capability of carrying out a similar operation, was clearly stepping out of line.

It was also endangering Manmohan Singh's carefully-built peace process, dependent entirely on reaching out to Pakistan's people.

In fact, India's armed forces have been here before. In the wake of the Mumbai attacks in November 2008, then air force chief Fali Major strutted his stuff without worrying about the consequences. India could easily retaliate, he warned, in front of a TV-hungry audience baying for the blood of at least one Pakistani.

Fali Major's comments were received with some horror by the political class, but no one knows whether Defence Minister AK Antony or Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called him or VK Singh in, rapped them on their knuckles and told them to tape their mouths.

No PM has had the courage to defy his generals

Image: The Saltoro range

Far more dangerous has been the Army's veto over a Siachen deal with Pakistan.

Rajiv Gandhi, in 1989, had agreed with Benazir Bhutto that the Indian Army would withdraw from the Saltoro range in the Siachen glacier, where they have been perched since 1984 and where more men have died from frostbite than bullet wounds.
It is the most ridiculous non-war the Indian Army has fought against Pakistan for 26 years, but clearly no prime minister since has had the courage to defy his generals.

At least in Pakistan, which has lived with martial law for more years than democracy, it is not surprising the generals are in full control. Of course there's no comparison, but the shocking part is that in India men in uniform can speak the way they do, despite India's 63-year experience with democracy.

If the PM's dearest wish is to help Pakistan in its battle for normalcy against its Army, then he must first look within. Telling the army chief to go back to his barracks would be a good start. It will show them in what part of South Block the real power lies.

Source: source