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Thursday, January 20, 2022

Rule of the rogue soldier

Pakistan prime minister Mir Zafrullah Khan Jamali enjoys the unique distinction of being the only prime minister in the world today who can ...

Written by G. Parthasarthy |
January 20, 2003

Pakistan prime minister Mir Zafrullah Khan Jamali enjoys the unique distinction of being the only prime minister in the world today who can be sacked by his army chief.

General Musharraf has drastically changed the rules of the game to ensure that he retains supreme power in the country, while endeavoring to make the prime minister a figurehead and parliament a rubber-stamp.

The PML (Q) government that Jamali heads comprises members of Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League, PML (N), and defectors from Benazir Bhutto’s PPP, who have been brought together by the political engineering of Major General Ehtesham Zamir, the deputy chief of the ISI and Musharraf’s erstwhile principal secretary, Tariq Aziz.

It was the Zamir- Aziz duo that was also instrumental in setting up governments acceptable to the army establishment in Sind and Baluchistan. Knowing the realities of power in Pakistan, General Colin Powell speaks to General Musharraf and not to Jamali, or foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri, on important issues.

Apart from wielding political hegemony over its people, the Pakistan army dominates the commanding heights of the country’s economy. It is the largest real estate agent in the country. With cantonment towns spread across the country, the army controls allotment of all cantonment lands through so called defence-housing societies. It also controls allotment of agricultural land along the Indus basin.

Generals like Musharraf enrich themselves at the taxpayer’s expense, getting agricultural and urban land at throwaway prices. The army today controls the largest construction network, the largest educational network and the largest industrial network including cement, textiles, engineering goods and fertilizers.

It also runs the largest transportation company, the National Logistics cell- an organization whose trucks have not only carried weapons for the ISI, but also transported heroin from Peshawar to Karachi.

The army is also the largest stockholder in the stock exchange. It runs the largest political network in the country through the ISI and MI.

Given the vast political power and economic clout that it wields, the army is hardly going to let any civilian political leader question its hegemony or undermine its interests.

Pakistan’s new defence minister, Rao Sikandar Iqbal must have learnt this very fast. A substantial portion of the army establishment believes that it can achieve its political objectives by resort to militant Islam. General Musharraf himself has justified the resort to Jihad on a number of occasions.

The recent shootout and exchanges of fire on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border is a natural outcome of the continuing belief in this policy, by the army establishment in Pakistan.

Ahmed Rashid recently noted that the army establishment has adopted a policy of a policy of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds, in the American war on terrorism. While one section of the ISI pretends to cooperate with the FBI, another actively provides shelter to Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders. Taliban leader Mullah Kabir lives in Charasadda near Peshawar. Another senior leader Jallaluddin Haqqani lives in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Yet another Taliban leader Maulana Muhammad Hassan owns the madrassa in south Waziristan that was bombed by the Americans on December 29.

A former Taliban diplomat revealed in Peshawar that the former Prime Minister of Afghanistan and protege of the ISI, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is frequently in Pakistan. He indicated that the Taliban now possesses chemical weapons— a revelation that has concerned the American establishment. He also asserted that Osama bin Laden is frequently shuttling between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

With the Bush Administration now seeking allies for its actions against Iraq, it would be unrealistic to expect the Americans to take on Pakistani duplicity for the present. It would, therefore, be naive for India to expect any American pressure on General Musharraf to mend his ways.

We should also recognize that as long as the Pakistan army wields hegemonic power over its citizens, it will not give up its policies of compulsive hostility towards India. It is, therefore, imperative to use the winter months imaginatively.

New Delhi will have to work closely with the Mufti Mohammad Syed’s Government to see that day-to-day problems that people in J&K face are addressed and a meaningful political dialogue initiated with those renouncing violence. It will have to be ready with swift, measured and calibrated responses should attacks like those in Kaluchak, or on our Parliament occur.

New diplomatic and covert measures to keep the heat on the military establishment in Pakistan have to be combined with a readiness to engage our neighbor in measures to promote cooperation and confidence.

It was during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s tenure as foreign minister that measures to actively promote people to people contacts with Pakistan were initiated. Over three million Pakistanis have since been issued visas. There has been virtually no instance when such Pakistani visitors have indulged in espionage or other undesirable activities.

The hijackers of IC 814, or those who attacked the Indian Parliament did not enter India with valid visas. They came through porous and poorly managed borders. We should not restrict people to people contacts, merely because of suspicions that some Pakistanis have overstayed their visas. What is even more shocking is that distinguished Pakistanis who have fought for democratic freedoms, like Asma Jehangir and I.A. Rahman have been refused visas to attend the Asian Social Forum gathering in Hyderabad. This is hardly the way for mature, self-confident democracy to act.

While there is merit in refusing to hold a dialogue with General Musharraf’s dispensation with a gun pointed at its head, New Delhi has to adopt a policy of carrots while dealing with ordinary people in Pakistan, on the one hand and wield the big stick on Pakistan’s rogue army, on the other. The Lahore Summit led to agreement on several measures to increase confidence and cooperation and promote people to people contacts. Sending a new High Commissioner to Islamabad could pave the way for moving ahead on some of these measures.

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