Self-Appointed Custodians of Self-Defined National Security

By Usman Sadozai

The Pakistan Army has taken the unusual step of officially expressing concern and apprehension about the Kerry-Lugar Bill, at the end of the 122nd Corps Commanders Conference. The communiqué is a poorly disguised warning. It’s a transgression by the military and poses a challenge to the fragile and nascent democracy that it could have done without. One of the concerns that the military wishes to address, it is claimed by analysts, is to give out the message to the Pakistani public that its Army does not take orders from Washington.

It was wrong when, a year or so ago, Gen Kayani took it upon himself to make a statement about how the Army will uphold the people’s wishes regarding Kashmir (‘qaum kee umango’n..’). It is not for Gen Kayani but the politicians to ascertain and the government to decide what the people’s wishes are. His job is to follow all legal orders of the constitutional government. It is even worse now that the Corps Commanders have chosen to throw their weight, as it were, behind the opposition. This kind of political interference is unforgivable.

The people of Pakistan and many in the media have been wary of ever-increasing American influence in Islamabad. Indeed, the Pakistani rumour mill has been needlessly active in putting out intriguing conspiratorial stories when the reality ought to more than suffice as a cause for genuine concern about Washington’s undue influence. However, the real issues have little to do with the Kerry-Lugar Bill (more formally, the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009).

The worst that the US can do, in case Pakistan is found falling foul of the conditions set in the Bill, is to stop giving the money. One could accept, for the sake of argument, that the other side of this coin could be more worrying though. That is, the Government of Pakistan agreeing to give itself a monetary incentive to act in accordance with the wishes of Washington, as expressed within the relevant sections of the Bill. A pertinent question then may be: what are these controversial sections? With the next question being: why are they controversial?

Those who have read the Bill would have seen that it emphasises two themes when it comes to what the US legislators expect in return for their voters’ money: a) very broadly, the strengthening of democracy and (some) civilian institutions and infrastructure in Pakistan, and b) Pakistan’s continued commitment in the war against Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, Jaish-e-Muhammad and other foreign terrorist organisations that may have a presence on Pakistani territory. The Bill lays down mechanisms whereby the US Government must provide periodic assessments to relevant congressional committees of how the assistance is being used and whether or not the criteria set are being met by Pakistan. There are separate reporting mechanisms relating to the military and civilian parts of the assistance. In either case, the US Government is able to produce Waivers effectively dissociating the assistance from any or all conditions for a particular fiscal year or other period.

The more controversial part of the Bill is a ‘third’ theme. However, the Bill’s drafters perhaps thought it more prudent to try and pass it off as part of the second theme – the War on Terror – even though it is clearly and directly related to, if not part and parcel of, the first theme, i.e. strengthening democracy. After the clauses requiring a concerted effort against the terrorists, the last clause demands that the security forces of Pakistan do not ‘materially interfere with the political or judicial processes of Pakistan’. This general area has long been one of considerable controversy and difficulty for both Washington and Rawalpindi.

Condeleezza Rice, while addressing an audience at an American university campus during the lame-duck days of the Bush administration, talked of how the US would prefer to deal with the civilian institutions of Pakistan instead of the military. But that would only make any sense, she explained, once the civilian could show a degree of control and super-ordination over the military. While, on the other hand, Negroponte was telling Congress, Pakistanis and the world, days before the February 18 general election in Pakistan, that his administration considered Musharraf to be “indispensable”. He and others, often from the Cheney camp, kept reiterating this mantra from just before Musharraf decided to shed his military uniform. Rice had been repeatedly stating that she considered any comments about the 60 sacked judges to be interfering in ‘an internal matter of Pakistan,’ even as she thought it no such thing to implore Musharraf to end the ‘emergency’ he had declared on November 3, 2007.

This historical ‘difficulty’ started for Washington when General Ayub Khan decided to keep Karachi (then capital of Pakistan) out of the loop in dealing with the US on military assistance to Pakistan. He ‘hijacked’ the Pentagon and State Department contacts (e.g. the Dulles brothers) from the bureaucrat, Iskander Mirza (then Defence Secretary), who had already bypassed the political government. The Americans, never known to waste time looking at longer term consequences, and pressed by the (psychological) urgency of the Cold War, were more than happy to establish direct contacts with the Pakistani Commander-in-Chief. So reluctant was Ayub Khan to relinquish this direct access to Washington and the power that it gave him that he parked himself, in full military uniform, in the cabinet as the Minister for Defence in 1954. The rest, as they say, is history.

This new US administration is more than just a change from Republicans to Democrats. Obama needs to be seen to be different from not just Bush, but, if possible, all that has gone before him. From the American point of view, the Bill, as it is drafted, is a step in the right direction. Have they overdone it? Maybe. It might look as ‘interference’ to some Pakistanis, but with the US Government being able to give the Waivers, does it really matter? In any case, Pakistan is being asked to do what most Pakistanis wish and hope their country should be doing anyway. So, why should US legislators demanding the same, in return for their taxpayers’ money, make us want do it any less?

There has been an orchestrated effort in Pakistan to make this Bill controversial. So, that might add some weight to the argument that Parliament should be allowed to discuss it. But Parliament, at this late stage, has only one choice available to it: take it or leave it. If we do not intend to do as our American friends and all rational Pakistanis wish us to do, then would it be better to let Parliament to say ‘No, thank you’ now? Or, let Americans stop the aid if and when they want to? Why say no to free money until then? How then is Pakistani sovereignty or freedom of action affected?

Should the Government have taken Parliament into confidence from the beginning? It was the executive’s prerogative to proceed with negotiations and agreement with a foreign government without necessarily involving the Parliament. The finer points of democratic rights and wrongs of not involving Parliament may be debated. But there is no debating the fact that it is no business of the Corps commanders, whatsoever, to interfere in politics.

The Kerry-Lugar Bill acknowledges the gallant effort and sacrifice of the Pakistani security forces better and more fully than do many Pakistanis who are opposing it. This opposition includes those who supported or were ambivalent to the Lal Masjid-type mullahs declaring that they would not join in janaza prayers for (Muslim) Pakistani soldiers laying down their lives, in our defence, in FATA. Many opposing the Bill also believe that Pakistani ‘sovereignty’ would have been stronger had Baitullah Mehsud not been dispatched by an American drone. Whether they wished it or not, or realise it or not, the Corps Commanders have strengthened the hand of those who are more sympathetic to the cause of the enemy than interested in supporting and standing behind our brave soldiers. These forces are waiting for the next maverick general holding a ‘tasbeeh’ in his hand rather than a lap dog under each arm. Anything that weakens democracy is a boon to them.



Filed under Pakistan, USA

13 responses to “Self-Appointed Custodians of Self-Defined National Security

  1. Junaid

    Thanks to who ever authored this article.

    At least some one in Pakistan is aware of what the actual problem is. At least some one talks about belling the cat while others are busy talking about non-issues.

    The biggest problem and threat to Pakistan is none other then Pak army itself.

  2. yasserlatifhamdani

    Our very own Bloody Civilian wrote this article…

  3. Bloody Civilian


    the article clearly points out who the “biggest problem and threat to Pakistan” is.

    both the Pakistan Army and rational Pakistanis know very well who the existential threat to our country and our children is. it’s the mullah. the whole point of the article above is to point out that whether it is musharraf using the mullahs in return for legitimacy or zia using them as a constituency, it strengthens the hand of the enemy.

    whether it be mullahs or the fifth columnists amongst us, they’ll try and gain from any chisms within the state of pakistan – especially between the military and the civilians. but that should not stop us from debating these issues with a view to closing the gaps and being able to stand shoulder to shoulder with each other, esp at this time of war. there is no way to do it other than legitimate and open debate.

  4. Luqmaan

    Thanks to Usman for calling a spade a spade.

    Whenever the democratically elected govts in Pakistan were overthrown by the military, the US continued to do business with the dictators.

    This recognition and acceptance by the Americans has brought the army into such prominence that the army itself has become a power center and to an outside observer, it appears that the govt and the army sometimes work at cross purposes.


  5. Majumdar

    Civvie mian,

    both the Pakistan Army and rational Pakistanis know very well who the existential threat to our country and our children is. it’s the mullah.

    I beg to differ here. The mullah is big only becuase the Pak Army wants him to be big. The real enemy of Pakistanis is the Bonapartist tendency within the Pak Army.


  6. Bloody Civilian


    to borrow from elementary set theory… i meant the very large ‘intersection’ and not necessarily the only slightly larger ‘union’ of the two sets.:-)

    also, i think much of it is in the past. reagan termed the mujahideen ‘the moral equivalent of the founding fathers’. he picked up the habit of putting his hand on his heart during the nat anthem from zia’s visit to washington. zia wanted to play with big boys’ toys. either he thought he was a big boy, or he didn’t care what happened after he was gone. the military mind is perhaps slightly more vulnerable to the ‘big boy syndrome’.

  7. Hayyer

    This was a very well written and very well argued piece.
    “The communiqué is a poorly disguised warning. It’s a transgression by the military and poses a challenge to the fragile and nascent democracy that it could have done without. One of the concerns that the military wishes to address, it is claimed by analysts, is to give out the message to the Pakistani public that its Army does not take orders from Washington.”
    The message is more blunt I think. It is notice that the Army does not consider itself permanently restrained from interfering with democratic processes in Pakistan and shall not let the EPPA get in the way of its autonomy of action.
    More generally though Americans have a right to impose conditions, and the Pakistanis, as a so called frontline state, to refuse aid under those conditions, and ask for unconditional aid.
    It is the implications of the conditionalities that are difficult to accept; that nuclear proliferation, terror groups and the use of terror have support in the Pakistani establishment, and that the Pakistan army disrupts democracy in Pakistan.
    Looking back over the decades it appears that the US could live with the Army dictatorships in Pakistan as it has done elsewhere in the world had the Pak army not become compromised with the ‘wrong’ sorts of terror groups. America used not to have problems with Islamic militancy, as we saw in Chechnya whose Shamil Basayev was a popular even heroic figure in western circles till the Beslan massacre. It had no problem with fundamentalist groups in Pakistan as long as they served American interests in Afghanistan, and it was indifferent to their use against India in Kashmir. It was just bad luck for the Pakistan army that 9-11 happened. If America takes such a tender interest in Pakistan’s democracy now it is because the Pak army won’t play switch ball. It is a good thing for Pakistan democracy though.
    It is not necessarily a bad thing if Pakistan accepts the EPPA as it is. The creation and maintenance of a jihadi threat against India over Kashmir or otherwise is surely not the historic destiny of Pakistan, any more than it is the duty of its army to be custodian of Nazaria e Pakistan.
    Reading the Dawn today I saw a piece which says ‘Instead of supporting the government, Pakistani-American activists are urging the US administration to distance itself from ‘unpopular rulers’ and not to take sides in the military-government dispute.’
    All nations lionize their armies, Indians as much as anyone else, but this kind of support is absurd. The army is under the government, not a counterpoint to it. Who are these ‘activists’ who trust the army more than their elected government? Wouldn’t they do better canvassing Pakistani voters to support the military instead of canvassing Foggy Bottom.

  8. Junaid


    Exactly my point.

    The Mullah is big because some one made him big.

    Lets get hold of the king maker and the king will fall in line.

  9. Gorki

    Hayyer and Usman:

    “If America takes such a tender interest in Pakistan’s democracy now it is because the Pak army won’t play switch ball. It is a good thing for Pakistan democracy though.”

    I absolutely agree with the last sentence. I also think that Usman has nailed it when he wrote:

    “In any case, Pakistan is being asked to do what most Pakistanis wish and hope their country should be doing anyway”.

    I hope the policy makers and the establishment in three (perhaps four) countries: US, Pakistan and India and to a lesser extent Afghanistan (which does not at the moment have an independent long term foreign policy) realize what a historic opportunity the current set of conditions provide to each of these countries.

    In the short term the goals of all these countries seem to be aligned, battling as they are in their seperate ways the same problem; fundamentalist inspired terrorism.

    That the fight so far has not gone as well as expected is due to the fact that by far the most important player in this mix; Pakistan has been a hesitant partner in this fight.
    It people and many of its thought leaders even outside the military remain wary of the US and the Indian intentions.

    Reading the public opinion polls and media reports, it appears that while a larger segment of the Pakistani society has now started to see the dangers posed by extremists within its borders, many more are still unsure whether this is indeed true. These people can’t decide what they are afraid of most; terrorism or the twin threats of American unreliability as a partner (and its imperialist designs) and the Indian threat to its very existence.

    In such a mix, the military’s belligerent vis a vis the civilian government (and its reluctance to make a complete break with ALL militant outfits) appear to these people a national interest.

    The challenge for policy makers from all these nations is to convince the most important constituency in South Asia; the people of Pakistan, that current convergence of interests can benefit not only others but Pakistan too.
    Moreover they must demonstrate that the current alignment of interests need not be only a short term thing but can also remain stable and even grow over time, in the long run.

    This will take some very bold thinking and serious commitments; a grand bargain if you will, mostly from the US policy makers but from the Indians as well.

    The US and India will have to make a public commitment to preserving the geographic integrity of Pakistan and to respect its sovereignty in return for a zero tolerance for terrorist activities emanating from its soil.

    The USA specifically will have to give a public and long term security guarantee to the people and the civilian government of Pakistan (such as it has given to Japan and Taiwan) to protect it in case it was attacked.

    Moreover both India and USA will have to declare publicly that while they oppose terrorism and its adherents they will support the people of Pakistan and will actively cooperate with it to make it an economic power and a responsible regional and an international player in the years to come.

    The US aid can then be given more through civilian channels and if possible come with joint Pakistani and US checks and balances; (which will then be more palatable than the current one sided laws that smack of imperial edicts)

    Finally all the above counties will have to make a bold but unambiguous statement that they will only deal with each other’s elected governments and will consider all extra constitutional centers of power; military or otherwise; completely illegal.

    Once such steps are taken and acted upon, the public opinion in Pakistan can hopefully start jelling over time against extra constitutional sources of power and also against terrorism as a tool of state policy.

    Then over time, the civilian government and institutions can develop, slowly but surely, without worrying about the GHQ hovering over it. In such a scenario I think the people to people contacts between India Pakistan and Afghanistan can develop and lessen the current tensions and mistrust. The US too will win with a stable and economically growing South Asia, firmly in the US camp for years to come.

    I realize that what I have written may seem like wishful thinking to many and many others may not even agree with everything I wrote. Yet today major events are unfolding in our common South Asian homeland and any missteps and missed opportunities will have major consequences.
    It is not a time for small and timid moves but bold steps that will shape our history.

    I hope our leaders are aware of this fact and will have the wisdom and the courage to do the right thing at this crucial juncture.

  10. Bloody Civilian


    Pakistan has been a hesitant partner in this fight. It people and many of its thought leaders even outside the military remain wary of the US and the Indian intentions.

    a not atypical train of thought amongst pakistanis is that if the US could ignore 9/11, terrorism and afghanistan to go and invade iraq… then how reliable is the US. that pakistan could be in iraq’s position one day.. if not actually next. that india is only interested in convincing the world that pakistan is the sponsor of terrorism… paving the way for an american invasion to take out pak’s nukes. that punishing iran before having committed any crime is hardly reassuring. that those who are most anti-american today might come in handy when america invades, and we’d be better off conserving our army than fighting against america’s enemies.

    the only thing helping change this mindset has been ‘america’s enemies’ blowing up, beheading and flogging pakistanis. the realisation is coming too slowly at too high a price.

  11. Bloody Civilian

    only the first italicised word ‘the’ was supposed to have been in italics.

  12. Luqmaan


    Watch it Obama, they may now give Gorki the Nobel peace prize.


  13. Gorki

    Dear Luqmaan:

    Sarcasm aside, the Nobel Peace prize was politicized a long time ago before the current controversy regarding its latest recipient.

    For example consider the fact that its past winners were such notable men of ‘peace’ as Teddy Roosevelt, Henry Kissinger, Menachim Begin and Yasser Arafat. Compared to these peaceful men, Obama appears a downright deity.
    Yet for me, even this list would have been understandable if not for one glaring exception; that of an eccentric man whose very name became synonymous with peaceful movements in the 20th century. In spite of this, his name never made it to this particular list. The irony is that in my opinion his inclusion would have honored the Nobel Prize itself more than the other way around.
    Anyway the Nobel Prize is a private recognition awarded by a committee that claims to award it keeping in mind the wishes of its founder and we are no one to question that fact. We all are free to ignore the importance attached to this prize which after all is but one among several such international recognitions awarded annually.

    I must admit that not all the choices are controversial and that sometimes the Nobel Prize committee gets it right too. Two of my personal favorites are the Amnesty International and the Doctors without borders.