The Power Struggle

By Hossp

With pressure mounting on the PPP government and President Zardari at the center of every new political/non political crisis, it appears that the house he built by patching together some crude deals is crumbling faster than a thatched cabin pulverized by a fierce typhoon. The alliance he cobbled together is strained by key defections on some vitally important issues and his party has no clue as to who would stand with the PPP in future battles.

 It seems that everything Mr. Zardari touched after he took over as President, became a liability to his Party and the government. From the Judges crisis to the Kerry Lugar Bill which he probably thought was going to be a crowning moment, and a major foreign policy achievement, turned in to a fiasco of a massive magnitude. The K-L bill hurt him internally, no doubt about that. However, the real damage he suffered was with the Obama administration. The strong opposition to the bill and then the NRO issue in Pakistan not only embarrassed him but also discomforted the Obama admin which in all probability, on his assurances, deferred to the Congress to slip in the conditions that were seen primarily to bolster Mr. Zardari’s position vis-à-vis the army.

There is very little disagreement with the conditions in the bill itself, the problem is the way they were incorporated and how the US State dept. was allowed to become the arbitrator in the Pakistan internal affairs. President Zardari and his advisors failed to grasp from Pakistan’s history that gimmicks like adding a few conditions in an aid bill cannot and will not cramp the establishment’s approach and its insatiable desire to govern Pakistan. Good governance and strong connection with the people could provide the only deterrence. Alas, his government seriously fails in providing good governance. The government is never proactive in solving people’s problems which is evident form the handling of the power generation crisis, the wheat crisis, and now the sugar crisis. Even the NRO, an entirely political matter that would have had an impact on Mr. Zardari and many of his lieutenants was handled most unprofessionally. 

 Other political gaffes aside, the very public disagreement by the army over the Kerry Lugar Bill had placed the whole civilian structure in a dangerously wobbly spot. What the heck were the President and his advisors thinking, when they agreed to and by some accounts, pushed the US admin to add some conditions to the bill? There is no published account outlining his diplomatic advisors’ efforts to challenge the inclusion of these conditions before the bill was passed. On the contrary, reports were presented that his favorite diplomat in a book he authored, suggested exactly the same language for any future US monetary commitments with Pakistan.

 Mr. Zardari usually is very thoughtful in dealing with the army. This time around he was behind the eight ball. Was he goaded by some of his friends or he worked himself up in to believing that the US congress mandated conditions would force the army to eschew the humiliation?  This is not the first time the Pakistani politicians and their advisors have failed to truly grasp the nature of the Army’s influence and approach to the policy decisions.

 His falling out with the army has created a situation where apparently the army is reluctant to seek his advice or guidance in the military-cum-civilian affairs. With Pakistan army fighting a well armed, amply funded, and politically connected insurgency in FATA, the civilian government’s input has been reduced to a minimum.

 The problems between the army establishment and the civilian governments are not unique to Pakistan. Many countries have similar problems. Even the democracy in the US struggles with on and off flare ups with the Pentagon. The White House and the Pentagon were very publicly sparring over the troops’ deployment in Afghanistan. The Pentagon leaked Gen. McChrystal’s request for 40,000 more troops before his recommendations even got to the President Obama’s desk. The White House or the State department countered by leaking US ambassador Gen. Eikenberry report to argue against the Gen. McChyrstal report. This is an ugly battle between the Pentagon and the White House over more troops in Afghanistan and leaks are being used to bulldoze each other. President Obama feared loss of the control of both the defense and the foreign policy, if he acceded to the Gen. McChrystal’s request without any conditions.

 Former President George W. Bush and his political cronies known as the neo-cons took the lead in starting the Iraq war. Once the war commenced, the White House was not the one calling the shots. By 2006 the Bush admin was so much out of the loop that he and his civilian spokesperson began to defer to Gen. David H. Petraeus, the architect of the surge, on policy matters. Instead of the Bush admin’s civilian leaders, Gen. Petraeus and Gen. Mike Mullen were seen lobbying the Congress on the US policy and more funding. The two Army Generals were seen on all TV channels and Gen. Petraeus had more than ten appearances on TV almost every week.

 Many analysts believe that the trend started way back in the fifties and President Eisenhower pointed out the existence of Military-Industrial complex in the US in his farewell speech in November 1960. Stories from the Kennedy era have recently emerged that show major disagreements over his policies during the Bay of Pigs crisis with the Pentagon. President Johnson ceded control of the Vietnam War after he caved in to the Pentagon’s pressure for more troops for Vietnam and ended up escalating the war with no end in sight. President Bill Clinton’s White House had proverbial poor relations with the Pentagon. The situation got to a point where he had to appointment a Republican Senator as the Secretary of Defense.

 In US a partnership has developed between the civilians and the Pentagon. With strong democratic currents and tradition of elections, the civilian institutions such as the Congress and the White House wield more power in the internal affairs but the Pentagon input is vital in running the foreign and defense policy of the US.

 Turkey’s history after the First World War is replete with battles between the civilians and the Army Generals. One Turkish Prime Minister lost his life, like ZAB did in Pakistan, over the control of the country. However, over the years and after long and hard labor, the civilians appear to have an upper hand but to say that they are completely independent would not be accurate. The Turkish army still has tremendous clout over the state affairs.

 Another country where the partnership between the Armed Forces and Civilians is working fine is Israel. The Israel Defense Forces, popularly known as the IDF exercise enormous control over Israel’s foreign and defense affairs. So much so that the Minister of Defense in pretty much every Israeli government is either a former general or a representative of the IDF. There are many countries all over South America where the civilians and the Armed forces after years of battles have agreed to work with each other. At some places these arrangements still discomfort one group or the other.

 In Pakistan the army and the civilians have difficulty working with each other. Army enjoys phenomenal control and has the veto powers over Pakistan defense and Foreign affairs. The history of this relationship is well known now. The only elected civilian leader to complete his term, ZAB owed it not to his public support but to the benevolence of Gen. Tikka Khan who remained COAS for most of the ZAB term. He retired in 1976 and within a year ZAB was removed.

 Mr. Zardari took a courageous step when he decided to step in the President House. The key persons in Pakistan have not been treated well in the past. ZAB, Nawaz Sharif, Benazir Bhutto, and Mr. Zardari himself were put through the sword after they defied the establishment.

 President Zardari fancies himself as a deal maker. Cutting a deal in the State’s affairs is not akin to splitting the difference that most salesmen practice. A statesman has to find as much agreement as possible with various groups to push the policy through. The hard fact in Pakistan is that civilians have to show deference to the Generals but that does not mean that the civilians would always be unable to find an agreement with the Generals. If you make an attempt to agree to some boundaries, chances are the other party would stick to its part of the bargain. Pakistan’s foreign policy and defense have always been under the army’s domain. Mr. Zardari encroached upon the traditional boundaries and the resulting public embarrassment delivered by the Army Generals is the reason behind his failure to get the NRO approved in the assembly. Recall that the NRO was the agreed upon reconciliation formula between the army, then led by Gen. Musharaff, and the PPP in November 2007. Mr. Zardari was expected to honor the agreement but in his eagerness to become the foreign policy guru and not involve the Generals in negotiating with the US on the K-L bill, ensured the NRO was dead on arrival at the National Assembly. With the corruption cases back in public arena his moral authority to lead the country is under immense pressure now.

 Instead of taking upon himself to negotiate the Kerry –Lugar bill, Mr. Zardari should have actively sought the army’s opinion and then conveyed the concerns to the US admin before the bill was presented in the Congress. Building trust and confidence is a lot harder than confrontation. Yes, the civilians appear weak in moments like this but if they handle the situation thoughtfully, they actually strengthen the democratic institutions in the country.

 The PPP and the Army have a history of poor relationship, Mr. Zardari is fully aware of that. Despite that foreknowledge, he chose confrontation before stabilizing the civilian authority. He created the situation prematurely and digging himself out of this hole may not be easy. Given the support the civilian government has in the international community, and the support to the system from the principal political parties in the country, there is still time to mend the fences. It might require him to give up some of the functions that he holds dear. He might have to rethink his strategy of dominating the political scene in the country. He certainly has to give up on his ambition to be the foreign policy guru. Even the sharpest foreign policy maven in Pakistan, the former PM Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, had to keep Mr. Agha Shahi as his foreign minister for a reason.



Filed under Army, Pakistan

17 responses to “The Power Struggle

  1. Hossp

    Thank you for publishing this. The formatting needs to change and follow the paragraph pattern that was in my Word document. Would you please look it up. Thanks.

  2. yasserlatifhamdani

    Sorry about the formatting blooper.

    Will fix it early tomorrow morning. My laptop has crashed and I am on an ancient blackberry.

  3. mohammad

    I am fascinated by Hossp’s insight into military civilian relations all over the globe,will the dear writer enlighten us on military vs development budget in respective countries? is there any accountability or audit of perks and privileges for serving and retired officers in the above mentioned states ? Is there any independent testing of equipment military procures? Who will assure pakistanis the quality of chinese assembled hardware and armaments? Why we can make atom bomb but not agriculture machinery? Why a pauper’s child can not attend prestigious schools and army officers offsprings have reserved places in all quality institutions? Why all prime locations in cities are leased to army officers? Why cant areas resemble western europe while common mortals have to curse their luck in stench filled cities? Do not we think judiciary should show some interest into our knights pursuits as well? Please do not get me wrong as I think accountability should not be selective.

  4. Hossp

    “will the dear writer enlighten us on military vs development budget in respective countries?”


    This info is available on CIA fact book search it yourself. Pakistan’s %s are lower than all the countries mentioned above.
    Perks…The Army generals and other officers in the US after retirement are gainfully employed as consultant or regular officers in many
    defense related industries. Some work as lobbyist and other appear on TV as defense
    I am not defending the army nor do I research how army procures arms and what quality control procedures are in place.
    Some army Generals are more corrupt than the others and some are not corrupt at all. They are no different than people in the civilian bureaucracy.
    I know what you are trying to say but I would rather have you say it for me to respond to that. Vague hints and notions don’t mean much.
    “Why cant areas resemble western europe while common mortals have to curse their luck in stench filled cities?”

    There are bad and good areas in Western Europe. That is true for the US too. I don’t know what does that prove. Cantonments are usually middle class neighborhood and army maintains them better than some civil civic bodies. Yes, the Pak army is a privileged bureaucracy so is the civil bureaucracy. All your points are really irrelevant to what I wrote.

  5. sharafs

    Just a general note for all.

    I have had disagreements with HP on many issues mostly relating between the cause and effect. He has invariably been on target. Something like a guru to me. His inputs are always valuable when I write for the newspaper, as also chipping in with some contribution to policy making.

    Military Budgets world over are audit-able and all expenses subject to scrutiny. The accounts are controlled through controller Military Accounts working directly under the MINDEF. The audit reports are placed before the Defence Minister and Prime Minister. You will be surprised that even bills like defense works, expenditure on arms ammunition being classified in nature are scrutinized regularly. Sometimes, the Chief auditor even elects to carry out inspections are site verifications.The process is like this.
    1. Quarterly Audit by members within the organization.
    2. Annual audit by CMA a Civilian organization whose officers are CSP officers.
    3. Test Audit
    4. Review Audit

    The procedure is not superficial. There are inquiries and people get punished/court martialled. Usually all payments are made on contingent bills (commissioning advance) that has to be regularized later. The sytstem is quite tight, though slippages even in best systems are possible.

    [Who will assure Pakistanis the quality of Chinese assembled hardware and armaments? ]
    There were times when Chinese equipment was the best we could get. The T59 Tank is still going strong and Al Khalid and Al Zarrar are modifications of it. All paid equipment has to undergo rigorous trials by an Inspectorate even dreaded by manufacturers of Abraham tank.

    I feel most of your observations are biased and misguided.

  6. yasserlatifhamdani

    It is fixed … please confirm uncle ji.

  7. mohammad

    I think you are viewing army with a prism, most of the times we are ruled by military angles , ah we still have PMs though to pass military budgets, do not we? I think civilian government is kind of jinx, whenever they are is islamabad we have troubles, remember kargal fiasco . We all know pakistanis are healthier and more educated than americans, oh if someone can not afford hospital treatment never mind it is God’s will, I will say poorly who are rotting are kind of blessed as they will go to heaven straight away without breaks, our general know the better as all we need is our ‘be zarar’ nuts and bolts. Let us not forget ‘ya sab tumara karam hai aqa ke bat ab tak bani hoi hai’.

  8. Gorki

    Hossp Sahib has compared state of civilian-military relationship in Pakistan with some other countries including the United States. While uniformed men in the US are unusually articulate men, and sometimes try to give an impression of independent thinking, it would be very wrong, perhaps even laughable to assume that the kind of assertiveness seen in countries like Pakistan and Turkey is tolerated in a democratic societies like the US.

    From its very inception, the military in the United States functions at the pleasure of the US Congress and the president and not the other way around. During the revolution when General Washington was leading a ill equipped army in Valley Forge he wrote scathing letters to the congress asking for more supplies but always as a supplicant. It never crossed his mind to exceed his authority and make any unconditional demands or threats.
    During the US civil war, General McClellan famously disagreed with Lincoln, and although the war was going badly, Lincoln was unpopular and many agreed with McClellan, he nevertheless relived McClellan of his command.

    During the Second World War, Douglas MacArthur studiously cultivated the press to build a cult around himself. At the end of the War he was a popular household name yet when he tried to disobey the Presidency, he was promptly fired by President Eisenhower, his one time junior officer.

    While there has been some controversy in the news lately whether it is the military or the civilians who are the best guardians of the idea of Pakistan, there is no such controversy in the United States. The point is best exemplified by the oath that every US serviceman has to take before enlisting:

    “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God”.

    Thus it is this very real oath that clearly places the US Constitution as the source of all authority and civilian authority over the military. Therefore the Public statements by US military officials vis a vis the civilians are strictly regulated under article 88 which decrees the following:
    ‘Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct’.
    This is not a paper tiger either. During the Clinton years no fewer than four senior officers, two Air Force generals and two Marine Corps officers – were punished for violating Article 88 in statements they made during the 1990s against President Clinton. One of the generals variously called Pres. Clinton “gay-loving,” “womanizing,” “draft-dodging,” and “pot-smoking.”

    The following anecdote from the book “State of Denial” by Bob Woodward makes this essential point in another way.
    Marine Corps Gen. James Jones was asking fellow Marine Gen. Peter Pace, at the time the leading candidate to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, if he really wanted a job that had become so emptied of authority. “You should not be the parrot on the secretary’s shoulder,” Jones reportedly said.

    People will remember that General Shinseki, a four star general who correctly predicted that post war Iraq would need a large force to keep peace was very publicly criticized to the point of humiliation by deputy defense secretary, Wolfowitz and then quietly sidelined even when it became obvious that he had been right all along, no one in the Bush White house even considered acknowledging the fact.

    The unmistakable take away point is that even when overseen incompetent idiots, everyone, especially the military men understand who it is that they serve. It is the people of the United States who control the military through their legally elected officials. It always has been that way; no exceptions.


  9. Mustafa Shaban

    Just wondering, does anybody know the voter breakdown in Pakistan. Like if the elections were to take place tommorow which 3 parties would get the highest votes? just curious.

  10. vajra


    I thought it was Truman who fired McArthur. Or maybe I’m wrong; most historical discoveries and much historical analysis comes from the likes of Dada Majumdar these days.

  11. Hayyer

    It was Truman.
    I was disappointed with the views expressed by Hossp. The civilian set up in Pakistan needs to be defended notwithstanding the peccadilloes of Zardari.
    Emphatically, the Army does not run US foreign policy or defence policy. Of course once a war is on the opinion of generals becomes the guiding light for its pursuit. That is only natural, but it is a far cry from saying that the Army makes defence policy. Rationalizing a political role for the army is the last thing that Pakistan needs.
    PA probably makes foreign policy in Pakistan only because of the India factor and not on general principles?
    In a system such as the US has competing branches of government may well lobby with Congress. In a parliamentary system that Britain or India or Pakistan have generals can only lobby very carefully, at most by having issues raised in Parliament, but not very easily even then. They may advise governments against undertaking a war, or once underway insist on the manner of its pursuit but they can hardly expect to override civilian authority in policy.
    Mike Mullen is an Admiral, not a general.

  12. Gorki

    Vajra, Hayyer:

    It was indeed Truman. Thanks guys for the correction. I was writing in an intensly sleep deprived state and got my presidents mixed up. Ike and MacArthur had a testy relationship too but that is another story.
    Hossp Sahib’s post equating the role of military in Pakistan with that of the Pentagon versus the Presidency sounded so darn absurd that I first thought he meant it as a joke. My mistake was on account of that eagerness to correct the record. The error is regretted but the point stands.


  13. Milind Kher

    The sheer selfishness of the Pakistani establishment is amazing. While the nation is being torn apart by terrorist attacks every day, Kayani and Zardari are acting out their power plays.

    The only thing I can wish for the people, who are largely innocent, is that they get a good strong leader who can put nation before self, or at least care for it strongly.

  14. hossp

    Gorki, Vajra and others.

    I am posting this from my Black Berry so w/o many details.

    This is wrong to assume that I am comparing the US Army with the Pak army. I am comparing the situations where the US admin and the Pentagon were not on the same page. I pulled a recent example with a brief reference to the problems in the past. The army control in Turkey, Israel and Pakistan is more pronounced while in the US; in the presence of strong democratic institutions, army peccadilloes often remain under wraps.

    Of the top of the head, I will refer you to one book which details the Pentagon role in the US foreign and Defense policy: House of War by James Carroll. More books are available on the same subject. The oath etc. are pretty much the same for the Pakistan army generals too. Presenting the policy that Pentagon prefers to the White House is not going against the oath, neither is the political maneuvering that goes with that. It is also true that Pentagon and the Republican administration usually have better relations, the problems surface with the Democratic Administrations.

    Believing that everything is hanky dory and the Pentagon and the White House don’t have political battles means that you have not studied what was going on during the Bush admin and what kind of give and take is taking place now under the Obama admin.

    The drift of this article is that relations between the army and civilians are complicated, especially in Pakistan and gimmicks like adding a few conditions to the bill will not change that. The situation in Turkey is of special emphasis where from regular intrusions and a dominant army position to now we have a relationship that surely is showing signs of civilian dominance on policy issues.

    I don’t see Pakistani army taking down the civilian government in the near future. The statesman like thing is keep working on consolidating the gains so far made and avoid conflicts that will pit the new civilian government against the army. Presently, the army in Pakistan certainly controls more strings. The almost daily suicide bombings and the war in FATA have again placed the army in the driving seat. So much so that now the army is back on claiming that it will protect Islam.

    I have raised one more issue and that relates to the deal that the PPP made with the Army under Musharaff. The deal was that the army would share power with the PPP or the civilian PM and for that reason, it was agreed that Musharaff would remain the President. The NRO by Musharaff was the result of that deal. Well Zardari breached that agreement first by removing Musharaff. That was fine and I am sure that happened after Zardari promised that he would work with the army. But his intrusion in to what Army considered its domain, the defense and the Foreign policy and his attempts to bring the US admin into that enraged the army and hence the very public defiance by the army in the shape of the corps commanders statement.

    The NRO was the result of an agreement that the PPP made with the Army under Musharraf. Zardari breached that agreement not once but twice so there was no way the NRO was going to pass in the assembly and we saw all the political parties in the PPP alliance that have some relations with the army backed off from supporting the NRO.

    Imo, politicians will not defeat the army’s political ambitions by confrontation and especially confronting when the army is has a new lease given by the War in FATA and the Suicide bombings. Politicians will have to take a more statesman type approach. And that approach should be to create conditions where public confidence in the politicians improves; they will need to make sure that there is more transparency and a quick action to the consistent public demand of democratic reforms in the constitution and strengthening of the Parliament and people’s representatives.

    Zardari has taken stands that are contrary to all of the above. He is involved in petty politics, he is not willing to concede the presidential powers to the parliament and he is not willing to control corruption by his cronies. So far he is doing everything that has encouraged the army in the past to take over the country. Despite all that no political party is interested in bringing him down. His main opponent PML(n) is on record to support the PPP government against any coup.

  15. Gorki

    “Politicians will have to take a more statesman type approach. And that approach should be to create conditions where public confidence in the politicians improves; they will need to make sure that there is more transparency and a quick action to the consistent public demand of democratic reforms in the constitution and strengthening of the Parliament and people’s representatives”

    I think this is a very sensible statement in the Pakistani context; however as an outsider, I can’t add much to it since it is something of an intra-Pakistani discussion.


  16. vajra


    You may have erred on the side of generosity in addressing your remarks partly to me. I have honestly not formed an opinion yet on your article, and need a little more time. My only input was a trivial one on which American President sacked McArthur.

    I am reading the discussion with interest and hope to learn through following it.

  17. Hayyer

    The internal dynamic of Pakistan’s situation is really something that none of us can comment upon being generally ignorant of the nuances.
    My comment was generally intended to advocate a lesser role for armies in making external policy with which is connected a country’s overall defence posture.