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.