In a hurried non-speech, the prime minister has confirmed that the incumbent army chief will stay on for three years. Unprecedented as the decision might be, it is perhaps the best option under the current circumstances. Pakistan is battling against domestic and external terrorism. Given how the army works, it is clear that the military establishment wants a continuation of national security policy.
Lack of policy continuity has been the hallmark of Pakistan’s governance. At least with General Kayani’s extension, the military operations in the northwest and approach to the Afghanistan imbroglio will also remain unchanged. This is good for Pakistan for three reasons.
First, Pakistan desperately needs uninterrupted operations to counter militancy. This is no longer a ‘foreign war’ but very much our own. Second, past efforts to sensitise the west on Pakistan’s concerns in Afghanistan should not be squandered. Finally, General Kayani’s tightrope walk at home has worked well and the democratic system has not been truncated despite the frantic calls of several media-persons. One TV anchor before he left a popular channel, had appealed to Takht-e-Rawalpindi to intervene to save the country.
The troubled civil-military equation is not going to change overnight. Realism demands that we have to deal with the army’s ubiquitous role, at least in the medium term. Civilian supremacy is not guaranteed through the merely powers of appointing army chiefs. This erroneous view needs to be challenged. Parliament will only be supreme when it governs and with transparency and delivers the goods. We also need to recognise that the dominance of the unelected institutions stunts the performance of the elected governments. How will this change? Not by manipulating service contracts but through continuation of the democratic system.
General Kayani so far has not been a party to any effort to destabilise the system. If anything, his public image is that of a moderate, professional and a no-nonsense soldier, not interested in political gerrymandering. For this very reason, the PPP government has made a calculated gamble. We are a land of constant melodrama, but instability is not written on the wall, at least for now.
The army’s interests require a stable economy and functional civilian governance. As a national institution, it should enable Pakistan’s transformation into a more manageable polity. More importantly, it ought to be aware of its limitations in governing this complex, and crumbling country. All indications so far suggest that the current military leadership is cognisant of such realities.
General Kayani has three hectic years ahead. Stabilising Pakistan’s northwest and getting Pakistan on the Afghanistan-table are already under way. However, its Balochistan and India strategies require creative reassessment; and the dated doctrines of ‘strategic depth’ need reconfiguration. Instead of civil-military power struggles, we need a broad consensus and workable formulae for effective cooperation to cleanse Pakistan’s proverbial stables.
For this reason, we wish General Kayani all the luck.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 25th, 2010.