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October 8, 2013

The way to go

Opinion

October 8, 2013

Just the right words in General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s retirement announcement. And it came not a moment too soon, for if the speculation around his going or staying had been allowed to linger, chattering class cynicism – a commodity never in short supply with us – would have taken care of his reputation.
We say we are Muslims. To look at our behaviour we are worshippers of the sun, but the rising not the setting sun. Incoming tin-gods we extol to the skies, discovering in them qualities even their mothers would not have known. But with outgoing champions we have a way all our own…loath even to acknowledge the good that there may be in them.
Pakistan commanders-in-chief, all of them, have been of three kinds. (1) Coup-making generals, the heroic group of our four disasters: Ayub, Yahya, Zia and Musharraf. (2) Outstanding war failures: Ayub in the ’65 war; Yahya in the events and debacle of ’71; and Musharraf in Kargil. (3) Peacetime generals with no coup or failed war to their credit: Asif Janjua, Waheed Kakar and Jahangir Karamat.
But in 66 years only one c-in-c to have presided over successful military operations, Ashfaq Kayani. Whether we like to admit it or not, we are in a state of war, engaged with an enemy more threatening to our survival than ever India was. And the army has suffered huge casualties and the nation is not united behind it. This has made the army’s task more difficult but Kayani, in difficult times, came up to high standards of leadership.
After Kargil, an unmitigated disaster, and during the rest of Musharraf’s tenure, the army seemed to have lost not just the will but the ability to fight. A chocolate and real estate army is what it became. The habit of fighting came back because of two factors: the Taliban, they forced us to fight back, no matter how fitfully or unevenly; and Gen Kayani. The army’s first ventures into Fata when Musharraf was country leader and army chief were a complete shambles, the

Taliban making monkeys of the unprepared battalions sent against them. The rehabilitation of lost army morale began under Kayani.
It was this spirit, painstakingly revived, that enabled the army to go successfully into Swat and later into South Waziristan. And Kayani was a very visible commander, regularly visiting frontline troops in Swat and Fata and reminding the nation of the sacrifices rendered by our fighting soldiers.
Swat was lost to Pakistan – let’s never forget this. True, if army and ISI had their wits about them from the beginning, Swat’s FM radio holy warrior, Maulana Fazlullah, would never have attained the power and prominence he did. Why do we blame India, Mossad and the heavens? They couldn’t have conspired more against us as we have conspired against ourselves. Take the Lal Masjid episode. If tackled in the beginning, the police officer in-charge Aabpara could have dealt with it. Musharraf and the ISI allowed it to fester for so long that it became a jihadi battleground, its echoes reverberating to this day.
But whatever the origins of Swat, it was the army under Kayani which restored it to the map and the jurisdiction of Pakistan. And the army which went into South Waziristan, and the army which is stretched out in Fata and fighting sporadic battles in different tribal agencies.
The Taliban of course have not been defeated. If anything, they stand taller than before. But fighting the Taliban is not just about sending troops against them but changing Pakistan’s extremist mindset….denying the Taliban not just space on the ground but, more importantly, space in the Pakistani mind.
This is a political task and the leadership in place to perform this task looks and sounds, on any given day, more like Taliban sympathisers than anything to the contrary. If Pakistan is to be rescued from its extremist predicament, army and civilian leadership have to be of the same mind. This unity of vision we have yet to see.
We have a strange relationship with the US. It is our ally; but with its gift for unnecessary pushing, it is also a headache. It fell mostly to Kayani to manage this relationship, living with the US and – after Raymond Davis, Abbottabad and Salala (when American helicopter fire killed our soldiers) – attempting to reduce the American footprint in Pakistan.
This only underscores the high-wire act he had to perform: apart from dealing with the Americans and their suspicions, suffer Zardari, fight some Taliban and keep lines open to others (such as the Haqqanis), keep one eye on Afghanistan and another on India, and worry about Balochistan at the same time. In not all these endeavours did the army come out on top. In not all was its approach correct. But even holding the line and not letting things slip further was not an easy task. The civilian leadership should of course have come to the fore. But it was busy doing other things, having almost outsourced security issues to Kayani and the army.
There were political things to do as well. The sacked judges’ restoration was brought about less by any long march than Kayani’s subtle intervention from the sidelines. That’s what clinched the issue. If the army had been supportive of Zardari, which it is was not, Nawaz Sharif wouldn’t have found it easy to pull off the stunt of breaking out of his house arrest and leading a march on the GT Road.
But even the best men can slip, as Gen Pasha and Nawaz Sharif did over the banana peel of Memogate. Hussain Haqqani, our then man in Washington, and Mansoor Ejaz, the major Memogate player, were of a kind, over-clever and great self-promoters. Gen Pasha and Nawaz Sharif came out looking foolish from that escapade, although Nawaz Sharif had sense enough to get out of it first.
Gen Kayani’s extension did him no good. His stock would have stood higher had he resisted the temptation. At the time it looked a clever move on Zardari’s part to ensure his survival. In retrospect even for him it looks a disaster, for by ensuring his short-term survival it ensured the PPP’s long-term destruction. Five years in power is what undid the PPP. A shorter term, even going down in smoke at Gen Pasha’s hands, would have saved it from the ruin which is now its portion.
More damaging for Kayani, however, were the business dealings, and army contracts, of his brothers. Whether he was personally involved or not, or turned just a blind eye to their activities, some of their reputation rubbed off on him.
But the central achievement remains: restoring the army’s morale and fighting spirit, and taking the army’s banner successfully into Swat and South Waziristan. And recognising for the first time that the threat Pakistan faced was more internal than external. This new thinking came not as a brainwave but under the pressure of circumstances. But Kayani did not shy away from articulating it. As time goes by, the blemishes will look smaller and the achievement will stand out more clearly.
Some of us are still missing the larger picture. How we got here is now beside the point. Pakistan is in the throes of a struggle between a primitive conception of religion and the Iqbal and Jinnah vision of a modern Islamic state. Primitivism is clear about its philosophy and aims. The same cannot be said of the Pakistani state, its votaries and luminaries confused and ducking behind feel-safe expedients.
This is a dangerous condition and what is holding Pakistan together is not Islam or ideology but – and I hate saying this – the army. Take the army out of the equation and all becomes dark and directionless. Kayani played his part well, even with some panache, and goes out with dignity. It’s a solid legacy he leaves behind. We have to see what his successors do with it.
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