By Sadiq Saleem
The clear message from the Director General of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in his interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel was that Pakistan’s security establishment does not differ with the civilian leadership in their fundamental worldview.
The military, too, now considers terrorism as Pakistan’s major security threat and has no desire for conflict or confrontation with India. But the removal of National Security Adviser Mehmud Durrani by Prime Minister Gilani eclipsed that message of civil-military unity under civilian direction. The Super Hawks who dominate Pakistan’s electronic and print media immediately read into Gen Durrani’s removal signs of policy differences that do not really exist.
Gen Durrani’s removal related to a procedural matter, not a policy disagreement. As adviser to the prime minister he was required to seek the PM’s approval before acting. Instead, he spoke out publicly prematurely after consultations with the security establishment. The prime minister decided to send a signal that, as political boss and chief executive, it was his prerogative to determine the manner and timing of an important revelation like the nationality of Ajmal Kasab, the terrorist involved in the Mumbai attacks currently in Indian custody. Given that the Foreign Office and the information minister also confirmed what Gen Durrani had stated, the issue is not what the former national security adviser said but how, when and to whom he said it.
The CIA-sponsored Afghan Jihad of the 1980s has spawned a massive infrastructure of militancy in Pakistan that can best be described as Jihad Inc. During the 1990s, members of this Jihad Inc interfered openly in domestic politics, making and breaking elected governments with rumors and innuendo about corruption and alleged compromises over national security. Their actions earned the ISI the label of Invisible Soldiers of Islam. Even junior operatives of the political wing of the intelligence service became disproportionately powerful as they gave certificates of patriotism to politicians and shared stories with journalists that affected the political life of the country. As a result, a class of Super Hawks was created within the media, backed by retired military and intelligence officers who are either direct beneficiaries or ideological fellow travelers of the militancy machine.
The Super Hawks espouse a world view that essentially comprises three elements. First, that the United States is Pakistan’s enemy because of its close ties with India and it is now a demand of “Pakistani nationalism” that the country confront the US. Second, that militancy and Jihad are important strategic options for Pakistan and must be retained. To the extent that the US seeks an end to Jihadi militancy in and from Pakistan, it is acting in the interest of Israel and India. Instead of cooperating with the international community in the war against terror Pakistan must spurn the United States and stand up alongside Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas. Third, any Pakistani diplomatic overture towards India is a sign of weakness and Pakistan must maintain a hard posture towards India at all times.
In the media, the Super Hawk view is manifested in false stories about US pressure on Pakistan and campaigns, such as the one unleashed in the aftermath of awarding of Hilal-e-Quaid-i-Azam to Richard Boucher, claiming that the elected civilians are pro-US and compromising towards India while the security establishment is not. Unfortunately for the Super Hawks, the military under General Ashfaq Kayani has no intention of repeating the political games of the 1990s. Each media campaign starts with much fanfare and then peters out until the next one. As far as the policy of the government is concerned, it remains one and is supported both by the government’s civilian and the military wing. The inability of the civilian government to efficiently run affairs helps the rumour mills as was the case with the erroneous notification regarding putting of ISI under the Ministry of Interior. But the military’s willingness to continue working with the civilians was manifested clearly when heavens did not fall after the episode.
These days the Super Hawks claim that the civilians were too accommodating towards India in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks while the military wanted a harder line. Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha’s interview to the German magazine, widely reprinted at home, should put the record straight. But that does not prevent a writer, a self-proclaimed supporter of former dictator General Pervez Musharraf, from claiming falsely that the US military chief Admiral Michael Mullen told General Kayani not to respond to Indian surgical strikes.
Similarly, another Musharraf backer has reported that General Kayani showed photographs of an Indian Mirage fighter locked in by a Pakistani F-16 and said that next time Pakistan would shoot the Indian plane down. Considering that only two people were present in the Mullen-Kayani meetings (Admiral Mullen and General Kayani) and neither narrated the two stories to the Super Hawk columnists it is safe to assume that their source was a fellow Super Hawk from amongst the retired military personnel that have become outspoken on foreign policy out of fear that Jihad Inc might soon go out of business.
Similarly, the television channel that reported after General Durrani’s removal that the US had “demanded” his reinstatement betrayed its reporter’s lack of knowledge of how nations interact or a simple willingness to fabricate to attract attention.
While the culture of respect for seniors in the military means that retired generals continue to be respected by their juniors there is little reason to believe that generals Hamid Gul, Aslam Beg or Hamid Nawaz speak for General Kayani. Indeed, the military under General Kayani has methodically disengaged from politics, patiently allowing civilians to make their mistakes in a learning process that is inevitable when democratic institutions are new and fragile.
In terms of policy, it is clear that the military is implementing the policy formulated by the elected leaders. The military operations in Bajaur and Mohmand, the continuing elimination of al-Qaeda leaders in cooperation with the US and the ISI chief’s clear statement that he was willing to go to India in the aftermath of Mumbai all show that in real policy terms Pakistan has only one policy. General Kayani has also faithfully implemented President Asif Zardari’s initiative in mending fences with Afghanistan.
That does not mean, however, that the political noise generated by the Super Hawks will subside any time soon. Poor political management will continue to give fodder to the Super Hawks as has happened in case of General Durrani’s removal. But let us be clear that Durrani was removed for speaking out of place and not for being pro-American.
The retired generals and their friends in the media, cultivated from the coup-making days, will continue to talk about civilian treachery in the hope that their golden days of the 1990s would return when they could serve as caretaker ministers after accusing elected leaders of being security risks. But the serving military knows the real threats faced by Pakistan and it considers building democracy as crucial to strengthening the country. The politicians have learnt their lesson and it is obvious that none of the major political parties, including the PML-N wants to rock the boat at a time of grave threats to national security.
President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani, too, understand the need for working together. The policy of cooperation with the international community, including the United States, is the policy of the Pakistani state. Fighting terrorism is a priority of both the civilians and the military as is shutting down the operations of non-state actors that threaten the state. General Kayani and General Pasha have made their stance known but given their decision to withdraw the military from the political arena cannot make statements every day. That leaves us with some confusion sowed by the Super Hawks with their rumors and insinuations against officials’ patriotism and calls for inviting America’s (or for that matter India’s) wrath.
The Super Hawks claim that they are acting to protect national pride. In fact, all they are doing is distorting facts so that they can continue to benefit from Jihad Inc. After all, some of the most hawkish of the hawks are still sad that they lost highly paid sinecures from the Musharraf days while others want again to be the centre of attention as they were when their media reports against civilian leaders resulted in changes of government.
Sadiq Saleem is a businessman and part-time analyst based in Toronto, Canada. This article was published in The News January 10, 2009