A Familiar Tune

Gen Raheel with Secretary Kerry in Washington

Much fanfare was made of COAS Gen Raheel’s recent trip to Washington, with even the supposedly independent Express Tribune publishing an embarrassingly sycophantic editorial praising the Army chief’s trip. Now that the celebrations have died down, more sober assessments are finding nothing to write home about. One analyst noted that the trip had a sense of deja vu around it, and he is correct. Even the General’s much touted “Legion of Merit” award from the US appears to be little more than diplomatic theatre. Six of the last eight recipients were high-ranking Pakistani military officers including former COAS Gen Kayani. These diplomatic visits are always more about theatre than substance, though, so that is not surprising. What is more bothersome is the feeling of deja vu one is getting at home.

While Gen Raheel was in Washington talking to his American counterparts about Pakistan’s national interests, another former COAS was outlining those interests very specifically. According to Gen (r) Aslam Beg, “The Americans and their allies now stand defeated, but lack the moral courage to accept it,” and Pakistan’s interests lie in allowing the Taliban to take control of Afghanistan and moving all of Pakistan’s military forces to the Eastern border.

In response to an American Navy Seal claiming to be the man who shot the al Qaeda chief, Pakistan media trotted out our own retired military personnel to revisit our own myths about the case. Brig (r) Sher Khan told us that Osama’s death in Abbottabad is merely “we have been led to believe by the US Government, the internet and the Pakistani print and electronic media,” and that “It is said that truth is the first casualty of war. This seems to be the case in OBL’s death.”

Meanwhile, Major (r) Ikram Sehgal warned us against “blindly following the Constitution” and suggested without a hint of irony that a military coup can be “a necessary tool to restore the rule of law.” And Chairman Hashoo Group Sadruddin Hashwani who has famously stated that “ISI and military are the finest and the best institutions of the world” while “CIA, MOSSAD and RAW were the biggest terrorist organizations” penned a new piece proclaiming that democracy is failed and Pakistan should replace the Constitution with Shariah.

High-level government meetings are always mostly theatre. Generals give each other medals, and diplomats give gifts and make predictable speeches while the real conversations are held behind closed doors. For a break through to take place, one or the other side must decide for itself that its interests or priorities have changed. Judging by the familiar tune being played in the media, it appears that our interests and priorities remain unmoved since decades of failure. That is the biggest disappointment of all.

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