The Kayani-Shehbaz meeting

The news that the army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, and the Punjab chief minister, Shehbaz Sharif, had a “secret” meeting has not so far been denied by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) department. Reports claim that the PMLN leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, was also present in the meeting.

The PMLN says no such meeting took place. But that denial isn’t worth anything in view of the general lack of credibility of party statements. Given the endemic state of political instability in Pakistan, the news has spread across the borders and the entire world has started to speculate about the meaning and significance of the meeting.

Why should General Kayani feel the need to meet a PMLN leader at this point of time? If he wanted to comment on the political situation in the country, he could have used the channel of the media. There is the constitutional avenue too available to him through which he could have met the president and later allowed the ISPR to ensure that his point of view had been put across. It is also quite possible that General Kayani wanted to take the PMLN on board on the coming offensive in South Waziristan. He may have wanted to remove the army from the attacks that will ensue in the coming days on the PPP government’s support to it. (The Jama’at-e Islami is protesting on the roads; the JUIF from within the coalition is threatening to quit, and some FATA ministers have already resigned.) But in all these cases, he should have approached the government to convey his message.

It is public knowledge that he intervened discreetly during the Long March in favour of the reinstatement of the higher judiciary and prevented it from resulting in a severe security situation. So maybe the meeting was sought by the two PMLN leaders who wanted to convey something secret to him rather than the other way round.

But a “secret” meeting can’t be kept secret in these days of a vigilant media. Therefore any such meeting is only bound to arouse unduly rash speculation in some quarters and fill some others with apprehensions. Above all, by fuelling uncertainty, it will adversely impact the economic sector, forcing investors to postpone their projects till a “final decision about the political situation has been made”. Needless to say, the environment in which the meeting took place was most unsuitable for it. The PPP government is under attack on many fronts but above all it is being pilloried relentlessly by the media for having acquiesced in the harsh “conditionalities” included the American Kerry-Lugar legislation allowing aid to Pakistan. The speculation that General Kayani could have aired his unhappiness with the American aid “conditionalities” — some of which indirectly target the Pakistan Army — is one of the most lethal outcomes of the secret meeting. So more and more people are talking about “mid-term elections” to oust the PPP government before its tenure is over. The meeting, not firmly denied so far by the ISPR, has encouraged those who think that the PPP should be pushed into the wilderness again. The issue of the NRO, brought to the fore once again by the publication of the detailed judgement of the July 31 verdict of the Supreme Court, has also triggered hopes of getting rid of the government.

The fact that Mr Nawaz Sharif is not taking part in the Lahore by-election is also taken as a signal by some for an all-out attempt at the ouster. The official postponement of the deadline for an end to load-shedding in the country has its own destabilising fallout. The aftermath of the meeting is sure to strengthen elements that see their success in political instability. That the meeting was followed by a statement by Mr Shehbaz Sharif condemning the Kerry-Lugar conditionalities has further heated up the situation of political confrontation, amid uncanny, absurd and outrageous rumour-mongering that President Zardari might be scheming to kill Mr Nawaz Sharif!

The sad truth is that every time Gen Kayani makes an intervention like a discreet phone-call or a discreet meeting, the event no longer remains a secret and opens the floodgates of destabilising speculation.

General Kayani has won the gratitude of the nation for staying out of politics in Pakistan. That Pakistan’s politics is negative and based on prejudice rather than opinion, on revenge rather than justice, is true, without the army intervening. But whenever it has in the past it has minimised the chances of things ever getting to normal. The current phase is not ideal, despite the pledges made by politicians before the 2008 elections, but this is the very juncture where the army should let the politicians sort themselves out under the Constitution.

Whatever the reasons, given the situation all round, Gen Kayani erred in secretly meeting with Mr Shahbaz Sharif and Mr Nisar Ali Khan and fuelling unwanted speculation to destabilise the regime and country. And if he didn’t, the ISPR should come out with a robust denial and bury the unhealthy speculation. (Daily Times)

Kerry-Lugar Bill is an insult, Army tells US military
Wednesday, October 07, 2009
Kayani lodges protest with General McChrystal

By Kamran Khan

KARACHI: As anger mounts over the degrading language and observations in the Kerry-Lugar Bill on Pakistan’s military services and intelligence agencies, the Army conveyed its part of protest to the United States when Commander of International Forces in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal met Army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani at the GHQ on Tuesday, informed officials said.

These officials said that General Kayani told General McChrystal that like the Pakistani people, the military and intelligence services were furious at the observations made on Pakistan’s security establishment in the Kerry-Lugar Bill. Kayani also protested over the controversial statements made by some US officials in recent days.

“General McChrystal returned from the GHQ with an unambiguous message that the terms set in the Kerry-Lugar Bill on the national security interests of Pakistan are insulting and are unacceptable in their present formulation,” according to an official familiar with the content of the meeting.

Informed official sources said that the Army’s strong reaction to the Kerry-Lugar Bill was shared in detail with the government when General Kayani met Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Sunday.

In a related development, also on Tuesday, Gilani asked Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi to convey Pakistan’s reservations in his meetings with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Obama’s Special Envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke and key members of the US Congress.

While Tuesday’s meeting with General McChrystal provided General Kayani with an opportunity to convey the Army’s serious objection to the controversial sections of the bill in detail, he had lodged an initial protest during his meeting with General McChrystal in Kabul, where he had gone last week toattend the tripartite military conference.

The Kerry-Lugar Bill and its impact on national security interests of Pakistan will be a key subject of discussion when the corps commanders and principal staff officers of the Army meet under General Kayani on Wednesday.

While the nation’s response is currently focused at the controversial content of the Kerry-Lugar Bill, the government is also concerned about a growing unregulated arrival and stay of American citizens in Pakistan.

Concerns grew when Pakistanís security agencies recorded various cases of illegal acquisition of weapons by security firms connected with the US Embassy in Pakistan. Prime Minister Gilani, sources said, has already ordered a complete record with specific details and pre-clearance of US citizens entering Pakistan on US government business. (The News)