Opportunistic politics of Pakistan Army over the Kerry-Lugar Bill

Gratuitous advice, opportunistic politics
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Gibran Peshimam

The Army’s public statement openly questioning the intentions and policies of the civilian government in regards to the lucrative Kerry-Lugar Bill, while not surprising, is disappointing because it comes so early in yet another era of democratic revivalism. The bells of conspiracy and subterfuge are ringing again; the gyre, as Yeats would put it, is turning and widening. We are spellbound listening to the catchy chorus of political opportunists cashing in on the controversy. They smell blood. We know this tune – the opportunist sonata. It is the one that, laced with cacophonies of “national interest” slogans, crescendos in interventionism and upheaval.

This impasse is an indication of yet another democratic civilian government being unable to take policy decisions autonomously as well as the continued unwillingness of the establishment to let go, even if only for the time being – as is usually the case every decade or so. What is even more disappointing is that there has been rabid support for the army’s “concerns,” rather than condemnation. In other countries, even India, an army chief would have been dismissed for something like this. Whether or not the army high command was consulted is inconsequential because in a pure democratic setup, a civilian government is not bound to consult the army at all. So what if contentious clauses were, as is being alleged, inserted in the Kerry-Lugar Bill through a conspiracy by a few civilians to tame the army’s influence, or to control their funding?

That we are giving the Army’s ‘concern’ so much importance is essentially a reflection of a contradiction that Pakistan has struggled with since inception. Whether we admit it or not, the deeply-embedded nationalist psyche of the country dictates that the armed forces are the definitive authority in protecting the identity, and hence the very existence, of Pakistan. Questioning this authority has always been anathema, which is why the armed forces get away with almost anything: they are equated with our sovereignty and ultimately with our independence. Questioning the army, more importantly its top brass, has for too long been equated with questioning our sovereignty. Yet, intervention — direct and indirect — by the armed forces is also cited by politicians and intellectuals as the main hurdle to political development democratic sustainability.

Today in Pakistan, many are championing Gen Kayani for something that is the polar opposite of what he was praised for only a few months ago – i.e., non-interference. The same people – in the media, political circles and civil society – who were rabid critics of the army’s intervention in politics and policy-making just a few months ago, are now its reservations to put pressure on the current government regarding the Kerry-Lugar Bill. Medically, Pakistan would be called schizophrenic. When it really matters, no one seems to remember army intervention is a problem, not a solution; this is why the marching boots are cheered into the capital every once in a while, only to be sent packing a decade later.

It should be no surprise that the Army has opposed the Kerry-Lugar Bill on the grounds that it was not consulted. The armed forces have historically been the principal figure, and indeed the principal beneficiary, when it comes to relations with America. The civilians have never been given a chance to work with US largesse – possibly because this is exactly when they can actually make democracy work. When the US and Pakistan’s relations were on a high in the late 50s and 60s, the early stages of the cold war, Pakistan went through its “Golden Era of Capitalism” – under Ayub Khan. Pakistan’s military government got into America’s good books in exchange for modelling policies along free-market capitalist lines instead of being protectionist like India. By doing this, we were giving their ideology preference and credibility over local, independent economic models that China and the rest of Asia were following. We are economically non-existent in the global sphere today.

When Washington went on a spending spree in the 80s, Pakistan was under Gen Zia and his regime received tons of money and aid in exchange for fighting a proxy war against the Soviets. Also, where was the army’s concern for sovereignty when the military handed over hundreds of its nationals to the US for interrogation in Guantanamo Bay after 9/11?

Moral of the tale? Aid with strings was fine as long as the khakis had a direct say in it and there was a soldier in the Presidency. If today the US is supporting Pakistan financially under a civilian setup, in the same way, why shouldn’t it be allowed? Shouldn’t we at least give it a try? Or does the army fear that the civilians might just make this work – which will be a huge step to break away from the vicious cycle of military interventionism?

This is not about how corrupt Asif Ali Zaradri is or is not. He is a nonentity in the larger quest for democracy. This is about defending those who follow him – i.e., in becoming democratically elected leaders of Pakistan. Nor is this about aid or the Kerry-Lugar Bill; this is about civilians’ right to stand up for themselves and determine their own policies without the army’s godfathering – however well-intentioned it may be. If we argue that the problem lies with a controversial president, then we should be ready to have all our future leaders walk the tight rope of army support, shaken publicly by a mere ISPR press statement.

The army is an important institution that has its own place – but that place is not in the realm of policy-making. Otherwise, we should forget civilian sovereignty, and instead equate sovereignty with only the military’s right to dictate policy shifts – something that will see us stay put, on edge, for another 62 years.

The time to set the ground for a paradigm shift is now. The smallest signs of interventionism must be nipped in the bud. Be warned: Kerry-Lugar today, a whole lot more tomorrow.

The writer is city editor of The News, Karachi. Email: gibran.peshimam@ gmail.com

Pak Army consulted on aid bill: Berman

WASHINGTON: The Kerry-Lugar bill outlines a joint strategy that was drawn up with help from Pakistan’s military, Democratic Representative Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said on Thursday.

He said members of Pakistan’s military had been familiar with provisions of the measure as it worked its way through the US House and Senate. “I’ve been in touch with them (the military) through this whole process. I’ve spoken with Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Pervez Kayani. It’s a common strategy,” he said. “This joint strategy is that we want to assist their efforts to take on the counterinsurgency, to disband terrorist groups within Pakistan, to protect their nuclear facilities from proliferation,” Berman said. Berman said that since April, both the government of Pakistan and the military “have shown a strong willingness to take on key elements of the insurgency, and with some success”. Berman said Pakistani critics were manufacturing a crisis over $7.5 billion in US aid for political reasons. “This is a created crisis, by people who either haven’t read the bill or don’t want to describe it accurately, and whose goal is either to destabilise the (Pakistani) government, or challenge some of the military’s priorities,” he said. Berman is the House sponsor of the legislation that was drafted with Senate sponsors Democrat John Kerry and Republican Richard Lugar. It has no strings attached on development aid, but stipulates conditions for security aid, saying Islamabad must show commitment to fighting terrorism and dismantling nuclear networks. reuters (Daily Times)

Pakistan’s ‘other-people’s-money’ problem
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Mosharraf Zaidi

The Kerry-Lugar Bill is about giving Pakistan money. For the Americans, the legislation may have evolved into becoming an instrument of democratisation, an instrument of imperialism, or an instrument of development–and it may even be possible that it is all three, or none of the three. But for Pakistan, the bill has always been about one thing: money. The debate and discourse it is stimulating today is peripheral to that central issue, and it conceals the realities of the incentives that drive the Pakistani elite’s behaviour. Military, feudal or capitalist, the elite have always had a serious thing for other people’s money.

The Pakistani military loves other people’s money. It has sustained a reputation as an important investment for American power by perpetuating its role as a frontline force that acts as a guardian against evil things, for example, Communism throughout the Cold War, peaking in the 80s and then the lull in business from 1989 onwards, followed by the swinging 90s. And then in 2001 came the violent extremism of Al Qaeda.

The Pakistani capitalist loves other people’s money. The country’s capitalist elite has always sided with the almighty dollar. Not the almighty rupee, but the almighty dollar. And capitalist Pakistan is as knee-deep in elite patronage politics as the PPP is. While recent indicators may suggest that the PML-N has turned a corner — with its unequivocal support for the lawyers movement — its history is no secret. Moreover, Nawaz Sharif’s genesis as a political entity during the Zia years is not a solitary tale of the military’s patronage of big business-cum-big politics. Dozens of heavy-weight politicians that inhabit all versions of the PMLs today (particularly those of the PM- Q) owe their monetary and political fortunes to favourable notifications emerging from the corridors of power during the military regimes of Ayub, Zia and Musharraf.

The Pakistani feudal loves other people’s money. It has cemented a reputation as an important investment for American power by perpetuating its role as a victim of the Pakistani military. But strangely, feudal Pakistan has always been a willing and able partner of the military in all its campaigns against democracy, and the predictable and stable civilian institutions that should underpin it. The feudal centrifuge of Pakistani politics, the PPP, has shed blood in service of democracy, but its record is far from pristine. It has been enabled by and has been an enabler of the military’s power plays throughout history. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto rose to prominence as a trusted stud of Field Marshall Ayub Khan. So while his heroism for standing up to Zia’s deception and having the courage to live and die by the sword can never be questioned, his political genesis has an unquestionable khaki shade. More recently, while Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto perpetuated the Bhutto family’s legacy of making the ultimate sacrifices for their politics, her return to Pakistan was negotiated with Pakistan’s military. May God rest her soul in peace, but she too left a khaki tint on the proud red, black and white flag of the PPP’s now largely feudal colours.

Within this political culture — a culture in which other people’s money is a fundamental and existential element of strategy, tactics and operations — the Pakistani elite have been operating in synchronicity with their attendant political conditions.

The military elite, personified by the Corps Commanders meeting at the General Head Quarters (GHQ) on Wednesday, struck first and struck hard, playing to public sentiment and “standing up” for Pakistan. This was a perfect pill for the military. It has been desperately seeking to re-establish its credibility, its legitimacy as a major centre of political power in Pakistan, and by extension its political bona fides. It is understandable that it would seek these things, having had its image dragged through the mud by the fag-end of the Musharraf years, as he alienated and antagonised millions with his bullying of the Chief Justice, and his contempt for civilian institutions.

The capitalist elite, guided by crony capitalism, is a two-faced monster. It is personified by the Karachi Stock Exchange (KSE) on one hand, and by the opposition parties on the other. The KSE element helped sway the market downward, signaling to investors everywhere that Pakistan is such a sorry stack of cards that it will collapse into a Taliban hell, if the US taxpayers don’t send that $1.5 billion — public outcry be damned. The political opposition element helped to ratchet up the temperature, in lock-step with the military elite, mind you. Tellingly, none have had the gall to reject the money — only the conditions.

The feudal elite, personified by the obduracy of the president and the audacity of the foreign minister, has chosen to cheerlead for the Kerry-Lugar Bill. Much anger and hysteria is focused on Husain Haqqani but the ambassador, despite his considerable supernatural powers, is not the cause of the PPP’s addiction to other people’s money. Other people’s money is part of the very DNA of feudal politics in this country. How else will the PPP pay for the public sector’s expenditures? Expenditure that the PPP itself has caused to grow through opaque vote-getting schemes (like the Income Support Programme being run by that vaunted economist, Farzana Raja). Expenditure, for which concurrent domestic revenues will never be raised — because doing so would entail taxing the only group left in the country that doesn’t get taxed through the nose — the feudal elite. And what kind of feudals would tax themselves?

Feudal, military or capitalist, the Pakistani elite love other people’s money. The country’s perennial indebtedness and unquenchable appetite for other people’s money however, is not inevitable. Contrary to the conventional wisdom peddled by Citibank salesman pretending to be economists, and World Bank economists, pretending to be human — Pakistan can survive without bailouts. Reduced public sector expenditure, increased revenue mobilisation and a government held accountable at the local, provincial and federal level are not just mantras — they matter. Their absence, systemic to an elite patronage system of governance, is the reason Pakistan seems to be aid dependent. But it is not.

On October 28, 2008 (almost exactly a year ago), I argued that Pakistan must default in order to break out of a cycle that sustains the elite’s largesse to itself. Sadly, instead of forcing the Pakistani state to confront administrative, structural and strategic demons, the international community’s response to the Pakistani elite’s poker-faced bluff has been to raise the stakes.

Pakistan’s elite have already won this round, once again. The Kerry-Lugar Bill discourse in Pakistan is characterised by patriotism and greed or both, but it is not guided by reason. No one, neither the military nor the capitalist elite have questioned Pakistan’s seemingly limitless appetite for financial assistance, which is the basis for the formulation of the Kerry-Lugar Bill. Instead, there is elite consensus around the need for other people’s money. The only disagreement is about how to cash in.

The writer advises governments, donors and NGOs on public policy. He can be reached through his website www.mosharrafzaidi.com (The News)