On the possibility of a coup in Pakistan: Bruce Riedel’s interview

‘A Civilian Regime Will Be There As Cosmetic Cover’
The former CIA officer and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution discusses developments in Pakistan


Bruce Riedel led a review of US policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan in the early days of President Barack Obama’s administration. A former CIA officer and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, Riedel spoke to Ashish Kumar Sen, and discussed developments in Pakistan. Excerpts:

On the possibility of a coup: We are seeing the gradual development of Pakistan’s fifth military dictatorship. It will be different from the first four. There will probably be no coup, nor a single dictator. Rather, the corps commanders are taking control behind the scenes of all major decisions. A civilian regime will survive, but only as a cosmetic cover to army rule.

On the army’s evolving role: The army is seeking to be the eminent power in the country, behind the curtain. The single-most important thing to control in Pakistan, aside from nuclear weapons, is the relationship with Washington. That’s why they had to remove [Hussain] Haqqani, because he was the barrier to their control. That’s what they are fighting over, control over this relationship. The army wants a government that lets the army control national security policy, including key relationships like the ones with Washington, Riyadh and Beijing. They don’t want any more talk about no first-use; they don’t want any more talk of “terrorism in Kashmir is not freedom fighting”.

“The crucial thing to control in Pakistan, other than N-weapons, is ties with the US. Thus, the army wanted Haqqani out.”

On Memogate: It has assumed an importance that is astounding. It risks now becoming deadly for Pakistani democracy and I hope the players would stand back a little bit now and say, ‘Hey, this is getting out of control’. And the player that’s most important in that is not the civilian politicians or the courts, it’s the army.
On democracy’s future in Pakistan: The motives of different players are unclear. It’s notable that the main opposition party is determined to see an elected government complete its term in office without an extra-constitutional ending. It is very important that Pakistan does that. It doesn’t mean Pakistan is a democracy, but it is a critical first step in getting there and I believe that former PM Nawaz Sharif is pretty sincere on this.

On the Zardari government: It’s easy to be critical of the Zardari government, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that on coming into office it intended to get Pakistan out of the business of being on both sides of the war on terrorism, to try to improve relations with India, stop sponsoring terrorism in Kashmir and adopt a no first-use policy. From the day President Zardari took over and appointed Hussain Haqqani as ambassador [in Washington], the army has been very unhappy, and they see Memogate as a way to end that problem and go back to the kind of government they would like—a civilian government which leaves national security issues in the generals’ hands.