The PPP and the Army
The ruling PPP and the Pakistan Army seem to be in sync even as the Americans seem to be speaking with many tongues over policy in the war against terrorism. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has fully backed COAS General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on his handling of the two challenges facing Pakistan: the insurgency in Bajaur and Swat, and the American incursions into Pakistani territory from Afghanistan. The media also backs the civil-military consensus, and government representatives are very clear about national policy.
Reports have appeared about American officials in Washington telling our ambassador Husain Haqqani that there will be no repeat of the Angur Adda incident when American commandos landed on Pakistani soil and attacked a safe house of a Taliban leader without informing the Pakistan Army. The State Department has now released a statement on the subject by Deputy Secretary of State, John Negroponte: “Unilateral actions are probably not a durable or a viable solution over a prolonged period of time and I think the best way forward for both of our countries is to try to deal with the situation in that border area on a co-operative basis — co-operative both between the United States and Pakistan, but also with the country of Afghanistan. So I would say trilateral cooperation, if you will, is probably the best way forward”.
This should have been good enough to put all worries of a split between the Pakistani government and the Army to bed. But to drive the point home, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, more cautious about interpreting American signals that it would not attack without consultation, said Thursday that there were still no formal guarantees from the US about not attacking.
Unfortunately, the atmosphere in Pakistan is that of splits. The big falling away is between the PPP and the PMLN. In the past, the Pakistan Army was made the “third party that decides who wins”. So it is doubly unfortunate that London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) may have inadvertently fuelled the fires of antagonism with its latest annual report that says, “Zardari’s major challenge will be to gain the trust of the army and build a consensus among the political establishment against terrorism and extremism”. Already the opposition politicians are carefully wording their criticism so as to show the PPP ploughing a separate furrow from the Army and the PMLN’s leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, is gradually zeroing in on the subject. He said Thursday: “The US media is reporting that some agreements between the US and the Musharraf-led government had allowed incursions into the Tribal Areas. We hope that Asif Ali Zardari would give a clear policy to cope with the situation at our borders. We demand that being the powerful civilian president, he should announce that he is scrapping such agreements”. Knowing that he was drawing close to the Army line, he added: “The statement of [US military chief] Michael Mullen that US drones would continue to launch aerial strikes is not acceptable to us. We will neither accept an airstrike nor a ground offensive inside our territory”.
If this was not enough politics-as-usual, Brigadier (Retd) Shaukat Qadir writing in The Friday Times (September 12-18, 2008) says: “When COAS Gen Kayani recently met Adm Mullen, it seemed as if Mullen understood Pakistan’s position and agreed not to permit strikes across the Durand Line. However, there is a fairly reliable rumour afloat that newly elected President Zardari has given carte blanche to the Bush administration to attack Pakistani territory at will”.
The truth is that the Army and the PPP government are standing together on the policy on US incursions. It is unfortunate that those who fear that a split might occur or who want the split to occur to create space for their favourite political elements to take over have jumped in to make things look uncertain. A split between the Army and the PPP will not strengthen anyone in opposition. Nor will it strengthen the Army or the PPP. And if the split actually happens, or the rumours about it actually bring it about, the country will lose its ability to stand up to the current challenges. For the “splitters” it will be a Pyrrhic victory. (Daily Times).