- Ishtiaq Ahmed
In Pakistan’s chequered history, 2011 will go down as the year when the most powerful institution in the country – the Pakistani military or rather the Pakistan Army increasingly came under criticism. On 26 January 2011Raymond Allen Davis, a former US soldier and one of the hundreds of undercover agents who were in Pakistan searching for Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders killed two Pakistanis in Lahore. After shooting them, Davis got out of his car and filmed themwith his mobile phone as they lay in a pool of blood—with firearms on their persons. In the initial police enquiry, he claimed that had shot the two men in self-defence. He also claimed that he was a diplomat posted at the US consulate general in Lahore.
Home Minister Rehman Malik supported Davis’ assertion that he carried a diplomatic passport with proper visa entered for his presence in Pakistan but Foreign Minister Shah MahmoodQureshi contradicted such a claim, saying that no such visa was issued to Davis. The Obama administration backed Davis’ credentials as a diplomat and demanded his immediate release. A cabinet reshuffle took place and Qureshi left the government. The outcry in Pakistan from almost all sections of society was for revenge and contempt of US violation of Pakistani sovereignty. On 16 March, a Pakistani court ordered Davis to be released after the relatives of the dead men attended the court—convened in a prison in Lahore—and received blood money. Such a procedure deriving from Islamic law was prevalent in Pakistan and therefore the issue was settled within the law. American pressure prevailed.
However, nothing exposed more dramatically the lack of trust between Pakistan and US military and intelligence services than the raid in the early hours of 2 May 2011 by US Special Forces known as the Navy Seals in three helicopters from their base in Afghanistan on the hideout of Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan’s garrison town of Abbottabad. Within 40 minutes the iconic head of Al Qaeda was dead. The Americans took away his dead body, along with those of his Pakistani protectors, to Afghanistan. In the public pronouncements on the raid the Americans maintained that they had carried out the operation in complete secrecy and that the Pakistan government was not informed because of lack of trust in the Pakistani Establishment.
However, for a couple of days or even longer the Pakistan government maintained a silence. Finally the Pakistan Foreign Office expressed displeasure that Pakistani sovereignty had been breached and that such acts did not constitute acceptable behaviour.
The Dawn of 20 May published some very embarrassing US cables, that it acquired exclusively from WikiLeaks, which suggested that Pakistan had been urging the Americans for drone attacks since 2008. Meanwhile, on 22 May terrorists attacked the Pakistan Naval Base, PNS Mehran. They destroyed two naval surveillance aircraft. Ten security personnel were killed. The Pakistan Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. Once again, doubts were raised in the West and India as questions were raised about whether Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal was in safe hands. On 22 September Admiral MikMullen asserted that the Haqqani network in Pakistan’s North Waziristan was a ‘veritable arm of the ISI’. Mullen went on to say that Pakistan was exporting violent extremism to Afghanistan and warned of US action to protect American troops.
In October, the lack of trust between the civilian Zardari-Gilani government and the military became public. An American businessman of Pakistani-descent, MansoorIjaz, publishedan article in The Financial Timesin which heaccused Pakistan's ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, of approaching him to pass a secret memo on to Admiral Mullen, in which the US had been urged to intervene and help reform Pakistan's military and intelligence agencies. It resulted in General Kayani calling upon President Zardari. Haqqani denied any wrongdoing but the matter ended with him submitting his resignation.
Pakistan-US relations turned from bad to worse when on 26 November, NATO aircraft from Afghanistan opened fire on Pakistani outposts, killing 24 soldiers and injuring many more. This created uproar in Pakistan. An immediate halt was imposed on the movement of NATO supplies through Pakistan; hundreds of tons of supplies were stopped on their way to Afghanistan. Moreover, the Americans were ordered to vacate the Shamsi base from where they had been flying their drones—in spite of Pakistan’s official denials hitherto—within 15 days.
Further high-pitch drama followed as Husain Haqqani appealed to the Pakistan Supreme Court to order a probe of the so-called memogate scandal. The Supreme Court ordered relevant government branches to submit their position on the memogate issue. The Ministry of Defence in its written reply said that it has no control on the Army/ISI operations. On the other hand, in a rejoinder submitted to the Supreme Court Gen Kayani opined that the memo was a reality and it was meant to demoralize the military.
During December the US Congress voted to put a freeze on $700 aid to Pakistan. It was indicative that the Americans were determined to extract compliance from the Pakistani military in the war on terror.
In a rare and unprecedented outburst Prime Minister Gilani’schided the military and ISI for behaving like the state within the state. He asserted that the Pakistan Parliament was sovereign and no institution was above the law. He expressed the suspicion that a coup was being planned to overthrow his government. He added that his government had sided with the military on the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 28 November 2011 and subsequent incidents of terrorism on which the US and other powers had been accusing involvement of the Pakistani ISI.
General Kayani responded that the military was not planning to overthrow the government and democracy will not be derailed. It was followed by Gilani saying that he had full trust in Kayani and the head of the ISI, General Pasha, and that the government will complete its term.
It is too early to say whether US pressure on Pakistan will compel Pakistan to go after the Haqqani group or Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders that the Americans want arrested or killed. Equally, it would be premature to assert a shift in the balance of power within Pakistan has taken place as a result of the showdown between Gilani and Kayani. It is however reasonable to underline that the Pakistan military and the ISI are under tremendous pressure from within and without
(The writer has a PhD from Stockholm University. He is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University. He is also Honorary Senior Fellow of the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)