India should strengthen ties with Pak leadership
10 January 2012
Describing independent judiciary as a crucial factor in the "war of nerves" between the civilian leadership and the Army in Pakistan, noted strategic analyst Mr. B. Raman has said that the scenario now seems to have changed as the judiciary may not follow the same line as it had done in the past.
Initiating a discussion on the 'Developments in Pakistan and Implications for India' organised at the Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation, Mr. Raman, a former Additional Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, traced the history of previous "wars of nerves" between the Army and the civilian leadership in 1977 and then in 1999. He then on drew a comparison between them and the current tension between President Asif Ali Zardari and Army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani.
Mr. Raman pointed out that though the Army had usually emerged victorious from these wars of nerves, but in the current situation this might not be the logical conclusion because of the independent judiciary. This is a crucial factor, as the judiciary in the past had always legitimised any military coup ex post facto. "The current trend indicates that the Pakistani judiciary may not follow the same line as it had done in the past," Mr. Raman said.
In this scenario, the Army now has to seek out alternative ways to ease out President Zardari. "Under the Constitution, the Army does not have the power to directly dismiss the President. So they will hope to create an environment in which President Zardari himself is forced to resign, or call fresh elections in which his ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) will have to lose power."
The Army previously operated by driving a wedge between President Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani. They will have to try it out more vigorously so as to ensure that Gillani takes over power and is sympathetic to the army's interests, Mr. Raman said. "However, in this case, the Army has been unable to create a rift between President Zardari and Prime Minister Gillani. Following this, the Army has turned its attention to creating discord between the judiciary and the ruling party," he said.
In the aftermath of the 'Memogate' scandal involving former Ambassador to the US Hussain Haqqani, President Zardari provided shelter to him. While Haqqani faced strong criticism from the Army, Zardari's support protected him to some extent. It should be noted that the investigation, initiated by the Supreme Court is into the memo requesting American help for a "strong, urgent and direct message" to Gen Kayani and ISI chief, Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha to "end their brinkmanship aimed at bringing down the civilian apparatus", is still going on.
Mr. Raman noted that the major difference between the internal dispute in Pakistan this time and the ones in the past is the presence (and relevance) of the foreign players in the game. For example, the Abbottabad encounter and the killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin-Laden was a huge embarrassment for the Pakistani military. Additionally, it is alleged that President Zardari has been covertly aiding the frequent drone strikes by the US in certain Provinces of Pakistan, as well as helping more CIA agents enter the country.
Immediately after Abbottabad, there was a lot of anger in the Pakistani armed forces against the US. There was a call to retaliate against the US for the lack of trust in the Pakistani Army - which was clear in the manner in which American forces took out Osama. Mr. Raman noted that President Zardari has a difficult task ahead, trying to deal with this anger.
'All-weather' ties with China
The lack of trust between the US and the Pakistani Army has important implications in Pakistan's relationship with China. China has taken this opportunity to strengthen links with Pakistan, going out of her way to praise the role of the Army in the "all-weather" relationship between the two countries. While the US has made it clear that their sympathies are with President Zardari and the civilian Government, China has made it equally clear that they would not like to see the position of the Army weakened. China is of the opinion that the will of the Pakistani Army should prevail in matters of national security.
China used to be more sympathetic towards President Zardari, Mr. Raman recalled. Beijing's change of stance can be explained by the fact that a weak Army in Pakistan will lead to increased US influence in the country, which is not a desirable outcome from China's point of view. This is reflected in the nature of Gen Kayani's recent visit to China. Among other high-profile meetings, Gen. Kayani also had a 75-minute session with Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.
Mr. Raman raised another important point. In the past, China had thanked Pakistan for supporting its core interests (Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang) but never talked about Pakistan's core interests (Kashmir issue). During Gen. Kayani's recent visit, the Pakistani media reported that China has expressed support to Pakistan's core interests in India and Afghanistan. It should be noted, however, that the Chinese media did not report this point.
Implications for India
Mr. Raman analysed the implications of these developments from the Indian point of view. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has reiterated the importance of having good relationship with Pakistan. It was noted that President Zardari seems well-disposed towards India -- in fact, more so than his slain wife Benazir Bhutto. He had in fact made a statement suggesting that Pakistan should review its 'first strike' nuclear weapons policy (which was formulated on the basis of a nuclear threat from India). In spite of the fact that the ISI has terrorist bases in Kashmir, and no serious action has been taken against the masterminds behind 26/11, Mr. Raman was of the opinion that the civilian government was indeed trying to check terrorist activities in these months and years after the Mumbai attacks.
The growing tension between the armed forces and the civilian leadership in Pakistan has important implications for India. Most importantly, it has led to a dilution of US influence on the Pakistani army. In sum, if Pakistan chooses to strike in India, the US cannot check the armed forces. Another factor to be noted here is the increased presence of Chinese personnel in Pakistan. China has been launching several projects in the area of infrastructure in the country. This has resulted in an increase in the Chinese military presence in Pakistan, on the pretext of protecting their engineers.
It is in India's interest that the civilian leadership prevails in Pakistan. Also, the Pakistani Army should not be made to act hastily out of nervousness or fear, as this might lead them to follow a policy of adventurism against India. This leads one to extrapolate that the weakening of American influence in Pakistan is also not in India's interests.
In order to ensure India's good relationship with Pakistan, New Delhi must maintain contact with the civilian Government. Thus far, contacts between India and Pakistan have been poor at the political and bureaucratic levels. This is something India should seek to remedy. It is also important to develop a relationship with the Army leadership in Pakistan. A dearth of contact means that leaders on either side of the border hardly know each other -- and rely on newspapers and intelligence reports for information about their counterparts.
There is also a need to build trust between the armed forces in the two countries at senior levels, and create a comfort zone between the two sides. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is reluctant to invite Pakistani Army officers to India, fearing an outcry from the Opposition, and his own party (a la after Havana), Mr. Raman said, adding that the New Delhi should realise that dialogue is vital at this stage.
India should also start acting with US. While there have been talks with the US about Chinese threat in the Indian Ocean area, dialogue about Pakistan has not moved beyond terrorism. Both India and the US are interested in strengthening the civilian leadership in Pakistan; and the Indo-US dialogue should be expanded to further this objective.
'De facto' coup
A question was raised regarding the ultimate conclusion of this tension between the army and the civilian leadership. Mr. Raman was of the opinion that a military coup could be ruled out, but there might be a movement towards a de facto coup - allowing the President and the Prime Minister to function, but in certain matters, the army would take the final decision. The Army is already making sure that its will prevails in matters of vital interest and national security. The Army suspects that President Zardari has secret contacts with the US, and will seek to ease him out of power in one of the two ways -- either by obtaining a judicial ruling that President Zardari had engaged in illegal acts or by inducing mid-term elections.
Addressing the question of Kashmir, Mr. Raman stated that it would be a permanent problem. The only thing India can do is to refrain from over-reacting to issues in Kashmir, since this will only incense the local population, leaving the door open for Pakistan to exploit their anger.
(This report is prepared by Archana Venkatesh)