Seeking solutions through the army?

It is the irony of Pakistani politics that politicians criticise the army for undermining the political process but they do not hesitate to seek out the army top brass to serve their partisan political agendas. For the last couple of weeks, different political leaders have been demanding the deployment of the army in Karachi, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) to cope with killings and other internal security issues.The polemical exchanges among the political leaders on calling out the army began when some political leaders argued that the army might be called in Karachi to end target killings and other violent incidents. On January 14, Shahi Syed, Sindh President of the ANP, demanded military action to restore security in Karachi. Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain said on January 23 that there was nothing wrong in summoning the army for restoring peace in Karachi. As the PML-N and the MQM began trading charges and counter-charges, some PML-N leaders hinted at the need to secure law and order in Karachi by deploying the army.The MQM was perturbed by these statements, especially by the ANP’s demand for a military operation in Karachi because the former views the latter as a political rival. It not only rejected the demand but also launched a counter-offensive by demanding the summoning of the army in KP for maintaining peace and order. The MQM chief, Altaf Hussain, made a more categorical demand for Punjab. He said on January 24: “Martial law should be imposed in Punjab since crimes against women and kidnappings for ransom are rife in the province.”Another popular discourse with Altaf Hussain is revolution against feudal, moneyed and corrupt people. He talked of revolution towards the end of 2010 and asked the top brass of the military to support such a revolution, which his party was expected to sponsor. He returned to this theme in his January 24 statement and sought the military’s cooperation by warning them of the consequences of staying away. He remarked, “If the armed forces do not act now, they will also be put in the dock in case of a revolution by the people.” He also said that if needed he would come to Pakistan in military uniform.

The standard operating procedure in the MQM is that if Altaf Hussain says something the senior party members play the same tune until Altaf Hussain gives them a new political theme. The Pakistan-based MQM leaders have since been talking either of revolution (without defining how it would be pursued) or the need for army deployment in KP and Punjab. Currently, the MQM is engaged in hard-hitting recriminations against the PML-N against the backdrop of Altaf Hussain’s criticism of Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N.It is interesting to note that Altaf Hussain and his senior colleagues are more vocal than any other political party about the army’s expanded role in security affairs in Punjab and KP but they do not want the army to do anything in their political domain — Karachi. They also want the army to back an Altaf-led revolution whose nature and direction is yet to be articulated.The MQM is known for listening to signals from the military establishment. It is quite possible that it is talking of the military’s expanded role in non-professional domains more than any other party because its leadership has read (or misread) some signal of the army’s dissatisfaction with current domestic politics.

Pakistan’s political class needs to recognise that the top brass of the military continues to be the most formidable political force. The track record of their expanded role reflects three clear trends.First, the military is an autonomous political player that does not subscribe to the agenda of any political party. There is no chance of the military joining hands with a political party to pursue the party’s political agenda. It expands its role in pursuance of its own agenda.Second, the military government co-opts a section of the political elite to acquire political legitimacy and to ensure civilianisation of military rule. However, the top commanders jealously guard their autonomy and do not let the co-opted political elite gain the initiative, which stays firmly with the military top brass.Third, the top brass of the military have a negative view of the civilian political leaders’ capacity for good and effective governance. They are seen as too partisan and divided to think beyond their personal and party gains. The senior commanders are likely to have a more negative view of Altaf Hussain because he operates from abroad and has dual nationality.

The top brass may be dissatisfied with the performance of the civilian political government but they need the civilian leaders for political ownership of their counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency measures. Further, they recognise that their struggle against terrorism stabilises Pakistan and wins them respect at the international level. In addition to this, they are facing security pressures from India.It is very unlikely that the top commanders would be interested in directly assuming power or performing police duties in cities because their hands are already full with other problems. Further, given Pakistan’s economic and political problems, any direct intervention or partisan support to a political party will make them vulnerable to criticism. This will cause strains in their relations with the west, especially the US.

The military is able to influence the civilian government from the sidelines on security-related matters and their professional and corporate interests. The PPP-led federal government has realised, after immature attempts to subdue the military, that civilians cannot assert their primacy unless they put their economic house in order and pursue the politics of harmony and conflict resolution.There is no need to call out the military for internal security tasks in the cities. In Karachi, a committee should be set up comprising the top local leaders of the MQM, the ANP and the PPP for maintaining peace and harmony. If there is some incident in an area, all the members of the committee should jointly visit the area and talk to the people.If these political parties continue blaming each other for the trouble in Karachi, and talk of their separate heroes and adversaries, there will be no end to the agony in Karachi. The top leaders of the three parties should jointly visit the troubled areas to restore peace and security rather than blaming each other for the trouble on TV talk shows – Dailytimes – Dr Hasan  Askari  Rizvi