Looking back at General Kayani’s Tenure

Raza Rumi

General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani retired after leading Pakistan’s most powerful institution for six years. As a close confidante and successor of former president General Musharraf, General Kayani ensured policy continuity and facilitated the return of the army into the barracks. His tenures were eventful yet, turbulent and thus, he leaves behind a chequered legacy. Before his extension in 2010, Kayani led successful operations in Swat and the tribal areas against extremists, and save a few instances, did support the democratic transition. In 2008, he ordered all serving military officials in civil departments to relinquish charge. Despite these commendable measures, the military firmly set and managed foreign and security policies, and faced little or no challenge from the civilian rulers. In fact, following the 2008 Mumbai attacks, former president Asif Ali Zardari and his prime minister(s) gave up the management of the security policy, which had serious ramifications for Pakistan’s governance and economy.

During 2008-2013, a weak democracy beset by civil-military schisms defined Pakistan’s governance. The military strongly resisted attempts by the civilian government to reform the country premier intelligence agency, the ISI. A campaign was orchestrated, which moulded public opinion against the Kerry-Lugar-Berman (KLB) bill in 2009. The KLB bill was projected as an assault on Pakistan national interest). An unprecedented reaction through an ISPR press release (bypassing the ministry of defence) was given to the civilian authorities when the military aired its reservations about the KLB bill. The latter marked a significant shift in Pakistan-US relations: for the first time, an attempt was made by the Obama Administration to engage with the civilian government. Earlier, US relations with Pakistan were mediated through military cooperation, which bred domestic perceptions that the US always backed military dictators in the country. The establishment identified the orchestrator of the KLB bill as Husain Haqqani, our then ambassador in Washington.

General Kayani’s second term marked a period when relations soured with the US. The Raymond Davis case in 2011 brought into perspective the troubling fault lines in Pak-US ties. There was a propaganda campaign against the civilian PPP government for allegedly helping the US by giving many of its spies visas. Yet, as we found out later, Davis was given safe passage to leave the country by invoking the Qisas and Diyat laws. The popular belief was that this was done through intervention of the establishment. Perhaps, the worst moment in Pak-US relations was the OBL raid of May 2011, which led to much public criticism and even the military’s most ardent supporters were angry over the negligence shown by the armed forces.

The infamous Memogate case was another needless intervention that created more fissures in the civil-military relationship. An unsigned memo addressed to US authorities asking their help in the event of a coup, was the subject of public outcry. The ISI chief reportedly visited Middle Eastern governments, checking potential reactions to a coup in Pakistan. Civilians were seen as traitors seeking outside help against national institutions. All of this happened under the stewardship of General Kayani.

The ineptitude of Pakistan’s civilians cannot be overlooked either. They were divided and often seemed clueless, especially in terms of giving a direction for the security policy. The end result was that Ambassador Haqqani was sacrificed by the civilian government to pacify the establishment.

It was expected that after Musharraf, the army would rethink some of its worn-out security paradigms, chiefly, the containment of India at all costs in Afghanistan, the related preference for the good Afghan Taliban and ambiguity in Pak-US relations. Nothing changed. Take the case of drones: the lack of a clear policy has resulted in major public confusion. The state owns and disowns them according to the targets and convenience. This may be a tactical response to manage relationships with a powerful ally, but it has now divided society and obfuscated discourse on extremism. Most Pakistanis now cite extremism as a reaction to drone strikes, which is a fallacious argument. The first suicide bombing took place in 1995, well before the US war on terror. However, these facts have been buried under the imperatives of using anti-Americanism as a bargaining tool.

Serious questions were also raised about the manner in which the army tackled the Baloch insurgency. Dozens of missing persons still haunt our polity and court petitions, thus far, remain ineffective. The question of foreign intervention and support to Baloch separatists is far from settled. A political question needs to have a wider policy response than just brute force.

On the issue of extremism, General Kayani made several encouraging statements but he could not follow through on the changes that were required. In part, the civilians failed to lead. But the security framework vis-a-vis Afghanistan and India needs to change. For instance, in a speech in August 2012 General Kayani said: the war against [extremism] is our own war and a just war too. Any misgivings in this regard can divide us internally, leading to a civil war situation . Such top-level policy statements remain to be translated into operational strategies. To give credit to General Kayani, he did support the civilian government initiative on visa liberalisation and trade with India. Contrary to all speculations, the army did not block or sabotage the relations, except perhaps, that it still wants a carefully calibrated, slower approach to normalisation. Sadly, since January 2013, the clashes along the Line of Control have denuded the modest gains made earlier.

General Kayani could have done much more, especially during his second tenure but then, narrow institutional interests and short term-ism drive policy in Pakistan. The complicated relationship of the state with the multiple brands of non-state actors will have to be recalibrated for our long-term security. There is acknowledgement that the strategic depth doctrine and reliance on proxies have landed us in a royal mess. Our assets have turned into nightmares and for this to change, the army will have to make a fresh start. Let’s hope the civilians will not abandon their role for political expediency. Nawaz Sharif will have to avoid past mistakes, needless power contests to guide the military and assume the responsibility to reset our direction.

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