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Smoke signals from the GHQ

The western media, like its counterpart here, has a morbid tendency to churn out Pakistan-related analyses that are often speculative and, at times, verge on the sensational. Earlier in the week, The New York Times carried an article titled ‘Sharif vs Army, Round 3’ which assumed, without substantiation, that prime minister-elect Nawaz Sharif “will insist on asserting his authority in ways that could put the generals on edge.”
Such hidebound assessments miss out on the possibility that the PML-N chief could have mellowed since his two disastrously stormy prime ministerial terms in the 1990s. At the other end of the rainbow, there is a glimmer of hope that the military establishment may have learnt from the follies of its past. The smoke signals rising from the GHQ indicate subtle changes in the army thinking under the leadership of General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
Kayani’s decision to call on the prime minister-in-waiting is a sign of the times. A PML-N insider, who has an exaggerated sense of self-importance, told me that the Sharif-Kayani meeting on May 18 was as unprecedented as it was profound. He then paused, looked over his shoulder for dramatic effect, and added that the three-hour-long talks had been wide-ranging and, within the PML-N inner circles, there was an emerging level of comfort that the Pakistan Army and the incoming government were, at last, on the same page.
Gen Kayani has been forthright in acknowledging that the foremost threat to Pakistan’s security is internal. This represents a radical departure from the past in which the threat perception was entirely external and India-focussed. There is also a corresponding realisation that a robust economy is indispensible for dealing with the security challenges confronting the country. The new thinking within the Pakistan Army is evident from three significant statements made by Kayani in the last thirteen months. The first of these was on April 18, 2012, when he told reporters that Pakistan should spend less on defence and more on development.
The army chief was absolutely clear that national security was inextricably linked to the economic well-being of the people. This applied as much to India as it did to Pakistan. In effect, the Kayani doctrine envisages peaceful coexistence with India after the settlement of all outstanding disputes as only then would the two nuclear-armed neighbours be able to focus on economic growth. The priority accorded to development over defence expenditure took Indian policy planners by storm and a New Delhi-based analyst conceded: “The onus for creating an enabling environment for a resolution of thorny issues between the two countries also lies squarely on Indian shoulders.”
The second pronouncement on national security came on the eve of Independence Day last year when, during a speech at the Pakistan Military Academy in Kakul, General Kayani declared: “The fight against extremism and terrorism is our own fight and we are right in fighting it. Let there be no doubt about it, otherwise we will be divided and taken towards civil war. Our minds should be clear on this.”
The third statement was even more forceful and categorical when, during his Martyr’s Day address at the GHQ on April 30, 2013, the army chief chided those who had misgivings that the ongoing war on terrorism had been imposed on Pakistan. He did not bandy words and went straight to the point: “I would ask all those who raise such questions that if a small faction wants to impose its distorted ideology over the entire nation… and considers all forms of bloodshed justified, then, does the fight against this enemy constitute someone else’s war?”
But despite what the PML-N insider described as his party’s “emerging level of comfort” with the army, there is no convergence between the two on dealing with the ongoing military operations against the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Prime Minister-elect Nawaz Sharif and PTI chief Imran Khan are determined to initiate peace talks with the TTP even though the group does not accept the constitution and considers elections un-Islamic.
Article 6 of the constitution defines high treason as any attempt to subvert the basic law of the land and this includes those who aid and abet such a move. The question that arises here is whether any dialogue with an outfit such as the TTP, which is determined to replace the constitution with its skewed interpretation of Islam, is at all permissible.
An anguished army officer commented that even if the TTP and its affiliates renounce violence and accept the basic law of the land, they should still be severely punished “for the massacre of more than 40,000 of our citizens, or does the civilian leadership envisage another NRO, only this time round ruthless murderers and terrorists will be exonerated?” The political leadership, he said, had learnt nothing from the past. All but two of the thirteen agreements that had been reached with the militants had unravelled and, without exception, every truce had merely enabled the TTP and its affiliates to regroup and resume attacks on civilians and military personnel with incremental barbarity.
Need the PML-N and the PTI be reminded that extremism of any kind, particularly the Taliban version of Islam, has been consistently rejected by the people of Pakistan? In the May 11 elections the religious parties, especially those with links to the TTP, were trounced as on previous such occasions.
The outcome in NA-89 (Jhang), the hometown of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) leader, Maulana Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, is instructive. The unofficial results showed that the ASWJ chief had been defeated. However, he demanded a recount and insisted that this should include all rejected votes. The winning candidate, brimming with confidence, unhesitatingly accepted the challenge and Ludhianvi was again roundly defeated. The voters were unimpressed by the cleric’s religious pretentions.
Despite this, the country’s leaders have not been able to overcome the habit of invoking Islam in their speeches and public pronouncements, and this applies also to General Kayani. In his address at the PMA on the occasion of the passing out parade of the 127th long course on April 20 he stated: “Let me remind you that Pakistan was created in the name of Islam and Islam can never be taken out of Pakistan…. I assure you that regardless of the odds, the Pakistan Army, will keep on doing its best towards our common dream for a truly Islamic Republic of Pakistan, as envisaged by the Quaid-e-Azam and Allama Iqbal.”
For starters, Pakistan became an ‘Islamic Republic’ several years after Jinnah’s death. Second, his struggle was for the establishment of a Muslim majority state in which religion was a private matter and had “nothing to do with the business of the state.” Third, an Islamic state has never existed in history and, even the learned ulema, when questioned by the Munir Commission in 1953, were unable to agree when such a state had been in existence. Fourth, and by far the most important, is the distinction between the terms ‘Islamic’ and ‘Muslim’.
Islam is only and exclusively the word of God as enshrined in the Quran plus the authentic hadith and sunnah. Anything beyond that is the subjective deductions of Muslims and can be as far removed from Islamic tenets as is the fraudulent ideology of the Taliban. One hopes that the incoming government will bear this in mind as it begins its ill-advised negotiations with the TTP.
General Kayani’s resolve to take on the TTP is undoubtedly the correct approach. But he should also bear in mind that the Afghan and the Pakistani Taliban are ideological twins who derive strength from each other. For instance, when Baitullah Mehsud became the undisputed leader of the militants in 2004, he was also appointed Mullah Omar’s governor in the area. This is what needs to be factored into the Kayani doctrine.
The writer is the publisher of Criterion Quarterly. Email: iftimurshed @gmail.com

S Iftikhar Murshed, "Smoke signals from the GHQ," The News. 2013-05-26.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political parties , Political leadership , Constitution , Taliban , Nawaz Sharif , Mullah Omar , Gen Kayani , India , New York , PMLN , PTI , TTP , GHQ