Comment: The days ahead
One hears that the government is currently pondering the amount of extra time General Kayani should be given as head of the army. Should it be one, two or three years?
If life were fair, the prime minister, a gaddi-nashin, would have been making a living interceding with God on behalf of devotees. Nevertheless, Mr Gilani will need his special nexus with God to get the government out of the deep hole in which it finds itself as the seemingly inevitable clash with the judiciary draws nearer. To be fair to Mr Gilani, he would prefer not to be a part of the fracas, it being entirely a matter concerning Mr Zardari, but he has no option. As he said some time ago, “We swim or sink together.”
The Swiss cases are not the only cause of friction between the government and the judiciary. If, or rather, when the Supreme Court finds out about the amount of commission, the extent of advance payment and other details of the rental power projects (RPPs), of which it has taken suo motu notice, there will be hell to pay. The ethos of the Supreme Court is very different from that of Mr Zardari. Actually, there is a vast divergence between them on just about every issue, including their respective takes on right and wrong and what is permissible or reasonable and what is not. In brief, their perspectives are antithetical and a rupture, therefore, appears very likely.
Another development, which could impact negatively on the conduct of the war against the Taliban, is the question of General Kayani’s extension. That he should be given one is generally agreed by all, especially many of those who serve with him in the army. Ordinarily, extensions are considered unnecessary because no one is indispensable. However, that cliché has proved wrong by the absence of Benazir Bhutto and the presence of Mr Zardari in her stead.
One cogent reason for Kayani to remain is that, having been tasked to draw up the military’s response to the threat posed by the Taliban and India and to such Indian doctrines as ‘Cold Start’ and ‘Two-Front Wars’, it is only logical that he stays on to implement it. Thus far, Kayani’s operational plans have been successful far beyond expectations, although success against the Taliban has been marred by collateral damage to civilian property and lives, lack of a determined effort to resettle the displaced population and an inability to provide assured security to the inhabitants of the areas supposedly cleansed of the enemy. And although all that, the military says, is not its job, frankly no one buys such nice distinctions. There is no use clearing a field of weeds if nothing is made to grow on it. Whether the military feels aggrieved or not, it had better address these issues lest Kayani be equated with the victorious Protestant general whose troops caused such desolation and suffering that when he was removed many rejoiced.
One hears that the government is currently pondering the amount of extra time General Kayani should be given as head of the army. Should it be one, two or three years? And that will probably depend on who else the government has in mind. And also whether it prefers to serve out its own term with Kayani or would also like to appoint his successor.
Given the proclivity of the current regime to keep its options open, which is another way of not having to deal with the issue immediately, one suspects that it may opt to grant him only another year. That would be a pity for a number of reasons in addition to the importance of continuity of command: the excellent rapport that Kayani has forged with allied generals; the trust that he has engendered among them and with his own troops; the strategy that he enunciated and recently sold to NATO in Brussels; and, of course, the likelihood of another operation in North Waziristan. However, to my mind, Kayani needs to stay most of all because removing a commander in the midst of a war sends the wrong message to friend and foe alike and, more importantly, because he appears uniquely suited for the job at this juncture of our troubled history in view of his personality, temperament, ability, aptitude and experience.
These plusses easily outweigh the heart burning his extension may cause among his peers. They also outweigh fears that he may grow too big for his boots. In any case, that is misreading the man. And, as this is the near universal view about him, not everyone can be wrong. The snag is that General Kayani will not personally raise the issue nor, rumour has it, will he accept an extension unless it is long enough to allow him to implement his plans for the army.
The selection of an army chief, or the question of his extension, is nearly always in Pakistan the subject of intense controversy. What should be and is elsewhere a relatively routine matter dictated by need, and not wish or favour, is not so here. Mr Gilani (or is it Mr Zardari?) has the opportunity to lay such speculation to rest by being forthcoming on the issue and acting quickly to quell the uncertainty. And, hopefully, they will, because one recalls with no pleasure the antics of politicians when it came to choosing General Waheed’s successor after he refused an extension; and earlier after General Asif Nawaz’s untimely death. In the case of the former, it was virtually the only subject of discussion at every Islamabad gathering for weeks and, in the case of the latter, one recalls being offered celebratory sweets by supporters of a general who eventually did not make it. Things should not be allowed to reach such a pass. It is hardly an unforeseen event.
In many respects, therefore, 2010 is a crucial year. It will probably determine Mr Zardari’s fate and, if things do not go well in the war, also Pakistan’s future. Should one be downhearted? No!
The writer is a former ambassador. He can be reached at [email protected]