In Pakistan, the army has remained the law since 1958 when general Ayub Khan assumed political power through a coup d’etat. Constitutions have come and gone since then, but not the military’s grip on the nation and its mind. But every fall has a decline, and one need not be a Gibbon to get its feel.
In Islamabad, the army may still be the law, but that chinks are showing in its armour is evident from a cursory glance at the Pakistani media. Asma Jehangir, human rights activist and elected president of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association, now publicly calls the army a bunch of “duffers”, the only job of its generals being to play golf and “grab the best plots”.
The recent willingness of Pakistan’s civil society to talk about its army — particularly about the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), its thuggish dirty tricks department — seems to be the outcome of the serial drubbings it has recently received from the United States, its traditional masters.
It began with the daring operations of the US Navy Seals in locating and killing Osama bin Laden in a house at Abbottabad close to the Pakistan Military Academy. It exposed the true status of Pakistan and its sovereignty with Americans as the latter strolled into Pakistani territory as if it was a McDonald’s outlet.
Abbottabad was followed by an attack on PNS Mehran, a naval base and naval air headquarters in Karachi. There were reports in the media earlier that the Pakistani navy had been thoroughly infiltrated by al-Qaeda elements and, apparently, goaded by the US, the military was at last trying to rid it of jihadis.
It must have had some truth in it, for enraged by the alleged cleansing, terrorists raided the harbour with ease, destroying two reconnaissance aircraft and holding the place to ransom for 17 hours.
The journalist who reported al-Qaeda’s penetration in the navy was found missing. Two days later his body, showing marks of brutal assault, was fished out of a canal over 100 miles from his home.
It could well be the handiwork of ISI, known for its medieval ways of sending signals to a community, in this case to the media. But, within a week, the ISI had to hand over intelligence input to the Americans on Pakistan al-Qaeda chief Ilyas Kashmiri, the mastermind of the 26/11 attack on Mumbai. Like bin Laden, Kashmiri was also sheltered by the Pakistan army all these years.
After it handed over Kashmiri’s whereabouts, it took the US only the pressing of a button to kill him and his guests with missiles fired from drones.
The Pakistani military is almost a creation of the US, having been its Cold War partner since the Baghdad Pact that led to the formation of the Central Treaty Organisation (Cento) and the South East Asia Treaty Organisation (Seato).
After Zia ul-Haq put an official seal on Islamic fundamentalism by raising mujahideen militias to help the US counter the erstwhile Soviet Union’s aggression of Afghanistan, fundamentalism became Pakistan’s quasi-official creed. The Cold War ended, the Soviet Union perished, but the mujahideen grew from strength to strength.
However, following 9/11, Pakistan decided to selectively dismantle its terror outfit, keeping one wing forever battle-ready against India while trying to defang the westward-looking units.
It has been a miserable failure.
In the minds of Pakistan’s ordinary people, the US is competing with India on the list of demons. In the State prep schools, children are taught that the letter ‘tay’ is for takrao or collision, which, in turn, is illustrated by a picture of jet planes crashing into the destroyed twin towers of the World Trade Centre.
Anti-American feelings invade not only madrasas but also the top academies. A recent WikiLeak (No. 153436) published in the Pakistani daily, Dawn, has US Ambassador Anne Patterson, who had addressed students of the National Defence University (NDU), mentioning in her cable that the students were “astonishingly naive and biased” about the US.
She quoted a US colonel who had attended a course at the NDU and was startled at the students’ “anti-Americanism” and general naivete about national and global affairs.
Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, who recently visited the NDU with US Senator John Kerry, must have regretted asking the students who they recognised as Pakistan’s chief enemy: India, the US or other nations. A third of Pakistan’s would-be military leaders identified Pakistan’s Enemy No. 1 as the US.
(Sumit Mitra is a Kolkata-based political commentator. The views expressed by the author are personal)