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They all fall down

The collegiate leadership of senior generals that has the veto power to take decisions on all matters of vital national security in Pakistan faces a dilemma. The intense anti-American sentiment in civil society is spilling over and Islamic fanatic elements seem to be fast penetrating the inner echelons of the civil and military security apparatus, writes R Banerji.

india Updated: Sep 10, 2011 19:38 IST
R Banerji

The collegiate leadership of senior generals that has the veto power to take decisions on all matters of vital national security in Pakistan faces a dilemma. The intense anti-American sentiment in civil society is spilling over and Islamic fanatic elements seem to be fast penetrating the inner echelons of the civil and military security apparatus.

At the same time, hard economic times have befallen the country, with fuel shortages threatening industrial recovery, imports exceeding exports, inflation hitting double-digits but with foreign direct investment remaining negligible.

Pakistan remains heavily dependent for an economic bail-out on western donor agencies.

The sixth IMF loan tranche of $11 billion is likely to be indefinitely deferred due to Pakistan's political difficulties in implementing structural reform conditionalities.

The army itself has to rely on promises of US arms sales and grants for its modernisation programmes, designed not only to better equip its counter-insurgency capabilities but also to further its perpetual quest for parity with India.

The way the Raymond Davis affair dragged on till his release on Wednesday reflects the persisting mistrust between the ISI and the CIA.

Despite continuing cooperation in counter-terror operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and along the Pakistan-Afghan border, American agencies have for long suspected that pinpointed intelligence inputs were being preemptively leaked by the ISI to enable prominent al-Qaeda and Taliban militants to shift to safe havens and escape the dragnet of drone attacks.

The resultant deployment of a large number of US intelligence personnel and security contractors into Pakistan under cover of short-term assignments, claimed as diplomatic, has long irked khaki circles in Pakistan.

The Americans had to withdraw Jonathan Banks, CIA station chief in Islamabad, in December 2010 under pressure from the Pakistani authorities.

Even as media reports have speculated on the possibility of a settlement between the two agencies through some sort of a trade-off, there have been reports of unsuccessful attempts by Islamic pressure groups asking the families of the Davis's victims to reject feelers for payment of 'blood money'.

The US has provided Pakistan with more than $2.1 billion in foreign military financing (FMF) since 2001. Supplies paid with a mix of Pakistani national funds and FMF include 18 new F-16 C/D category combat aircraft along with mid-life update kits, 100 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, 500 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and F-16 armaments, including 500 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles.

In addition, 14 F-16 A/B category aircraft have been given under the Excess Defence Articles assistance programme. $1.5 billion is pledged annually under the civilian Coalition Support Funds project to strengthen Pakistan's capacity to take up counter-terrorism operations in Fata and to build education facilities in the Reconstruction Opportunity zones.

A March 2009 US White Paper mentioned some major problems being faced in implementing this programme: the poor absorptive capacity of Pakistani institutions, the lack of oversight and inadequate monitoring of fund disbursements as also the slow involvement of local actors in these development programmes.

During recent meetings with senior Pakistani officials, American ambassador Cameron Munter reportedly pointed to Section 206 of the Kerry Lugar Peace Act under which aid commitments could be cut off unless proper structures and mechanisms for aid disbursal were set up and verified through authorised channels. This can be interpreted as a veiled threat to let off Davis without undue fanfare.

Yet, the showering of rose petals by lawyers on Mumtaz Qadri, the assassin of Punjab governor Salman Taseer, as he was brought to court and the failure of the national assembly to pass a condemnatory resolution after minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti was killed highlight this dilemma.

Meanwhile, the army has had to refrain from issuing any official condemnation of the incidents so far, despite a statement by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in the national assembly that he would be consulting the security bureaucracy and army officials to find ways to stem the rot.

One problem the army faces is how to assess the extent of Islamisation within and to what extent to expurgate itself. Within its ranks, the 'Zia Bharti' officers (those recruited between 1977 and 1988), not all of them cleansed of Islamic proclivities, are now poised to reach decision-making levels of brigadier and major general. How they strike a balance between civil society pressures and the need to keep the chain of US munificence open will be crucial.

Every time a crucial senior appointment is made, the army seeks endorsement from the West. One indicator is already evident: ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, who was due to retire on March 18 after already availing a year's extension, has got a two-year extension.

This is quite unprecedented and may raise hackles among other army generals hoping to succeed to this post as also those disgruntled by Pakistani armed forces chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani's own extension.

It seems this decision was cleared by the Americans when discussions were recently held between Kayani and US navy chief Michael Mullen in Muscat's al-Bustan hotel. At least, this is how the public in Pakistan may perceive the development.

In a sense, these shenanigans are symptomatic of a basic malaise - that of conflicting strategic goals between the two countries in the region.

It may be naive to hope that all differences would be resolved once US troops begin a phased withdrawal from Afghanistan and the ISI, the CIA and Afghan President Hamid Karzai seemingly agree upon a programme of rehabilitation and power-sharing with the Afghan Taliban that all can live with.

R Banerji is a former special secretary, Cabinet Secretariat. The views expressed by the author are personal.