While the 1999 coup was triggered by events involving relations with India, the roots of the present differences between the military and the elected Government lie in tensions in relations with the US.
The appointment of Brigadier Sarfraz Ali as Commander of the Rawalpindi-based 111 Brigade on January 11, just after Prime Minister Gilani fired Army Chief Kayani's handpicked Defence Secretary, Lt General Naeem Khalid Lodhi, is a throwback to the past. It brought memories of witnessing a newly-appointed 111 Brigade Commander spearheading a coup to overthrow and arrest Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in October 1999.
That coup came after serious differences emerged between Sharif and Army Chief Musharraf over who should take the blame for the Kargil fiasco. The 111 Brigade has executed virtually every overthrow of civilian Governments by the military. It could play a similar role if and when the army decides to act to oust the present Government. Conventional wisdom, however, suggests that the army would avoid direct or unilateral action, as in the past.
While the 1999 coup was triggered by events involving relations with India, the roots of the present differences between the military and the elected Government lie in tensions with the US, following the Abbottabad raid. That raid resulted in the killing of Osama bin Laden and shame and disgrace for the Pakistan army.
The Musharraf coup was followed by a series of terrorist attacks across India, culminating in the attack on the Red Fort by the Lashkar-e-Taiba and on the Parliament, by the Jaish-e-Mohammed, in 2001. But, would it be wise to presume that just because circumstances are different, we can now be more relaxed and sanguine, ruling out any possibility of similar terrorist attacks on India? It would be the height of folly to relax our guard.
On December 18, a number of Jihadi groups and political outfits described as the “Pakistan Defence Council” staged a massive rally in Lahore, with speakers provocatively raving and ranting against the US and India. Amongst the politicians present were representatives of Islamic Parties such as the Jamaat-e-Islami, and more significantly, members of Imran Khan's Tehreeq-e-Insaf. Imran Khan's close links with the ISI and military establishment are well-documented. The Lahore rally on December 18 was organised by the Lashkar-e-Taiba, under its pseudonym, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, (JUD). The two most prominent slogans at the rally were “Permanently Cut off NATO Supply Line”, and “Reject MFN (for India)”. India was accused of conducting a “water war” against Pakistan, to deprive its people of much-needed water.
Speaking on the occasion, the JUD leader Hafiz Rehman Makki thundered: “Our men are trained to use rifles and Kalashnikovs. When they head towards India with weapons, no one can stop them”. Ever since Pakistan was compelled to move more troops from its borders with India to areas adjacent to the Durand Line, the army and ISI have carefully calibrated the nature and extent of terrorist attacks on India. The National Investigation Agency was told by Daood Gilani, aka David Coleman Headley, during his interrogation, that though terrorist groups supported by the ISI were told to shift their Jihadi energies to attacking the Americans in Afghanistan, their desire for Jihad against India was still strong.
HIGH STAKES GAME
Thoroughly discredited by the American helicopter-borne attack which exposed its support to Osama bin Laden, the army retaliated against the Americans by asking them to vacate bases, withdraw personnel and by blocking supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan. It fanned public passions against the Americans and got an already hostile judiciary to further turn the screws on the besieged civilian Government.
The military is playing for high stakes. It intends to get the Americans to quit Afghanistan, leaving the country open for a Taliban takeover. Domestically, it will work with the judiciary, to force early elections.
In the meantime, General Musharraf has announced that he is returning to Pakistan this month, even though he could be arrested on return. The military establishment is said to have arranged for its current protégé Imran Khan to quietly meet Musharraf in London. The military evidently believes that the Americans are desperate to get supply routes to Afghanistan reopened. Musharraf could serve as a useful interlocutor to get the Americans to accept Pakistan's demands.
India has done well to not offer any gratuitous comments regarding developments in Pakistan. Unlike in the past, virtually no one in Pakistan is holding India responsible for the country's present travails. The Americans now have pride of place of being the villainsresponsible for all of Pakistan's present woes.
(The author is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan.)