Analysis & Opinions - The Guardian
US Must Wake Up to Reality in Pakistan
Because Pakistan's government has no control over its army, American policy towards the dyarchy is fundamentally flawed
US Senator Carl Levin recently faulted Pakistan's leaders for lacking "political steel in their backbone". Levin's criticism is unfair. Pakistan is not your typical state. Its civilian leaders do not possess the kind of power elected leaders normally have in democracies.
Pakistan's President Asif Zardari had blamed "non-state actors" in his country for the terrorist attacks in Mumbai last November. In reality, the regime he heads is itself a non-state actor, lacking the legitimate force that states need to actually govern.
The most important non-state actor in Pakistan is the army. Normally, a country's army constitutes its ultimate instrument of legitimate force. But the Pakistani army is independent of the civilian government. It considers its interests as separate from those of this government. It has acted more like a mercenary force, reluctant to assume responsibility for defending the country against internal threats. It maintains links with some of the very elements that threaten the country's security.
Within Pakistan itself, the public is resigned to the army's continuing independence. The Pakistani press calls the ruling dispensation "the troika", consisting of President Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, and chief of army staff General Ashfaq Kayani.
Given the separate spheres in which the civilian leadership and the army operate, the government in Pakistan is actually a dyarchy. The colonial British administration in India had established a system of dyarchy at the provincial level. British officials had kept control of finance and the police, leaving less critical departments to elected Indian leaders. But at the centre, British officials were in charge. In Pakistan, dyarchy is at the centre, with the army controlling national security policy, including Pakistan's nuclear programme, leaving other matters to the civilian government.
This arrangement works out quite neatly. Zardari makes soothing noises, making commitments on security he cannot keep. And Pakistan gets rewarded for being a democracy with massive economic and military aid. The army reaps the benefits of this aid and is further strengthened.
The Bush administration was widely criticised for relying on one person — Pakistan's military dictator General Pervez Musharraf. Belatedly, it learned the drawbacks of this policy in 2007. But the civilian government that replaced Musharraf cannot make any difference in the areas that matter as long as it cannot control the Pakistani army and intelligence agencies.
The last time a Pakistani leader tried to assert civilian authority — in 1999 — the army staged a coup. The Zardari government made futile attempts to establish authority over at least the army-controlled Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate. Prudently, it has refrained from seriously challenging the army.
The report of the Obama administration's Interagency Policy Group on US policy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan acknowledged that, "Strengthening the civilian, democratic government must be a centrepiece of our overall effort". But it carefully refrained from mentioning civilian control over the army.
Perhaps there is not much that other governments can do to help bring the Pakistani army under civilian authority. At the very least, Washington would have been expected not to undercut the civilian leadership and thus defeat this goal. Instead, the Obama administration and the governments of American allies have been negotiating with Kayani, virtually treating him as the head of a parallel government.
Lately, Kayani has been making the right noises. "The forces of terrorism and extremism pose a threat to our national security and stability, but the armed forces of Pakistan are fully prepared to fight this menace," he said recently in a speech at the Pakistan Naval Academy. "Let me assure you that in line with our proud traditions, the armed forces of Pakistan will never flinch whenever the nation gives us a call," Kayani asserted.
The problem has been that until a few weeks ago, the Pakistani army led by Kayani had stood by and watched as the forces that he now says pose a threat to Pakistan's security and stability gathered enough strength to pose an existential threat to the country. The army's reluctance to act against this threat had forced the government of the terrorism-blighted North West Frontier Province to compromise with the Taliban.
Pakistan's future and the fate of the Obama administration's AfPak policy depend on the success of Pakistan's ongoing offensive against the Taliban. And American hopes, once again, depend on one man: General Kayani. The Pakistani army is now fighting the Taliban not because Pakistan's legitimate government ordered it to do so but because Kayani has finally chosen to do so.
Obama's conversion to "realism" after the heady idealism of the presidential campaign has come in for widespread praise. One sign of this new-found realism was the much-acclaimed dropping of democracy promotion in Afghanistan as a US goal.
In the process, the parts of the AfPak policy that talk about strengthening the democratic government in Pakistan have also apparently received a quiet burial. Without strong American pressure on the Pakistani army, the civilian government has no chance of being fully in charge. Such pressure is obviously not being applied. In the absence of a major upheaval, dyarchy is here to stay in Pakistan. To that extent, American and Nato goals premised on a strong democratic government in Pakistan will remain unfulfilled.
Report - Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Report Chapter - Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Announcement - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School