The Blocked Sewage Pipe Theory of military dictatorships

It’s all downhill for Kayani now

You would be foolish to think that you can rub off the entire top echelon of the Pakistani army’s general staff on the wrong side and get on with life as usual. Look at the last two power transitions in that country—Nawaz Sharif was ousted because he made the cardinal mistake of being less than respectful in his treatment of General Jehangir Karamat and then General Musharraf. In his turn, General Musharraf was ultimately pushed out because the army hierarchy had had enough of him. The rigidly hierarchical pyramid that is the Pakistani army is at once highly competitive at a peer level and unappreciative of anything that disrupts upward movement. Those who mess with the dynamic end up paying a dear price for it.

It doesn’t need you to be particularly astute to figure this out. But the trappings of power, headiness of perceived victories and public sycophancy by US officials militates against the exercise of good sense. Then fall, Caesar. It’s General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani’s turn now.

General Kayani might have secured a three-year extension but in doing so, he has ensured that as many as 24 lieutenant-generals—the entire lot of them—will not stand a chance to become army chief, unless something untoward happens to the overstaying incumbent. There are around 170 major-generals many of who will be affected too. That makes for quite a lot of disgruntled officers who would wish ill of their boss.

A general who gets an extension is like a blockage in a sewage pipe. If the blockage is not cleared, the pipe will burst. There’s always more sewage, pressure builds up relentlessly and no one wants the sewage pipe to burst. Not even US officials. So it is the blockage that is cleared.

General Kayani played a masterful hand so far. He would have done well to hang up his boots in November. Alas, power and hubris got the better of him. It’s downhill for him now. The dagger-sharpeners of Rawalpindi will see increased custom in the coming months.

Who killed Benazir Bhutto?

Quite likely, the same people who perverted the investigation

The UN investigative commission enquiring into the Benazir Bhutto assassination has—given the context—shown some cojones. Not only did it put into writing what the United States likes to hide under a rug of diplomatese, it also refused the allow the Pakistani government to bury the report under one pretext or the other. Note how the UN commission organised a press conference and made the report public after it appeared that the Pakistani government might not.

The commissioners don’t explicitly say who ordered the assassination—which is fair, given the lack of evidence—but leave the reader with the unmistakable impression that the military establishment is culpable. You don’t need to be an Erast Fandorin to conclude this, but precisely because the Pakistani government (of President Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani) can’t even complete an investigation into the killing of one of Pakistan’s most popular leaders, it is pointless to expect it to deliver anything in terms of arresting the perpetrators of the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai.

That silly game of dossiers-and-lawsuits is pointless and ought to stop. Other than making the Indian government look stupid, powerless and incompetent in front of its own people, this absurd routine achieves nothing.

Back to the UN commissions report: you should read it for its decent attempt to describe what the Pakistani ‘Establishment’ is, for its bald assessment that the ISI covered up its tracks and for a good account of the methods it used. The UN commission squarely puts the military establishment in the dock. But because General Kayani has masterfully turned public opinion around in favour of the army, it’s unlikely that the report will amount to anything.

Tightening the screws on Pakistan

Four immediate steps

The Pakistani military-jihadi complex has, as expected, gone on a war footing. General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has pledged a “matching response” to Indian surgical strikes, “in no time”. The Pakistan Air Force was scrambled to fly sorties over major cities, scaring ordinary people. And the Jamaat-ud-Dawa organised a major pow-wow of religious parties—which included Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf—and issued a ten-point charter, which among other things called for India to be declared an enemy, and US & NATO’s supply route to be closed. As the Economist put it, it’s a heartwarming show of unity.

While all this might have whipped up passions among the Pakistani people (and distracted them from the economic crisis) , it must be frustrating for General Kayani to observe that no one outside Pakistan is quite taking the threat of an India-Pakistan war seriously. That’s because Indian strategists have realised that denying the Pakistani military-jihadi complex the war they desire is triumph by default. The Pakistani armed forces should be most welcome to burn what little fuel reserves they have (linkthanks RKG), or can afford, flying pointless sorties over their cities, moving tanks and heavy artillery around the country and suchlike. There are two risks: first, where General Kayani’s ability to control the proceedings falls short of the passion of his uniformed and non-uniformed troops. Second, where the frustrated Pakistani military leadership starts the war itself. These risks itself indicate that General Kayani’s moves are devoid of strategic wisdom. In either case, it is India that will have control over the escalation.

Yet, there are people and organisations in Pakistan—suddenly oblivious to the wretch their country has become—who believe that getting away with a terrorist attack without punishment demonstrates an “upper hand”. Since the support for jihadi terrorism comes from these sorts, it is necessary to disabuse them of this notion. For that reason, India must act, visibly and forcefully.

First, India must ensure that the Pakistan remains in the international doghouse until it does what is immediately necessary—the arrest and expatriation of jihadi leaders and the complete shutdown of the jihadi organisations. How? Well, it must use its “restraint” to get the United States and Pakistan’s international donors to hold back aid tranches until Pakistan produces the necessary results.

Second, India should use the opportunity to abandon some silly projects that were pursued in the name of the ‘peace process’—for instance, the Iran-Pakistan-India natural gas pipeline. One this simian is off its back, India should pursue a deal to purchase the gas in the form of LNG. It should be easier to seal this agreement now that energy prices have fallen from their historic highs.

Third, international arms suppliers and their governments must be warned that selling arms to Pakistan will make it more difficult for them to penetrate the Indian market.

And finally, as we have been long arguing, India must engage the jihadi enemy not along its own frontiers, but in Afghanistan. India must support the military “surge” in Afghanistan that the US has planned. It could, for instance, arrange and secure the alternative supply route through the Iranian ports of Chahbahar and Bandar Abbas, and overland into Afghanistan. That’ll give the Americans the flexibility they need to secure co-operation from General Kayani.