COMMENT Why militants would welcome a Pakistan coup
By Ehsan Ahrari
The Financial Times of June 12, 2014 reported "rumors of an army takeover" in Pakistan. Reports of this nature have been periodically surfacing in different Western outlets. But when the Financial Times reports it, one has to sit up and pay attention.
The question is why are such rumors are circulating? Is there any truth to them, or is the army general headquarters busy conducting a strategic campaign to take a pulse of the Western reaction by leaking them? Alternatively, are such rumors created to send warnings to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to close his
reported disagreements with the army over negotiating with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP, the Pakistani Taliban) terrorists?
Sharif's election last March raised hopes about the potential long-term survival of democracy in Pakistan. He was elected at a time when the TTP, Pakistan's homegrown terrorist group, was clamoring for the promulgation of the Sharia (Islamic law) and for declaring that country's constitution illegal.
For some strange reason, Sharif decided to negotiate with them. One can speculate about his reasons. Perhaps because his judged the TTP's demands regarding Sharia law to be a reflection of a majority of Pakistani's preference; perhaps he himself believed in that demand but was too timid to endorse it.
Or perhaps, he did not have any clear idea of how to approach the negotiations and decided to proceed with them hoping to develop an agenda later on. He did try to find approval of various oppositions parties for such negotiations. At best, that move was a mere demonstration of timidity on the part of Sharif. He merely wanted the endorsement of the opposition for an idea about whose appropriateness he himself was not sure.
However, Pakistan's Army, the decisive guardian of the republic, had strong disagreements with the civilian government on the issue of negotiations. An important question here is why did Sharif not seek the input of the army, whose intelligence sources might be better informed about the real intent of the TTP. More to the point, why didn't the army provide such intelligence to the civilian government and clearly admonish it not to negotiate with them?
At least in the public reading of the way Sharif government was handling this issue, one gets the notion that it was in complete control of whether or not to negotiate. The reality of the situation is that, given the Pakistan Army's superior control of that country's security policy and access to intelligence, the civilian government while pretending to be in charge of such negotiations, was clearly frustrated when the terrorists stuck to their guns about their non-negotiable demands of doing away with the constitution. When the negotiations faltered, the army conducted its operations. That in turn infuriated the terrorists with the ultimate reaction of attacking the Karachi airport.
The two brazen attacks on Karachi airport have clearly established the fact that the terrorists had the help of insiders. According to one report from Pakistan, one of the numerous sleeper cells in the city of Karachi might have been used to plan and carry out the terrorist attack on the Karachi airport.
That leads one to seriously question the robustness of domestic intelligence, especially when the rumors of such an attack were around. The fact that the local police called on the military for help, speaks volumes about the popular perception regarding the capabilities of the military to impose law and order. But in this instance, the military also succeeded in saving a major disaster in the form of a potential hijacking of a civilian airplane and having it blown up by self-styled jihadists, who were only too eager to have a rendezvous with the heavenly virgins.
Given the brazenness of the Karachi airport attacks, the way ahead should be, first, a green signal for the army to carry out draining the swamp operation in the Pakistan-Afghan border and northern and southern Waziristan, and especially in that country's urban ghettos. Second, there should be no attempt to renew the negotiations with the TTP, no matter how much they plead for it. Third, there should not be any doubt in the frozen minds of Pakistan's civilian leaders that the terrorists are resolute in their plans to destroy the existing government and the constitution. Thus, there is absolutely no basis for negotiating with them or to let them survive to carry out their nefarious objectives.
Finally, as an integral part of the way ahead, Pakistan should immediately start an exhaustive hunt for moles inside the airport and military bureaucracy, strengthen its counter-intelligence arm and, above all, especially clean its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) from the sympathizers of the TTP. These steps are difficult to take, but if they are postponed indefinitely, the scourge of fanaticism threatens to destroy the country in its present form.
For all of these measures to materialize, a powerful understanding between the top civilian and military leaders has to be established imminently. The whole idea of civilian leaders equivocating and pretending to be negotiating with the terrorists, while the Army showing its resolve for destroying them through periodic military operations against them but do not finish the job, has to be abandoned once and for all.
A good starting point for all these steps is a regular public display of civilian-military interaction from now on to signal unambiguously to the terrorists and the Pakistani people that their leaders are dead serious about eradicating the TTP and strengthening the security of the state. The TTP should be viewed as an entity that is anti-Pakistan, not merely a conglomeration of Punjabis who should be treated with kid gloves, as Sharif has been accused of treated them until now.
To reiterate, the Pakistan Army should not make the mistake of ousting even a hapless civilian leader; for there is ample room to cooperate with him and help him grow in the job so that he could begin to see the proverbial forest for the trees.
Dr Ehsan Ahrari ([email protected]) is CEO of Strategic Paradigms, Defense and Foreign Affairs Consultancy.