23 December 2009

Musings on the future of Pakistan

Pakistan's military is providing reassurances that they are not trying to take over the country again.

The United States believes Pakistan's military has no intention of trying to seize power, U.S. Central Command chief General David Petraeus said during a visit to an ally that is struggling against Taliban militants.

The movements of Pakistan's all-powerful military are closely watched both at home and in Western countries such as the United States and Britain, which are piling pressure on the government to help them fight a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.

The military has ruled for more than half of Pakistan's turbulent 62-year history and no civilian government has ever served out a full term, earning the nuclear-armed country the reputation of being an unstable state.

In a briefing with Pakistani journalists during a visit to Islamabad, Petraeus said Pakistan's military had told him it was not interested in destabilizing the elected civilian government.

"I have seen no indication that (army chief) General Ashfaq Kayani is entertaining such a notion," local newspapers on Tuesday quoted Petraeus as telling reporters at the U.S. ambassador's residence when asked about his meeting with Kayani.

"Whenever we have talked to them they say they are committed to democratically elected civilian government."

The army is seen as the institution best able to unite Pakistan in times of crisis, even though military coups have hurt the country's democratic credentials.

In the meantime, a long article asks the tougher question of whether or not Pakistan can - or should - survive.

As another 30,000 U.S. troops get set to deploy to war, most everyone in the White House and the Pentagon knows that the success of their mission won’t only be determined in Afghanistan. The most important battle is in fact next door in Pakistan, a country that, even more than Afghanistan, risks not just failure but utter collapse. The nuclear neighbor has become a haven for Taliban and al Qaeda fighters, and its powerful military has been reluctant to take them on. Even when it has, its clumsy, heavy-handed tactics have displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians. All the while, the elected government of President Asif Ali Zardari has only grown weaker.

But here’s the really bad news. Pakistan’s military -- the lynchpin keeping the chaotic whole together -- isn’t getting stronger. It’s threatening to fracture from within. And today’s fractures may well turn into tomorrow’s chaos. Back in the mid-19th century, the British set out to create a secular, professional Indian army that would neutralize warring ethnic groups and tribes. Pakistan was part of India then, and its army remained secular after the partition in 1947. Officer clubs served liquor. Religion and ethnicity were not proper subjects of discussion. Muslim society was something that existed outside the military. Pakistan’s generals looked to standardized testing and merit-based promotion, drawing on modernity, not Islam, as a model for their professional army.

When Gen. Muhammed Zia ul-Haq overthrew Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977, he had other ideas. Zia assumed the presidency in 1978 while still chief of staff of the Army -- a position from which he encouraged greater religiosity in Pakistan’s armed forces as part of his broader Islamization of the state. Suddenly, military leaders were keeping tabs on which sects of Islam their soldiers belonged to. Members of radical Deoband and Wahhabi sects infused the military education system. Drinking at military clubs was forbidden, with a predictably chilling effect on camaraderie. Prayers once thought optional were strongly encouraged.

Some of this was merely a product of the times; Zia’s opposition to the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan, for instance, was largely predicated on the religious fervor of the Afghan resistance. But Zia’s Islamizing policies within the Army were more deliberate. Whether motivated by piety or political calculation, he reopened the fissures within the contemporary Pakistani military that British colonial policy had never wholly succeeded in papering over. Indeed, when Zia died in a 1988 plane crash, the Islamization of the military and its most powerful spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), continued. By the time Pervez Musharraf tried to return the military to its more secular roots as Army chief of staff, the trend was already too strong to reverse.
More at the link...

By: Brant

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