Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh (Retd)
The recent spiral of violence and bloodshed in the Kashmir valley has a dark dimension beyond the linear and hyphenated Indo-Pak rivalry, it is also symptomatic of the intra-Pakistani slugfest between the troika of institutions that governs and dominates the Pakistani narrative i.e. firstly the all-powerful Pakistani Military, secondly the struggling and defamed political classes and lastly, the clergy and their violent accoutrements and manifestations. The powers in Pakistan have yo-yoed between these three power axis from time-to-time, with constantly evolving and changing perceptions about each of these three institutions over time. Clearly, Pervez Musharraf’s Military take-over via the coup against Nawaz Sharif’s civilian Government was broadly welcomed in 1999, only to see the nation heave a collective sigh of relief with the restoration of participative democracy with the return of political parties via the PPP government in 2008. The role and relevance of the religio-clergy had peaked during the President Zia-ul-Haq regime, only to see a strong revival with the resurgence of the global Pan-Islamic wave in the 21stcentury – Laal Masjid crisis, sectarianism and societal violence, regression and curbs of the recent times are reflective of the appeal of puritanical strains, amidst a certain section of the Pakistani society.
Interestingly, while a civilian dispensation in the form of the PML-N government is ostensibly in place and power in Islamabad, the real power-strings are clearly in the hands of the Pakistani Military Generals in Rawalpindi. From foreign policy (read, Kashmir, Afghanistan, Iran etc.) the consent of General Raheel Sharif is mandatory (the Uffa retraction by the politicos owes its genesis to a reigning-in by the Generals), to matters of internal security (Retired Lt General Janjua has been appointed the National Security Adviser), to infrastructure management e.g. China Pakistan Economic Corridor, CPEC (The army has already created a special division to provide security cover to CPEC-related projects) to even defining the national budgetary allocations, the Pakistani Military has a way of its own. This leaves the political classes with very little leeway and play to govern the nation as per their agendas – adding to the ease of the increasing Military sway is the authoritative and the near messianicimage of the Pakistani Defence Forces as the sole institution of proven probity, integrity and patriotism, unlike the defamed and corruption-tainted image of civilian politicians across the political parties who are reeling under the multiple shames of ‘Panamagate’ and other corruption attributions.
While for now the Military has the upper hand and is fearlessly wielding its influence, it wasn’t always like that. The Hamoodur Rahman Commission set up by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto after the Bangladesh debacle had sought to purge and control the Military leadership with accusations of gross ineptness, so as to establish the supremacy of the civilian rule. The commission findings were personally castigating about the-then, Military leadership, as was echoing in the wordings of the report, “….That allegations of personal immorality, drunkenness and indulgence in corrupt practices against General Yahya Khan, General Abdul Hamid Khan and Maj. Gen. Khuda Dad Khan be properly investigated as there is prima facie evidence to show that their moral degeneration resulted in indecision, cowardice and professional incompetence. In the light of the result of this inquiry suitable charges may be added against these Officers, during the trials we have already recommended earlier”.
Now, there are essentially three ‘hooks’ that control the destiny and perception of who is in control of Pakistan – and these strategic ‘hooks’ need to be appropriated and championed by any one of these troika of power centers in Pakistan. These three ‘hooks’ or cause célèbre are the “Internal Control” (i.e. safety of constituents), “Responsible future levers” (i.e. corruption free control over civic infrastructure and socio-economic delivery mechanism) and lastly “Kashmir”.
With the political classes having thrown-in the towel on controlling the growing violence in the streets and cities – it is clearly the Military establishment that is seen to be making its definitive mark in controlling the restive North-Western areas of the Af-Pak region with Operation Zarb-e-Azb like drives and in other places like Baluchistan and Karachi. Secondly, even the civic projects are seen to be safer in the arms of the Military establishment vis-à-vis the political classes as the politicos are seen to be incorrigibly and endemically, corrupt and vile. With both “Internal Control” and “Responsible future levers” safely ensconced with the Military establishment, suddenly the traditional relevance and role for the political classes is rightfully questioned. This leaves only the last lever of relevance i.e. “Kashmir” to be ratcheted as a means of desperate survival by the political classes (both ruling and opposition).
This survival-instinct of the Pakistani political classes’had led them to be willing props in the audio-visual hardening of their Kashmir spiel with duplicitous positions getting tabled from the earlier stands of relative pacifism on Kashmir – typically, the political classes are less hawkish compared to the Pakistani Military which has its own historical axe to grind with India. However, now this fight for institutional relevance has forced the Pakistani political classes to adopt hitherto, unseen and unheard levels of combativeness and provocation. From observing July 19 as the “Black Day” over Kashmir, to a stage where the Pakistani High Commissioner to India, Abdul Basit dedicated the Pakistani Independence Day to Kashmir’s “Azaadi”, the recent incitements and vitriol have been relentless, intense and unprecedented. While it presumably feeds the popular and public imagination in Pakistan over ‘decisive’ and ‘strong’ stands against the traditional foe India, it does very little to usher in the prospects of peace and harmony in the region. This shortsightedness and tactical approach is not new to Pakistan – already it is reeling under the self-created curse of violence created by its erstwhile designated “Strategic Assets”, who are now biting the hand that fed them, created them and legitimized their role, initially.
However, long-termism is not a known Pakistani virtue or strength and this recent intra-fighting between the Military institution versus the Civil-Political institution has only upped the ante in Kashmir (the third Pakistani institution of the clergy is on the temporary back foot and is jointly sought to be curbed by both the Military and the politicos). This institutional turf war in Pakistan is resulting in the unnecessary spilling of Indian blood in Kashmir. With an unsettled and undeclared war for relevance and control in Pakistan afoot, it is the insane and dangerous stakes that are getting deployed by the Pakistanis that will come back to haunt them as events like the recent Quetta blast showed – clearly, sowing, playing and instigating terror is not a long term strategy, eventually the Frankenstein monster will start consuming its progenitor. However, for us the collateral damage of Pakistan’s onward journey to self-combustion has deadly impact and we pay for their regressive outlook and short-termism.
(The author is former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands & Puducherry)
Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh (Retd)