WASHINGTON DIARY: End of the military-jihadi nexus —Dr Manzur Ejaz
The military has no choice but to eliminate all types of non-state armed groups in Pakistan to save the state and its own privileges. The military may want to pick and choose among these groups, but circumstances will force it to take them out one by one
Asia Peace, a discussion forum, opened the New Year with making predictions about the possible scenarios in Pakistan. Ultimately, the debate centred on the prospects for the military-jihadi nexus. An overwhelming majority believes that the military will keep its jihadi option intact by differentiating between good and bad Taliban and other extremist groups. A very tiny minority, including myself, optimistically believes that the military has no choice but to take out all kinds of jihadis. The military may wish otherwise and may not be fully cognizant of its limited choices but circumstances will force it to clean up the mess it created.
An overwhelming majority of discussants believed in the continuation of the status quo of military-jihadi cooperation. They pointed out that the security agencies have not touched major jihadist leaders like Maulana Azhar, Hafiz Saeed, the Haqqani group and many other extremist outfits; they are being saved for future proxy wars in Afghanistan and India. Pessimists maintain that the military is wedded to the jihadis in such a profound way that religious extremism will not be tackled.
My view has been that it is one thing what the military wants and it is another what it is forced to do in the historical process. The military may have wanted to continue striving for its desired strategic depth in Afghanistan and keep India on its toes through proxy wars, but it was compelled to do just the opposite. Furthermore, the military has not acted against the Taliban and other extremist outfits due to US pressure only, it has also moved to safeguard the state where they enjoy immense privileges.
Let us trace the military responses to the political crisis that came to surface after Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s revolt against the Musharraf regime. The military, as an organisation, did not try to save General Musharraf by using its force or its invisible vast resources. Under General Pervez Kayani, the military did not interfere in the 2008 elections in any manner. The political parties were given full space to contest the elections and form governments in the Centre and provinces. Later on, General Kayani helped the reinstatement of the deposed judiciary and sending General Musharraf abroad.
I do not see this altered military behaviour as a mere change of heart, suddenly making it sagacious. On the contrary, the military may have realised that if it goes on the same old path, the state may be faced with bigger disasters. Lawlessness and a collapsing economy may affect the military’s viability and its own privileges. Therefore, to save these, the military leaders may have concluded that a democratic discourse and rehabilitation of the state’s basic institutions is the only way. This is why the military let the legislative bodies be formed independently and helped rehabilitation of the deposed judiciary.
Indian economic growth and its emergence as a recognisable power at world forums may have forced the military to pause and re-evaluate its strategy. The military knows fully well that if India continues its stunning growth and Pakistan keeps on sinking, it will not remain competitive. Pakistan will thus be conceived as a basket case in the neighbourhood of a giant, India. Therefore, to compete with India, economic growth is absolutely necessary, which in turn depends upon strengthening of state institutions and elimination of lawlessness at all levels of society. This is probably the thinking that forced the military to hold fair elections and help reinstate an independent judiciary. Of course the military is trying its best to safeguard its own privileges as much as it can, which became clear in the Kerry-Lugar bill debate.
The proponents of a pessimistic scenario, arguing that the military-jihadi nexus will continue as it was, must step back and think if they believed that the military would ever launch a successful operation against the Taliban in Swat and South Waziristan? Further, did they really anticipate a lawyers’ movement, General Musharraf’s removal, military’s non-interference in the electoral process and behind-the-scenes effort to reinstate an independent judiciary? Many friends and readers of this column will remember that on the basis of the experience of the last days of the Ayub Khan regime, I have been predicting that a movement against General Musharraf was in the offing, though it was hard to point out the identity of the sections of the public that will spearhead it or the consequences of the uprising. I did not know how but I was always sure that the deposed judiciary would be reinstated. All such projections were based upon my reading of the historical process in Pakistan, which I outlined in my last week’s column.
I still believe that the military has no choice but to eliminate all types of non-state armed groups in Pakistan to save the state and its own privileges. The military may want to pick and choose among these groups, but circumstances will force it to take them out one by one. Tactically, it cannot go to war with everyone at once and it has to move cautiously. We may have to wait and see the process.
Furthermore, the military may be frustrated with the Zardari regime because of its slow movement in reinstating the sovereignty of parliament and other institutions that it has hoped for. The military does not want another Musharraf sitting in the President’s House in civilian garb. If the military has to accept another Musharraf, then why not one of its own? But it seems that this is not going to happen in the foreseeable future and the military may remain interested in strengthening state institutions to safeguard its own interests.
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