Sharif's choice, India's concern

Published: 18 November, 2013 07:19 IST | Smita Prakash |

General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani retires this month despite speculation that he would get another extension

General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani retires this month despite speculation that he would get another extension. Rarely does a Pakistani general retire into oblivion, that too without having either mounted a coup, established martial law or destabilised an elected government and placed a pliant prime minister.

Kayani had plenty of opportunity to do all this and more. And the bets are still out whether he will really retire into oblivion.

Retirement woes: Who Nawaz Sharif picks as his army chief is as important for India as what General Kayani does after he officially ‘retires’

Before discussing why he is actually retiring and who will succeed him, let us ask the basic question: Why should it matter to India who Pakistan chooses as its army chief? In India, not many know who the Indian army chief is, which if you ask me is all the better! That cocoon of oblivion was however shattered when General VK Singh decided that not only should Indians know who and how powerless an Indian army chief is but what is written in his birth certificate.

The basic reason why India, US and Afghanistan are concerned about who succeeds General Kayani is because Pakistan’s India, US, and Afghan policies are decided by the army. The generals also have exclusive control over Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. These are not — and never have been — the domain of the elected government in Pakistan. The civilian government has to work within the parameters laid out by the army, not the constitution.

What has been General Kayani’s India policy been so far? Nothing different from all his predecessors. Despite making comments that India was not Pakistan’s only threat as the country faced ‘multifaceted threats’ Kayani did not reduce the sabre-rattling against India. Anti-India rhetoric and support to Islamist militancy continued unabated. Consequently, the fragile peace process with India is in as much tatters as is the internal security in Pakistan.

Let’s not forget that just after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, General Kayani reversed the orders given by President Zardari to dispatch Lt Gen Shuja Pasha, Director General of ISI, to New Delhi to reassure the Indian leadership that the attacks did not have state support. Kayani also shot down Zardari’s offer of No First Use of nuclear weapons against India in 2008. He is also behind the blocking of Most Favoured Nation status to India by Pakistan even though India has unilaterally given that status to Pakistan many years ago. The ceasefire that held on the Line of Control is almost over now, and the blame again lies at Kayani’s doorstep. Imagine if India had taken up Kayani’s offer of demilitarising Siachen after the avalanche in 2012.

Not only has Kayani been detrimental to India-Pakistan relationship, he has contributed to the pathetic state of Pakistan’s internal security as well. The army was called in last week to maintain peace in Rawalpindi which is where the Pakistan army’s general headquarters is located. Pakistan’s strategy so far has been to be keep Punjab peaceful by allowing the jihadists to hold sway in other areas. That strategy seems to be unravelling now. From finding Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad to Nasiruddin Haqqani in Rawalpindi, the world can see the Pakistan army for what it has actually become: state actors who are pliant to non-state actors.

All this has happened under General Kayani’s watch. ISPR, Pakistan Army’s media cell headed by a hand-picked major general was tasked to place puff pieces on General Kayani in domestic and international media. No Pakistani prime minister can match the PR skills of his army chief. How else can you explain that despite a series of disasters — in Swat, Waziristan, Mehran airbase, torching of NATO tankers, an all time low in relations with Afghanistan, Raymond Davis affair, and from Osama bin Laden to Nasiruddin Haqqani — there are now calls to make Kayani advisor to the Pak prime minister. And that too on Kashmir affairs!

There is a set of Indian commentators who argue that when we know that the army is in charge of Pakistan’s India policy, why do we even bother interacting with elected leaders and the civil society. Simply because the army will not directly interact with us. It works via the prime minister, his advisor, various think tanks and non-government Track 2/3/4 mechanisms. Whoever be the via-media, in effect the Indian government is interacting with the Pakistan Army.
Who Nawaz Sharif picks as his Army Chief is as important for India as what General Kayani does after he officially ‘retires’. Remember it was Sharif who picked General Musharraf as Army Chief. And we all know where that went.

Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on Twitter @smitaprakash

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