By Shahzad Chaudhry
When Nawaz Sharif won the 2013 elections but had not yet been inducted in the government, the then army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, called on him at Lahore one Sunday. This was to be as much an introductory session of the chief to the new prime minister as it was an advisory session on what seemed of utmost importance to the army. The initiative was taken by the army chief with a possibility that there were intermediaries who arranged the session. By all counts, the meeting went well.
Kayani briefed the incoming PM on two main points, and one minor point. NS during his campaign had appeared overzealous on India, much to the pleasure of the Indian media which exhibited an impetuous excitement about his overtures towards them. Though it wasn’t ugly, it seemed a tad overindulgent. To most in the traditionally conservative establishment, army and ‘Babudom’, this impetuosity needed to be tempered.
It is assumed that he was told to act as he pleased but to do so cautiously so as not to be wrong-footed. In fact, he was told that the military stood by him in his endeavour to normalise ties with India. Perhaps it went without saying that as he ventured on that path, NS would just make sure that Pakistan is not shortchanged.
The next topic of interest to the army was its ongoing battle against terror groups. The US was still around in Afghanistan in full force and the army had cleared Swat and South Waziristan to ward off some imminent threats but had yet to carry the battle to the terrorists’ last redoubt in North Waziristan. It is almost certain that NS would have been asked about his preferred way forward in his government.
His was a right-of-the-spectrum party and there was enough noise within the ranks to suggest that dialogue may be preferred over a battle. I think Kayani agreed to give as much time to the new government to forge its own strategies and its own timeframes. After all, he was on the verge of retirement after an extended tenure as the army chief and would have factored in the time needed by his replacement to prepare for the final push.
The minor point related to the army’s disconcertment with the fate of its former chief, and an NS nemesis: Pervez Musharraf. The PPP government had remained cool and pragmatic and, other than showing the door to the former army chief and the president, had normally kept to itself. It let the army chaperone and tend to its own can of worms. The induction of the PML-N government, however, meant an entirely new approach, especially with an overbearing media ready to see sparks fly by placing a former dictator in the dock. NS was pumped enough by these bystanders through repeated reminders of his undertakings to bring Musharraf to justice. It seems that NS gave his word to Kayani that such would surely not be his recourse.
From June until November, after the NS government had been inducted, events largely went as planned. In November, NS chose Raheel Sharif as Kayani’s replacement. The decision to appoint RS, who was not as popularly touted, was a slight surprise but it all still belonged within the pale of possibilities. Then things began to happen.
As the new chief found his feet and attempted to establish his credentials as Kayani’s rightful replacement, the PML-N government couldn’t restrain itself and acted on two fronts: talking to the TTP and opening up cases against Musharraf. As Musharraf got dragged from one court to another in the name of accountability and due process, the new army chief sat aghast among his colleagues, unable to respond to their sense of bewilderment on the treatment of an ex-chief, regardless of whether he was at fault. Somewhere along the line, the human instinct of avenging a personal wrong began dominating the loud proclamations of justice by the government.
Unable to fathom how they could help break this cycle of ridicule of their former chief, it is quite likely that the army too fell into the trap of ordinariness in suggesting that Musharraf should fake a sickness and somehow make it to the army premises. So, on one of his routine days out before another court, Musharraf feigned sickness and was redirected to the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology. Thus began a state of farce that can put any society and system to shame but went on unabashed during Musharraf’s refuge there for months. Musharraf hardly went again to a court as the system began readjusting itself to the restraints of reasonableness.
In the meanwhile – and in pursuit of the remaining portion of the war against terror – RS found his own place by leading Operation Zarb-e-Azb. Freed from the incumbency of an unlikely successor, he instead established himself as a force to reckon with. Against his domineering presence, both physical and virtual, NS and his coterie only dwarfed into insignificance. Along the way, and with no small support from the Saudi benefactors, NS was forced to relent and give Musharraf a way out; just as they had gotten NS a way out of Musharraf’s hands in 1999. Favours returned, NS once again settled into an uneasy relationship with yet another army chief.
If anything explains the discordant parting of Raheel Sharif from NS that was it – a relationship based on deliberate missteps in clever manipulation of an environment to satisfy one’s instincts. The Dawn leaks exemplified how NS’ relationship had evolved with his chosen chief.
Now that Raheel Sharif’s replacement is in place – once again hand-picked by NS – the trumpeters are all out with the cheerleaders, urging NS to redefine and regain the space perceived to have been lost to an overwhelming army. Only a week after the new chief took over, NS brought back Pervaiz Rashid who, rightly or wrongly, had been associated with the Dawn fracas. Tempting fate, testing waters, or downright stupid? Make your choice.
Anyone and everyone who has his position tied to putting the military back into its shoes is trying to force an agenda for the new chief and define newer limits to civil-military relations. Both Musharraf and the Abbottabad commission report have found another life – all in the name of functional fidelity, mind you.
Justice Faez Isa’s report on the Quetta carnage has been suitably manipulated to bring the military and its various institutions under scrutiny by the nightly predators of the media. As the new chief makes sense of it all, he will soon feel the need to provide some answers to his institution. That is when he would be steeled enough, far earlier than would have been, setting into motion yet another phase of tensions in this foolishly misguided effort at forcing Pakistan’s civil-military balance. Soon we shall only be ruing the consequences of what we would have playfully enacted to satiate our instinct of primordial predation.