(Article) Coup in Pakistan : Quite A Possibillity - Civil Services Mentor Magazine February 2012

Coup in Pakistan : Quite A Possibillity

Amid near-open conflict between Pakistan's civilian and military leadership, the Pentagon has neither sought nor received assurances that the Pakistani army won't stage a coup, a Pentagon spokesman said Wednesday."This is a matter for Pakistani officials -- their government leaders, military and civilian -- to work out," the spokesman, Navy Capt. John Kirby, told reporters. It also is a matter of grave concern in light of Pakistan's status as a nuclear power and the risk that its arsenal -- said to be well protected now -- could fall into the wrong hands in the event of civil conflict. The Pentagon disclosed that Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, talked by phone on Tuesday with his Pakistani counterpart, Army Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani. Dempsey's office declined to provide details of the conversation but said it was their first contact since Dec. 21. Dempsey has an unusually close connection with Kayani. He has known the Pakistani general since 1988, when both attended the U.S. Army's Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.Pakistan's prime minister fired the defense secretary yesterday in a dispute over a memo sent to Washington that enraged the army. The army has warned darkly of "grievous consequences" as a result of the standoff. Relations between President Asif Ali Zardari and the generals have never been good but have soured dramatically in recent months. The unsigned memo sent to Washington asked for its help in reining in the military in exchange for favorable security policies. It was masterminded by Pakistan's envoy to Washington, who has denied the accusation but resigned in a failed attempt to stem fallout from the crisis. Pakistan's new ambassador to Washington, Sherry Rehman, met yesterday at the State Department with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland called the meeting a chance to talk about "getting our relationship back on track in all of its elements in the new year." Asked about Pakistan's political instability, Nuland said U.S. diplomats in Islamabad were monitoring the situation but insisted that these were internal matters for Pakistan to solve on its own.

Since coming to power in 2008, the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has enjoyed a relatively good relationship with the country’s powerful Army. Analysts say the Army had been content to rehabilitate its image after nine years of unpopular direct military-rule under General Pervez Musharraf, winning key victories against the Taliban in Pakistan’s restive northwest and Tribal Areas. That changed when a US businessman, Mansoor Ijaz, brought to a light a secret memo sent by unknown persons to the US government, requesting help in curtailing the Army in exchange for a set of pro-US policies. The secret memo, which was allegedly drafted in the aftermath of the Osama bin Laden raid in 2011 because the government feared a coup, created a major scandal in the country known as ‘Memo-gate’  that cost former Pakistani Ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani his job, and ratcheted tensions and drove a stake between the civilian government and the military. President Zardari has denied any involvement with the memo.

Though the Army has ruled Pakistan directly for half of the country’s 64 year history, analysts say it’s increasingly unlikely that the Army will forcibly oust the civilian government this time, because it just wouldn’t be popular with the media, Supreme Court, or the general public. If the government is to be dismissed before elections, it’s more likely to come “legally” via a Supreme Court ruling. Right now, Pakistan is closely watching two high profile cases just for that reason. The Supreme Court is investigating the Memo-gate scandal, pitting the Army and civilian government against each other in court. On Jan. 16, the Supreme Court charged Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani with contempt for failing to re-open corruption cases dating back to the 1990s against President Asif Ali Zardari. If Mr. Gilani is found guilty, his jailing and dismissal from office could create a power vacuum that could be used to help the Army install a promilitary interim government. Adding further interest, Mansoor Ijaz is due to appear before the court on Jan. 25, and has promised to unleash what he describes as damning revelations – that could send Pakistan’s hyperactive media into overdrive and further damage the government’s fragile reputation.

The government says he does, but the Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that the National Reconciliation Ordinance, a political amnesty signed by former leader Pervez Musharraf and the late Benazir Bhutto, Zardari’s husband, is not valid – casting a legal shadow on Zardari’s presidency and uncertainty on what would happen to him if the court rules he’s guilty of past crimes. Prime Minister Gilani, on the other hand, does not enjoy immunity, and if he is found guilty of contempt of court for not reopening corruption cases against Zardari, faces dismissal, jail time, and a bar from public office. On Monday, Mr. Gilani, who finds himself at the center of the clash between the institutions, received a welcome boost when parliament passed a prodemocracy resolution calling for the military and Supreme Court to remain within their constitutional limits.Still, the government’s position is precarious and many expect snap elections before the government’s five-year tenure is up in February 2013. While on the other hand military coup seems quite distinct in Pakistan in the present scenario, as the army desired democracy and stability in the country. After the Memo Gate scandal broke out, there were speculations that a military coup will take place in the country. Earlier, the Pakistan military had rubbished reports of a coup amid the recent tension over the Memo Gate scandal. The alleged confrontation between the military and the government became more apparent following the military taking on Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani over the sacking of the Defence Secretary, and the appointment of a new commander of the 111 Brigade. However, the military brass expressed surprise and concern over the repeated reports of a possible military coup and decided to hold briefings from the platforms of parliamentary committees of the National Assembly, the Senate and special panels, which deal with national security and defence-related matters, to address the misgivings of the elected leadership. Earlier, the US had also rejected such speculations, with many analysts saying that a military coup in Pakistan was 'unlikely' at this point in time.

A head-on collision between an elected civilian government in Pakistan and the Pakistan Army is usually expected to culminate with the Army chief of the day announcing a takeover by the military on national television with the words: “Merey aziz humwatanon …” In the history of Pakistan's troubled civilian-military relations, the military has always wielded the upper hand, the bigger stick. But the rapidly heating stand-off between the Pakistan People's Party government and the Pakistan Army, which threatened to boil over on Wednesday as a war of words erupted between Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and the military, may yet escape the traditional ending. Prime Minister Gilani's remarks to the Chinese People's Daily , that the responses of the Army Chief and the ISI head to the Supreme Court on the infamous memo affair were “illegal” and “unconstitutional,” were extraordinary. The sub-text of the Prime Minister's remarks was that the government could sack both General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Lt. Gen Shuja Pasha — both officers are serving on extension, and the ISI chief's extended term is ending in March 2012 — for their conduct. This reinforced the view that he was upping the ante against the Army, almost daring it to take on the government. The military's response, that the Prime Minister's words had “serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences” carried an alltoo- familiar and ominous ring. Mr. Gilani's decision to immediately hit back by sacking the Defence Secretary, Naeem Khlaid Lodhi, a retired general who is seen as close to the Army chief, and his replacement with a career civil servant, also served to heighten the coup fears. Reinforcing these fears, a new commander took charge of the infamous 111 Brigade stationed in Rawalpindi, also known as the coupmaking brigade because its soldiers have been used to occupy important buildings and installations during a military takeover.

Still there is hope that this stand-off may not end in the seemingly inevitable. That Prime Minister Gilani made his provocative comments to a Chinese newspaper itself was unusual. More unusual was the timing — as noted by the military in its statement, General Kayani was at that precise time on an official tour of China. It seemed almost as if the Prime Minister was trying to draw Pakistan's biggest ally into the government's battle for survival. The Army has also learnt that in the long run, coups usually do not work to its advantage. The example of General Pervez Musharraf and his downward spiral is fresh in its institutional memory. The job of running a country, one as difficult as Pakistan, especially at the moment, means getting elbow-deep into the muck, most of which sticks on the uniform, and hurts the military's long-term interest of retaining its preeminent national position.

There is no popular appetite for military rule, even going by the commentary in Pakistan's traditionally pro-military media. The explosion of the media — traditional and new media, social networks such as Facebook and Twitter — also means that it is difficult for the Army to control the narrative to justify coups. On Wednesday, “Pakistan Prime Minister” was trending on Twitter, and was by itself a cause of much pride amongst Pakistani tweeters. The Court's confrontation has added the pressure on the PPP government. Some Pakistani analysts are of the view that Prime Minister Gilani's aggressive stand with the military, practically provoking it to carry out a coup, may be a ploy to “go down as shaheed ”, martyred by the military — the PPP takes pride in its troubled history with the Pakistan Army — instead of being hauled into court to answer corruption charges.But the stand-off cannot continue indefinitely, and it is clear that one or more actors will have to quit the stage in order to end the uncertainty, or at least this phase of it. Pakistani analysts are not ruling out that it could be Generals Kayani and Pasha. A more likely scenario is that the Army, though reluctant to carry out an outright coup, might not be as averse to effecting a change of government, which means the present dispensation gets replaced with another political formation, or perhaps a fresh election is called a year before it is due in 2013.

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