The general will take questions

Kayani is under pressure from the ranks,and so he will drive tougher bargains with the US. But it is very unlikely that there will be a change in command

These are interesting times for the Pakistan military’s top brass,which seems to have been over-burdened by various accusations from within and outside the organisation. Besides the accusation of being incompetent in protecting itself — as was borne out by the PNS Mehran terrorist attack — the military is being accused of harshly manhandling people. The death of a young man in Karachi at the hands of paramilitary forces,and several videos of people being tortured by men in uniform add to internal resentment.

This is indeed an unprecedented moment in the history of post-1971 Pakistan. However,today fingers are being pointed at the military,and the military believes this is the handiwork of those conspiring against the country’s national integrity. The armed forces’ public relations agency,the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) is generally extremely resentful of such stories,including the latest New York Times report that the current army chief,

General Ashfaq Kayani,is facing a lot of internal resentment due to his decision to support of the US. The same story even mentions the possibility of a “colonels’ coup” since,it is believed,the junior officer cadre is unhappy with the current political conditions in the country,especially the manner in which the US continues to attack Pakistan with its drones,or the way in which it conducted the operation to capture and kill Osama bin Laden. Apparently,junior officers questioned General Kayani about his connection with the Abbotabad operation.

In a hierarchical,British-style bureaucratic organisation like the Pakistan military,the chief is considered to be an extremely powerful man. It is at his table that the buck stops as far as the entire armed forces of Pakistan are concerned. So questioning the army chief is a rarity. However,it is also a fact that there is a growing perception regarding the divide between the senior echelons and the junior cadres. Reportedly,the latter are far more ideologically conservative and nationalist in their thinking,while the former are influenced by the needs of realpolitik. Therefore,the understanding within the diplomatic community in Pakistan for a long time has been that junior officers think differently from senior officers. This was a perception that the diplomatic community was willing to live with as long as it did not really interfere with the war on terror.

However,there is now increasing talk of junior officers becoming resentful of the battles they have to fight on behalf of the US. This gives,to some,the impression that there is an increasing likelihood of some crisis in the organisation.

Thus far,no one knows exactly the extent of the ideological penetration of jihadis in the military. It seems that those who were responsible for journalist Saleem Shehzad’s assassination were unhappy with his report on al-Qaeda’s penetration of the military. There is a possibility that this resentment from the bottom is now reaching the top of the organisation,and senior officers are now becoming increasingly worried about their ability to control such resentment — and thus the officer corps — if they do not put their foot down as far as toeing the American line is concerned.

There is also a possibility that ideological resentment will be compounded with the frustration felt by part of the senior officer cadre pertaining to General Kayani’s decision to get a three-year extension of his service,as well as a one-year extension for his favourite,the director-general of the ISI,Lt General Shuja Pasha. The army chief’s extension deprives almost 24 lieutenant-generals from the possibility of making it to the top.

Indubitably,General Kayani will come under mounting pressure from outside and inside his organisation. As mentioned earlier,civil society is increasingly critical of the army. Nevertheless,the possibility of a colonels’ coup is distant. The current army chief has tried to expand the distribution of benefits to the lower cadres of the armed forces. And let us not forget the several layers of intelligence which work as much inside the armed forces as outside,intended to keep the ranks under control.

But what is most certain is that the top brass have to be cognizant of popular sentiment within the military,which is growing increasingly anti-American. It should not be forgotten that Pakistan’s armed forces have been fed over four decades of anti-US propaganda. Under the circumstances,General Kayani will have to become a tough bargainer as far as Washington is concerned. He is certainly under greater pressure to emerge as a winner and a man who could salvage national pride — as defined,that is,by the Pakistan military.

Note: This article originally published here.

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