On Thursday, news sources printed statements by Army Chief of Staff (COAS), Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, who rejected any suggestions of any rift between the military and President Pervez Musharraf and insisted that the military will stay out of politics. According to Dawn, the military chief also affirmed his full support for the recently elected government and the democratic process. According to the news agency, “This was the most significant statement made by Gen Kayani since taking over the command of the army about the country’s political situation and army’s relationship with the future government and the head of the state, who is also ex-officio Supreme Commander of the armed forces.” The Daily Times also reported that Kayani emphasized that “any kind of schism, at any level, under the circumstances would not be in the larger interest of the nation.” He also expressed hope for a harmonious relationship among the various pillars of the state. On Friday, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) welcomed Kayani’s pledge but added that the value of that commitment “lies in how sincerely and effectively it is implemented.”
Kayani’s statements came as Musharraf prepares to convene the new session of parliament. On Friday, the president affirmed that he would support a coalition government that might seek his resignation, “so long as peace was maintained,” Reuters reported today. Aides have strongly denied that Musharraf plans to resign from his post, despite political pressures to do so. However, Kayani, by making his statement yesterday, affirmed this new shift in the military’s role in the country – that it will stay out of the political arena (at least for now), and does not wish to be dragged into “unnecessary controversy.”
What does this new shift essentially mean for the military’s role in Pakistan? Moreover, what are the potential ramifications for U.S.-Pakistan military ties? A significant piece released by the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday noted the subsequent uncertainty in defining the U.S. military presence in the country. According to the article, “…now Washington is worried the change of guard in Islamabad may curtail its efforts to act more aggressively against suspected terrorists. Pakistan’s recent election winners have said they want to pursue peace talks with militants (IHT). Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose party forms a part of the new parliamentary coalition, asked the United States to clearly define its war on terror (Dawn).” Robert Grenier, the former director of the CIA Counterterrorism Center, said that when it comes to military operations, a democratically elected government “will be more zealous in guarding Pakistani sovereignty, or being seen to be guarding Pakistani sovereignty.” The military, he added, will nevertheless “resist micromanagement from any government.” And here again we reach the crux of the problem – the constant battle for control and power between the military and the parliament. During democratic eras in Pakistan, it was rare that the two institutions acted in accordance with one another – instead we had situations like the Kargil crisis in 1999, when the army conducted operations separately and counter to the actions of the government. Currently, the Pakistani security forces are conducting a battle against the militants in the north, an operation we are seemingly divorced from. It will be interesting to see how different the agendas of the government and the army will be in handling the extremist issue in the country – will the two branches be able to reconcile their differences and approach the issue with a cohesive and unified agenda? Or will we run into the same cycle of issues all over again?