Options for Kayani
If there is a fire next door, the neighbours are bound to get worried. The latest terrorist attack, on a major naval station near Karachi, may have been frustrated by the government forces but the crisis in Pakistan is much more serious than the events of the last two days portray. It should worry India, other countries in the region, the United States and other world powers.
Untackled, it can engulf the subcontinent, the US and other countries who would not know how to handle Pakistan erupting.
Pakistan is sitting on an explosive mix of jihadism, terrorism of varied hues and a militarist hubris born of the nuclear weapons it has piled up during the last few years.
India can legitimately tell Pakistan that the present situation is the outcome of past mistakes, like excessive reliance on the military for building a nation state and using terrorist groups as an aid to policy towards India in the east and Afghanistan in its northwest. It will, however, be politically incorrect for Indians to indulge in a “we-told-you-so” attitude, even if India has been victim of terrorism exported by Pakistan.
The US has been unpopular in Pakistan for some years now. The killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, just a few miles from Islamabad, earlier this month has seen the Pakistan Army lose face with the people. The attack on the Karachi naval base, which is actually a joint establishment of the Pakistan Army, Air Force and Navy, has sharply brought out how the Pakistani military establishment has failed to tackle threats from terrorist groups which can attack even a highly protected base.
The civil authorities at the federal headquarters or in the provinces are too weak to protect Pakistan from terrorist groups. This was evident when Pakistan’s Parliament failed even to condemn the killing of Punjab governor Salman Taseer by his guard for criticising the blasphemy laws forced upon Pakistan by the jihadi groups. Even Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani did not condemn the jihadi groups for endorsing Taseer’s murder.
More important is the fear that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons can be captured by jihadi groups who can then blackmail the world, pushing it towards a bigger conflagration.
A serious possibility can also be visualised of the breaking up of Pakistan as a nation.
The scenario of a Pakistan broken into pieces can be more grim for India and the world than Pakistan as one country has been, even if it has been a problem nation for India and the rest of the world. India has no solution for Pakistan’s problems, endemic or otherwise; nevertheless, gloating over its troubles, as some people are prone to, is not warranted. What is needed is cool reflection and working out different policy options to tackle contingencies.
It is not only India that should worry about the present situation acquiring critical mass. The US, Europe, Russia and nations in Pakistan’s neighbourhood would need to get into consultations at different levels to take a view of the developing situation.
Even the Chinese, who have sought to restore Pakistan’s shattered morale after what happened at Abbottabad, would need to ponder the possibility of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons falling into the hands of jihadi groups and also about Pakistan splintering into small states.
In Pakistan itself a large number of people are deeply worried these days about the present and the future of their country. Among the Pakistan Army top brass also there could be a few generals who would know the dangers that have arisen for the state of Pakistan partly because of the dalliance between the Army and the jihadi groups which it used for several years for foreign policy purposes as well as for keeping a check on the rise of democratic forces.
On the other hand, there could also be elements in the Pakistan Army who were recruited by Zia-ul Haq to inject Islamist ideology into the Pakistan Army. Some of these officers may have been weeded out, but there could be others who would have by now become senior officers working in concert with jihadi groups. Gen. Kayani would know who these officers are and how a mutually-accommodative relationship with the jihadi groups has brought Pakistan to this pass.
Gen. Kayani certainly cannot be comfortable with the image of the Army in his own country and in the rest of the world after Abbottabad.
He has had also to see the ignominy of his Inter-Services Intelligence chief appear before Parliament and explain why the Army could not detect the US helicopters attacking Osama’s house in Abbottabad. Men in uniform in Pakistan are not used to appearing before civilians who are always the object of sneers in Army messes.
The Karachi attack has been another blow. Hence his need to take steps to retrieve the lost image. How he goes about it remains to be seen.
Theoretically, there are many options.
He can be funny with the Americans on the Afghanistan border, or indulge in adventurism on the eastern border with India. Both these are risky propositions, and hence, unlikely propositions.
He could also stage a coup, send civilians back home and grab absolute power under the plea that only the Army can save Pakistan. The best option for him, however, is to cut the terrorists’ umbilical cord and strike at the jihadi groups in Pakistan. This way, perhaps, he can save Pakistan from descending into chaos.
Whether he chooses this course or follows still another remains to be seen.
H.K. Dua is a senior journalist and currently an MP