On Monday, Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani visited Siachen Glacier, the world’s highest battlefield. It was his second publicized visit to the line of control since assuming leadership of Pakistan’s army.
KAYANI: A “NATIONAL CONSENSUS” ON KASHMIR
Both visits occurred after controversial statements from President Asif Ali Zardari regarding the Kashmir conflict. On both occasions, Gen. Kayani asserted the existence of a “national consensus” in Pakistan on Kashmir.
The national consensus on Kashmir Gen. Kayani refers to can be seen as a euphemism for the military-intelligence establishment’s viewpoint. But this also converges with a broad spectrum of public opinion in Pakistan.
There is strong public support in Pakistan for a just resolution to the 61 year conflict over the disputed region. Pakistanis share historic, cultural, and blood linkages with the people of Kashmir, particularly with those in the currently restive valley.
Strategically, water, road, and trade linkages with Kashmir are essential to Pakistan’s future. Their importance will increase radically in the coming decades when climate change and resource scarcity are expected to hit South Asia hard. Kashmir is the source of all of the region’s major waterways.
In recent years, Pakistanis have demonstrated their ability to be pragmatic and flexible regarding the Kashmir dispute. But their concessions were not reciprocated by the Indians, who never fail to miss an opportunity to resolve the conflict.
India has had the luxury to defer final status discussions — only until recently. Kashmir has gained little traction as an international issue. But this is of little concern to the Muslim Kashmiris. In their massive rallies — protesters number in the hundreds of thousands — they have made their voice clear. They have asked for azaadi or freedom. While some protesters have called for independence, others have called for a union with Pakistan. Regardless, their desire to be free of India is clear. Meanwhile, the rise of Hindu chauvinism in India has moved India’s center to the right and pushed Indians further away from compromise with Muslim Kashmiris. Last month, a leading right wing Times of India columnist called for the permanent settling of Indian troops in Kashmir, tilting the demographic balance. Conversely, many leading Indian commentators have called for letting the Kashmir valley go. This is the cost of taking Musharraf for granted.
THE LIMITS OF COMPROMISE
That, combined with what is seen as the strategic encirclement of Pakistan, has made Pakistanis realize that former President Pervez Musharraf made one concession too many in respect to core security issues. His compromises, in the eyes of the Pakistani public, have yielded little of permanent value. Whatever benefits they produced are quickly vanishing after his departure.
Neither the Pakistani public nor its security establishment will accept compromise on Kashmir in a context of weakness. Gen. Kayani has spoken of “peace through strength.”
TARGETING ISI WILL BACKFIRE ON ZARDARI
In this context, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher’s calls for the “reform” of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence will hit a brick wall. The civilian government is, in effect, being thrown at this wall, i.e. the army, and will bear the direct consequences of such action. This is something Zardari must consider out of both self and national interest.
Moreover, the idea of reform presupposes the existence of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in this realm. Intelligence agencies by nature operate in an amoral universe. They are tasked with doing the government’s dirty work clandestinely and non-conventionally. Their sole task is to serve the national interest, unconstrained not by conventional bounds but simply by capability and risk. Criticizing one agency on moral grounds makes little sense — they all play the same game by the same (lack of) rules. There is not a conflict of morals, but of interests. These can only be dealt with by clandestine competition or dialogue and compromise at a conventional level. The latter is the more prudent path.
The first target of ISI “reform” would seemingly be the organization’s director general, Lt. Gen. Nadeem Taj. Indeed, some in Washington are pressing for civilian control of the ISI. This is a recipe for disaster. Zardari’s earlier attempt to bring the ISI under civilian control failed. After another attempt, he’ll find himself sitting out on the pavement outside of the presidential palace. Zardari lacks the legitimacy and power with which to assert himself over the military. While the Pakistani public supports the cessation of the ISI’s political role, there is no support for tying the organization’s hands in other matters. If pressed by Zardari, Gen. Kayani would be forced to enter the political realm, against his will, because of civilian excess. Zardari should be wiser and focus on his self-proclaimed mandate of roti (bread), kapra (clothing), and makan (a home).
And so, Gen. Kayani is delineating the parameters of acceptable discourse on Kashmir, and at a broader level, Pakistan’s national security issues. Gen. Kayani has given the civilians free reign over non-security matters. He has, however, drawn a line in the sand. The civilians cannot pass the line of control into his own domain. Given Zardari’s consolidation of power and the absence of checks and balances upon him, a foolish press against the military would compel that institution to intervene, making his presidency the shortest in Pakistan’s history.
FYI: Zardari’s visit to Britain — described in the Pakistani press as a “summoning” — resulted in the indefinite postponement of his scheduled visit to China, which is seen as Pakistan’s staunchest ally. Pakistani rightists and even those in the center believe that Zardari’s closest advisors are trying to push Pakistan away from China. Interestingly, Gen. Kayani will embark on a 5-day visit of China next week. The smoking man speaks.