The extension granted to Pakistan’s Army Chief General Pervez Ashraf Kayani did not surprise many observers. General Kayani has been the chief for the past three years and head of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) from 2004 to 2007. Army Chief’s in Pakistan seldom retire and many as, Yahya Khan, Zia-ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf simply extended their own tenures when they were in power.
In the case of Kayani, it is believed that once the Corps Commanders recommended extension of three years to their Chief the political hierarchy of President Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Gillani had to rubber stamp their approval. Many also believe that Americans have some role to play, the photograph of the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton in a one to one released by the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) around the same time was perhaps timed to generate such a buzz. What ever it be, India will have to live with General Kayani working the wheels of Pakistan’s strategic engagement in the region and evolve options to face the challenge.
Kayani’s main ventures are likely to be threefold, securing political and security space in Afghanistan, continuing, “bleeding by thousand cuts,” strategy against India and ensure, “military has a state,” paradigm internally in Pakistan by continued subservience of the civilian establishment. In that sense, Kayani is a “known unknown” to borrow Rumsfield’s phrase.
By the General’s flawed logic, “strategic depth,” in Afghanistan implies keeping India out in all respects, political, economic, development and of course the military. The tool being used is Taliban Quetta Shura and Haqqani grouping. The offer of reconciliation proposed during the London and Kabul Conference will be used to establish key leaders of this dubious grouping in the power structure in Kabul to ensure the government is amenable to dictates from the GHQ and ISI in Rawalpindi. Lack of domestic support in the West to the war in Afghanistan is playing into the General’s hands as he sees for a speedy exit, reconciliation and not neutralisation of fundamentalist and extremist elements is likely to be the favoured option. Continuing violence focusing on casualties to Western troops and semblance of counter militancy actions in the tribal areas in Pakistan remains the two main cards being played, the well weathered, “running with the hounds and hunting with the hares,” strategy of the ISI.
Against India, Kayani will continue to fan the dying embers of militancy in Jammu and Kashmir while retaining non state actors like the Lashkar –e-Taiyyaba (LeT) which has spawned indigenous cohorts in the form Indian Mujahideen to carry out terror strikes at strategically opportune moments with greater firewalling to ensure deniability while continuing with the diplomatic façade of peace parleys on terms and conditions laid out by Rawalpindi.
Domestically General Kayani will ensure that Mr Zardari, Mian Nawaz Sharif et.al are deferential to the army’s core interests. Political power in 2013 will remain the carrot to ensure that they stay in line without having to use “rough” means of the past. The militancy in tribal areas will be, “managed,” as before using air and artillery and declaring large number of kills each day knowing fully well that these figures will never be questioned.
Under the circumstances India has a number of options to outmatch the wily General and the ISI, headed by Shuja Pasha, who again is on a year’s extension and may get another one to match that of Kayani.
In Afghanistan India has to pursue the declaratory policy as determined by its primary interests of regional stability and prosperity of the Afghan people. The current strategy of institutional capacity building, infrastructure development and people to people contact has the approval of the international community. Continuing with the same indicating clear red lines to the Pakistanis should deter misadventures of the past. To support the Afghan security establishment after NATO forces leave in what ever time frame, 2014 or beyond, a UN led peace keeping mission should be actively sponsored to avoid a security vacuum. India could even declare that it would not form part of the same keeping in view Pakistan’s sensitivities. Getting the regional stakeholders like Iran, Russia and even China may provide rich dividends for this purpose.
In the Indo-Pakistan discourse, red lines which have been already defined will have to be restated and new windows of covert intransigence in Kashmir will have to be flagged for closure. While dialogue remains in mutual interest it cannot be on terms predetermined by the Pakistani establishment.
Shoring up internal security remains a work in progress, this has to graduate from planning to implementation stage with accountability to avoid another Mumbai, for Kayani is a hard core ISI veteran and is not likely to give up this option.
India’s engagement with Pakistan will be limited by lack of sufficient negotiating space with the civilian government. The change in mood from 2008 when President Zardari offered to send the ISI chief to raising legal hurdles for action against perpetrators of Mumbai is more than evident. India will have to do all it can to shore up the civilian leadership well understanding their constraints and work for long term restructuring of the country’s structure of governance.
The first step towards this will be to reduce current flexibility in promotion and retirement of Major Generals and Lieutenant Generals by establishing well defined parameters and clear irrevocable and transparent guidelines to ensure commitment to professionalism which can gradually lead up to controls over tenures of Army Chiefs. Pakistan will be well served if it follows the general maxim of three years optimal tenure for any appointment in the Armed Forces, for beyond that hubris sets in and it is ultimately this hubris which has been the undoing of its previous Army Chiefs from Ayub to Musharraf. Will Kayani goes the same way remains to be seen; hopefully he will not cause as much pain to the people of the region and Pakistan as did his predecessors.
Brig Rahul Bhonsle (Retd) is an independent defence analyst based in New Delhi
(The views expressed in the article are that of the author and do not represent the views of the editorial committee or the centre for land warfare studies)