The game is up

The joint session of parliament on May 13 was nothing short of a historic turning point in civil-military relations. The in-camera briefings given by the military top brass to the parliamentarians in order to explain what happened in the Abbottabad raid is a new precedent. Before this incident, it would have been unimaginable to think that the ISI chief could ever answer scathing questions from the politicians for many hours. In the face of trenchant criticism for their obliviousness to Osama bin Laden’s presence near a military academy, our armed forces finally decided to brief the parliamentarians. Only time will tell whether the decision to do this was a tactical retreat by the military or reflects a real mind change. One thing is clear though: the ‘game’ is up. Pakistan’s military cannot afford to play its usual double game anymore because the world’s, and particularly the US’s, patience has finally run out. Despite their denials and having confessed to incompetence and an intelligence failure, disbelief lingers that Osama was living in a compound near Kakul and yet no one in the army or the ISI was aware of his whereabouts.

US Senator John Kerry, who is considered a friend of Pakistan, made it clear during his visit to Afghanistan that the US will “consider all its options” if Taliban leader Mullah Omar is found to be present on Pakistani soil. “We obviously want a Pakistan that is prepared to respect the interests of Afghanistan, and to be a real ally in our efforts to combat terrorism,” said Senator Kerry ahead of his visit to Pakistan. Even though the Obama administration has so far maintained that Washington wants to keep working with Islamabad, there is strong resentment in the US at being manipulated by Pakistan since 9/11. “People who were prepared to listen to [Pakistan’s] story for a long time are no longer prepared to listen,” said a senior US official according to a report published in The Washington Post. This certainly points to tough times ahead for Pakistan. Many analysts had been warning the military of the repercussions of its dual policies and how the shelf life of such tactics had ended long ago but clearly no one in GHQ paid any heed to these warnings. Unless the military aligns its new policy with Pakistan’s, the region’s and the world’s best interests, there is no guarantee that our territorial integrity would not be violated again. It seems that the mindset of our military is set in stone but the only way to change is if all civilian political forces come together and stand up to their monopoly on policies critical to the survival and progress of Pakistan.

On Saturday, Mian Nawaz Sharif demanded that our intelligence agencies “should work within their constitutional ambit” instead of “subverting the constitution, toppling governments, running parallel administrations and strengthening one political party at the cost of others”. The PML-N chief opined that it was about time the foreign policy should be formulated by the civilian democratic government and demanded that the army and intelligence agencies’ budgets should be presented in the National Assembly. There is merit in Mr Sharif’s demands. The PPP and its coalition partners should avail this historic opportunity of tilting the balance of power in favour of civilians. The PPP should not make the same mistake as their leader, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who wasted a golden chance to trim the military’s power back in 1971. Civilian supremacy will not only set our future in the right direction but will help improve Pak-US relations as well. The military’s game is over bar the shouting; our politicians must take charge now.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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