Civilian cover

In any given crisis-like situation involving interaction with foreign governments, the only certainty is that this is how the Pakistani opposition will react:

In other words, barring perhaps the NAP and its supportive reaction to the Taskhkent declaration every Pakistani opposition party in history uses a crisis in foreign affairs to act like a maximalist lunatic in order to extract the maximum domestic political advantage at the expense of the party in power. In many cases, of course, this is also true of ambitious elements within the government itself, especially when the government is weak, such as Bhutto during and after Taskhent and Shah Mehmood Qureshi in the current situation.

More interesting, to me, is the army’s ability to act like a sort of permanent opposition – at least when it’s not in power. So, in the current situation we have Ahmed Shuja Pasha cancelling his trip to the UK. By the way, has anyone considered that this cancellation is a very effective pressuring tactic, the message being that if we, Pakistan, don’t cooperate with your homegrown terrorism problem, then you are in deep trouble? Anyone who naively makes the argument that as a “beggar” country Pakistan has no leverage over the UK is being extremely stupid. Pakistan, by virtue of being the terror training hub for most of the UK’s homegrown terrorists has far more leverage over the UK than the UK has over Pakistan. In fact, that’s the argument made by Anatol Lieven in one of his articles about the nature of UK’s relationship management with Pakistan in the future. This fact has been reflected by the UK’s Afghan policy so far, and Cameron’s remarks are being given a befitting response by the Pakistani establishment in order to drive the point home to him early in his career so he doesn’t make this mistake again. As in its relationship with the US, the Pakistani establishment is selling security. The difference is that Pakistan has the ability to negatively impact domestic security within the UK which gives it far more leverage.

So as we can see, the military has the privilege, by virtue of the cover offered by Pakistan’s nominally civilian government, of acting like a party in the opposition in terms of how far it can go in being undiplomatic in its response to a foreign affairs crisis. We saw this same dynamic playing out after Mumbai and during the whole Indo-Pak dialogue. In fact taking things a step further, one might even argue that in terms of foreign relations, this current situation is really the sweet spot for the military. As opposed to a situation like post-2001 in which Musharraf was really in the limelight and could be openly pressured by Armitage, etc, in the current situation the army can pretty much do what it wants and will always have the cover of foreign countries being unwilling to upset the applecart overmuch for fear of strengthening the military’s hand and enabling a takeover of the civilian government.

In other words, we can see that the civilian government gives the military the cover to act like a permanent, maximalist opposition. As a society, Pakistan is quite cruel in its treatment of its politicians, but perhaps this is the most cynical use of them of all!


4 responses to “Civilian cover

  1. Shahid

    Was their visit publicized before this? No.
    Under normal circumstances, the cancellation (or delay) would be no news but since the military wants the public to say ISI-has-balls-Zardari-is-corrupt, it is necessary to make a lot of brouhaha over this and this has jumped to the frontpages of all newspapers.

    Canceling a state visit is a big decision since the message it sends is quite significant. The decision will be solely that of the Foreign Office and the guys at the Europe Division. The President will have little input into this decision.

    But the military being the media-whore it is, cannot let go of any chance to allow people to do the ceremonial chest-thumping and raise ghairat slogans.

    Pasha will visit the UK next week after making his publicity stunt.

  2. Shahid

    Take a look at Dawn’s coverage of the event. Dawn has stuck to the military line on this and uses the he-does-not-have-balls-and-is-a-lacky argument in a indirect way without even touching on the pragmatism that must go on in such events.

    Dawn is the best newspaper and certainly has the best news channel but time and again it’s pro-establishment agenda irks me.

  3. takhalus

    The establishment likes to one up the do’t salute Vaypayee in Lahore..but we’ll see him in Agra once we’re in power!

  4. Rabia

    it’s not just media manipulation, Shahid. sadly, the army reflects the public opinion on this issue much more so than zardari does.

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