Pakistan’s military has had a bad couple of months. Unless it rethinks its priorities, expect tactical gains to lead to strategic disaster.
For the Pakistani military and Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, it has been a spring of discontent.
In March, Kayani and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha became the focus of criticism from hardliners inside and outside the military for their decision to release CIA contractor Raymond Davis after he killed two Pakistanis in Lahore.
Things got even worse at the beginning of May, when a US Navy Seals raid showed that Osama bin Laden was living in Abbottabad, deep within the Pakistani heartland. Both inside Pakistan and overseas, the Pakistani military was seen as either complicit – through the hiding of bin Laden, or in the raid that killed him – or incompetent, for failing to realize he was there in the first place. Calls grew for the two to step down.
In the middle of last month, the trial of Tahawwur Rana, a Pakistani-Canadian accused of involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, began in Chicago. In the court of international public opinion, the ISI was effectively Rana’s co-defendant.
A week later, it was the military that was back in the spotlight, when terrorists waged a sophisticated assault on a Pakistani naval base in Karachi, destroying two US-supplied naval reconnaissance planes.
Finally, at the end of May, Syed Saleem Shahzad, a Pakistani reporter who wrote on the jihadist infiltration of the Pakistani Navy, was killed. Some have alleged it was the ISI’s work.
This series of developments has marked a dramatic reversal of fortune for an army chief who had previously earned praise since taking office in 2007 for managing the army’s strategic withdrawal from politics, managing to strengthen ties with both the United States and anti-American Pakistani nationalists, and restoring public respect for an institution that had seen its name sullied by his predecessor, Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
Last October, Kayani led the Pakistani delegation at strategic dialogue talks in Washington, where he met with US President Barack Obama. Indeed, his star had risen so high that even some Indian commentators were promoting the idea of opening up a direct channel with the Pakistani military.
How things have changed.
Photo Credit: Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff