Trouble is brewing again in Pakistan. The latest unrest began when Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani sacked his defense secretary, who is a close ally of the powerful army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. The move represents another low point in relations between the civilian government and the military establishment in Pakistan, and prompted an angry statement from the army, which denounced the prime minister’s actions:
“There can be no allegation more serious than what the honourable prime minister has levelled,” the statement said.
What did Gilani say that was so serious? He accused the Pakistan Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence of being “a state within a state.”
Ominously, Kayani convened an “emergency” meeting of the country’s military top brass on Thursday to deliberate the latest development, and the Pakistani media has been abuzz with talk of an imminent military takeover that would end the rule of President Zardari’s coalition government.
The Pakistan People’s Party coalition came to power after a decade of military rule by Gen. Pervez Musharraf. And the intrigue surrounding Musharraf has itself continued, with the former president vowing to return to Pakistan by the end of January, despite the threat of arrest once he lands.
India’s policy makers will surely be keeping a close eye on the political turbulence within their troubled neighbour, and they will be asking themselves several questions about Pakistan’s ruling elite.
For a start, they will be wondering if Gilani is completely aware of the ramifications of taking on arguably the most powerful institution within Pakistan. If the answer is yes, his continuing as prime minister would surely have been impossible from his “state within a state” remarks (however fair this characterisation might be).
This, in turn, begs the question of whether Gilani has the backing of the entire civilian government, and whether it is supporting him in a turf war against the military establishment. After all, if Pakistan’s military is unhappy with the civilian leadership, why hasn’t it intervened as it has in the past?
And this leads to arguably the central question: has the Pakistani military calculated that it is unable (or unwilling) to take over a country besieged by internal problems? Put bluntly, is the Army engaging in anything more than posturing?