July 5, 2014

MOVING BEYOND NRO: An Appraisal of Kayani’s Strategic Calculus


PM Gilani was sacrificed by Zardari for his tussle with Gen Kayani. Ch Iftikhar did the trick

What Major General (R) Athar Abbas the ex DG ISPR disclosed in his interview to BBC and subsequently is no sensational disclosure. Over many years, similar opinions emerged in military gossip called langar gup. Pakistani analysts and academicians who seldom made waves on vitriolic media were accurate in opinions. Those who worked with him in planning always feared that he would never outgrow his mind-set. I was amongst few who repeatedly wrote on the subject. In many articles since 2008, I had hinted at the quagmire that was sucking Pakistan.

Though the advent of democracy as best revenge was welcome, democratic conventions and traditions were far from a point of reciprocal trust. COAS as the guarantor of National Reconciliation Ordinance was expected to wield the baton and yet prove he was not over bearing. Here lay the inherent contradictions that were exploited in tandem by Pentagon, State Department and CIA. Mutual suspicions, vulnerabilities in civilian capacity and an overarching presence of US and Saudi influence impacted decision making. The man who craftily manoeuvred himself within this juxtapose was the COAS.

Narratives spun out of yarns by the media and political parties damaged and impeded national reconciliation. Perceptions thus created led people to ignore the dire threats of militancy. Judicial interference paralysed state institutions. Judicial/media interference in accountability made it a cry in wilderness. Corruption increased manifold. Judicial procedures to deal with militancy were non-existent. 1,100 terrorists were released by courts. It took PTI 7 stubborn years to realise that they were backing a wrong Chief Justice. It was always unrealistic to expect the army to mop up operations in North Waziristan and leave the backlash in cities for another day.

In this perspective many officers and men questioned judgements and intentions of General Kayani. They were side lined, superseded, retired or court martialled. Despite accurate assessments and analysis since 2002, why General Kayani allowed this to pass intrigues many minds? A well-meaning critic went to the extent of calling him an actor within a ‘collisional intrigue’, an obvious hint on his extension, domestic political situation and the impact of American and Saudi pressures through NRO. It can be argued that at some stage he became a part of the mess. My latest comment similar to what General Athar said was made on 26 April 2006: –

“Since 2008, many incidents threatened to derail both the democratic process and civil-military cooperation. The memo scandal was built on the argument of civilian supremacy. Incidents like Salala, Raymond Davis and Abbotabad failed to undermine the indispensability of the armed forces to combat and defeat terrorism. Pakistan Army was capable of mopping up Waziristan after Swat. DGISI was in favour of a quick and effective operation. The COAS ruled it out in fear of a backlash in urban areas. From a strategic point of view, this inaction from 2010 to 2013 provided respite to militants and their sympathisers in political parties. The military allowed sub conventional threats to grow. Had it concentrated on operations and not checkmating President Zardari, Pakistan’s political landscape would have been different. Extensions were non-productive.”
Nation: The War Indoors, 26 April 2014

But my arguments are not based on the fortes or foibles of a general. They are rather premised on a fruitless context of Civil-Military debate rife with circumspection that weighed heavily on counter terrorism. For instance, the civilian establishment is still reluctant to formulate an effective counter terrorism policy with legal loop holes plugged. Hawks in civilian establishment see any such reinforcement as strengthening the role of military in civil affairs. Yet the fact that counter terrorism operations in urban centres with civilian led operations can neither be ignored nor postponed is never emphasised. Considering the reluctance in civil preparedness, the viability and cost of such operations always weighed heavily on military planners. In the context of such multi-dimensional threats I had suggested the establishment of a permanent civilian led National Strategic Command Centre (NSCC) to act as the nerve centre that evaluates all forms of threat ranging from physical to psychological warfare.

NRO 1 (and 2) is complemented by a fierce debate on civilian supremacy through formal and informal forums. Though the intention of such studies under PILDAT was noble, discussions were fraught with inability of the civilian participants to comprehend military sociology or suggest viable civilian capacity building road map. Disgusted with media style military bashing that was oft the norm, I walked out of this forum. There was and remains mutual circumspection fraught with narrow outlooks. It is not a good sign.

In the overall context, the whole scenario indicated fault lines that would emerge in multi-dimensional threat kinetics to Pakistan at a heavy cost. Such scenarios had been analysed threadbare in GHQ since 2002. As event unfolded, it was actually a script déjà vu. In an environment heightened by the collisional intrigue leading to 2013 elections, militancy grew, casualties multiplied and civil institutions went into recluse. The COAS as guarantor of NRO sequel was preoccupied with events and king making. My series of articles criticised military planners and suggested measures to build civilian capacity. Events complicated his checkmating abilities to create a strategic limbo. He was unable to sell his logic and remained a bystander to the descent into lawlessness. Soon, a COAS known for his prowess in operation room and a mind-set warped in past, ran out of time.

Most of what was avoidable is now the inevitable. “A genre of post 1971 security officials is expected to contend and clear a backwash they did not create. A wider and intense spectrum of militancy is now visible. The army needs the nation at its back now more than never before” (Nation: The War Indoors, 26 April 2014). I hope it is not warped in the time zone of non-state proxies.

A few weeks from now, Waziristan would be rid of militants. Most would have melted to other places. Emboldened by swift gains of their comrades in ISIS, they would plan their next move in the heartland. Time is of essence. Who reaches first will decide the future of conflict resolution. The roadmap will be determined by the government in power, opposition on streets and military. The initiative and responsibility rests with the federal government. Pakistan runs the risk of passing through the worst times of instability in bloodshed and political dissent.

The government and the new COAS have taken the decision fatale sans civilian preparedness. How the government will deal with a backlash remains a question mark? But realities may change. The incumbent COAS is no guarantor of NRO. The Supreme Court has to grow out of the shadows of Chaudhary Iftikhar. Political parties will have to reset the template of social contract.

General Kayani remained Pakistan’s premier military strategist from 2002-2013, a very long time with 6 years at the helm. His strategic calculus at a heavy human and material attrition will in due course be tested. Only then a judgement will be credible.

Brigadier (Retired) Samson Simon Sharaf is a political economist and a television anchorperson. Email and twitter:


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