The Creeping Cold War between the Presidency and GHQ
By Shaheen Sehbai
Whatever spins the Presidency and the PPP media managers may put on their super duper follies or political misadventures and miscalculations, they cannot hide the fact that relations between the Presidency and the GHQ are at best cold and indifferent and at worst bitter and confrontational.
This cold war is seemingly escalating and the strongest defender of the president, PPP’s Fauzia Wahab, has almost spilled the beans by bursting out on TV channels that the Army was not following the policies of the political leadership and the ISI chief canceled his visit to the UK on his own, without consulting the political government leadership.
“There are differences and such differences are common everywhere. Even in America this happens,” she said without mincing words. “We have to go on even if differences are there. Each (institution) has its own perception and has its own point of view. What do you want the president to do, follow what the ISI was saying?” she asked.
While Fauzia Wahab invariably represents the thinking of the Presidency as she speaks for the party and not the government, other spokespersons, including Minister Kaira, often deny what she says, further confirming that the house of PPP was not in order and confusion had engulfed the two big power houses on the Hill, the PM House and the Presidency, like a smog.
On top of this not-so-concealed friction have come calls by the ANP and others, coalition partners of the PPP, that Karachi should be handed over to the Army, an obvious and direct confession that the political government and the parties have failed and the ultimate responsibility has again to be given to the armed forces, just 30 months after the elections took that responsibility away after an 11-year run, beginning with the October 12 coup.
Fauzia Wahab went two steps ahead and blamed the Army not just for insubordination but bypassing the democratic leadership and process just when Interior Minister Rehman Malik was announcing that the Army could be called in Karachi once again to restore peace and some order. She even raised objections to and mentioned the statement issued by the GHQ on the Kerry-Lugar Bill.
All this is happening amid a slow-burning and whispered campaign that President Zardari was not on board and happy with the three-year extension given to General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in such a hush-hush and mysterious manner in which the prime minister had to rush his announcement, though he claimed that Mr Zardari had been consulted.
As an obvious part of this campaign, it is now being whispered that Mr Zardari was bent upon taking his revenge from the people who ignored his wishes and gave General Kayani an unexpected and unprecedented three-year legal and constitutional second tenure.
The president’s Le Monde statement that everybody, including Pakistan (he did not exclude Pakistan), was losing the war with Taliban, was almost in direct conflict with the claims of the Army chief that Pakistan Army had scored numerous successes. The Army chief is right but why did Mr Zardari also include Pakistan in his sweeping statement is a big question mark.
The Army reaction to this creeping tension has been cool and calculated. At the 131st Corps Commanders meeting on Thursday, the commanders issued a statement in which the focus was to help the flood victims, with each soldier donating one day salary and tons of food supplies. On the ground, even before the political governments issued any directions, the Army high command had moved its troops and machinery to help the flood victims, anticipating that ultimately the governments will ask for their help, though it may be a delayed request. Helicopters were flying all over the swamped land.
But the GHQ statement after Thursday’s meeting also sent a subtle response to the widespread media and political outcry against President Zardari that he was enjoying visits to foreign capitals at the taxpayers’ expense when he was needed back home at times of extreme distress and tragedy.
This new confrontation, now confirmed by the PPP, adds another disturbing factor to the already messed up national scene and why has Mr Zardari and PPP decided to get into such a confrontation at this time is a million-dollar question. But what can be said easily is that Mr Zardari has either grown extremely overconfident and brash in his political thinking or he has lost the capacity to read the writings on the wall.
When millions are drowning in flash floods and when Karachi is burning in a bloodbath and when terrorists are roaming around with abandon, he has decided not only to insult the nation by his abrasiveness and arrogance, he has picked up a fight with the Army as well.
This fight with the GHQ may turn out to be the proverbial last straw. He is no longer in a position to take the nation with him against the Army and it appears he is deliberately inviting the Army to a battle which he will obviously lose but which he thinks he will win by becoming a political martyr.
This thinking is warped and this is no time to get into such mindless pursuits. But he has decided to take the plunge. He has to remember that judgments of all the cases pending are yet to come and to be implemented, ultimately by the Army if the worse comes to the worst. But Fauzia Wahab says Zardari will win this war. Pray that she is right. (Courtesy The News)