Politics of the General’s Extension
By Shaheen Sehbai
The three-year extension to General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani as army chief is a watershed event not just for the continuing war on terror within and outside Pakistan but for the political cauldron in the country as well.
The manner in which the announcement was made by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani reflected a sense of extreme urgency as well as a sense of achievement as if the PM was telling the nation that he had won a major war and victory had to be declared on national TV in prime time.
The government must be feeling a sense of relief calculating that in the last two years General Kayani has kept the army away from politics, as much as he could, had not interfered even when there was a lot of noise against corruption, highhandedness and defiance to the superior judiciary and had ‘tolerated’ the shortcomings or inadequacies of the elected government, deliberately looking away in the national interest.
So the argument in the presidency and the PM house must have been that changing such a person with a new general may amount to taking an unnecessary risk of shuffling the deck when things were pretty well settled and every institution had carved a groove of its own to continue supporting the democratic order, of whatever distorted shape it may be.
The presidency was also aware quite well that when things had reached a crisis level, General Kayani had quietly played his role and persuaded or compelled the players to see reason and shun arrogance of power. The restoration of the judges on March 16, Kerry Lugar fiasco, major verdicts of the Supreme Court and many such incidents can be cited. It would be insulting the intelligence of everyone if this role is denied.
So General Kayani was being seen in the corridors of PPP as a stabilizing factor who would not rock the boat unless someone was absolutely bent upon hitting his head against the rock. A continuation of the status quo would thus be the best thing for a government otherwise facing many impending threats in shape of upcoming court judgments, the snowballing fake degrees crisis besides the monumental issues of economic meltdown, inflation, crumbling credibility and corruption.
This could be the picture seen from the lens of the PPP power structures. The other view from outside the big palaces would be a little different.
As for PML-N Quaid Mian Nawaz Sharif, it is to be seen how he reconciles his principled stance to the new reality; given his experience,he has opposed army’s intervention in politics and service extensions. He has stuck to his position and played his politics keeping a distance from the GHQ lest it should creep into politics. And he was branded as a friendly opposition.
Raiwind now has to review its entire political strategy if the Mian brothers want to remain in the run to come back to power in the center. After all the three-year extension has confirmed that General Kayani will be the man who will be incharge when the next general elections are held, not any mid-term but polls after completion of the term of the present parliament in 2013.
It is known in informed circles of the PPP that the presidency was tinkering with the idea of replacing General Kayani with another officer who may have been considered as a favorite. Names of generals who had been meeting the president were also in circulation.
As if timed with the extension, the idea of reviving the post of Vice Chief of Army Staff has been floated almost simultaneously in what may be good or bad news for the Army. If General Kayani has asked for a VCOAS, it may mean something different but if the new post has been revived to keep a check on the COAS it could have different connotations.
Yet the urgency and the timing of the announcement means that at least one major issue which was clouding the national scene has been removed.
Whether the leniency hitherto shown by the Army Chief towards so many other burning issues, like the defiance of the government to judicial verdicts, open and blatant protection and encouragement to corrupt and immoral politicking, a massive run on state-owned corporate bodies by cronies of the top leaders, deliberate and debilitating running down of badly needed institutions like the National Accountability Bureau, the Higher Education Commission was calculated and well considered is open to debate but General Kayaniís own future must have played a key role in making that determination.
Whether the tolerance level towards these major issues of governance and bankruptcy of a small section of the political class will now change is also to be seen. But what is certain that if there was even a faint hint of going slow, given to the judges or the bureaucrats, by the military establishment, it will no longer be there.
What this could mean is that the courts may now get the confidence to judge things on merit and the executive branches responsible for implementing these judgments stand firmly and in a timely manner behind the courts. (Courtesy The News)