The Pakistan army's vaulting mission to remain the most powerful actor in Pakistani politics has received irreparable setbacks in the last few years. This is due to the onset of several new factors in the country's body politic determining the direction of political change in the future. It is also a poor reflection of the ability and willingness of the army's leadership to understand the far-reaching nature of this change and adapt to it seamlessly. Pakistan's future as a viable nation-state now depends on how the generals read the writing on the wall and how quickly they come to terms with it.
The recent failures of the Pak army have downgraded its stock with Pakistanis. (1) The army's policy of nurturing anti-Americanism in Pakistan for leveraging its strategic relationship with the US has backfired and left it stranded in no-man's land. It can't let go of the US privately for purposes of economic rent and military aid extraction but it can't embrace it publicly because of the rampant "ghairat" brigade of extremist Islamic nationalists that it has brainwashed and brandished.
(2) The army's policy of nurturing the Afghan Taliban in private while appeasing the Pakistan Taliban in public has also failed. The Afghan Taliban are now negotiating directly with America while the Pakistan Taliban are bent on waging an "existential" war against the Pak army and civil society.
(3) The army's relationship with the government, opposition, and media is at an all-time low. The government has meekly folded before the army on every issue; but it deeply resents the army's arrogant, intrusive and relentlessly anti-government propaganda and behaviour. The media is also resentful about its manipulation by the ISI viz drone policy, the Raymond Davis affair and Memogate. Question marks abound over its incompetence or complicity in the OBL affair, especially following recent revelations by former DG-ISI Ziauddin Butt that General Pervez Musharraf "hid" Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad. The murder of journalist Saleem Shahzad, followed by threats to independent journalists, is laid at the ISI's door. The ease with which terrorists have breached military security, as in the attacks on GHQ, ISI offices, military messes, Mehran Naval Base, and army officers etc also rankle. Finally, the media is now speaking up and asking disturbing questions about the role of MI and related non-state actors in the disappearances and torture of Baloch activists. Consequently, the media is loath to blindly follow the army's "line" on any issue any more. The PMLN opposition, meanwhile, has gone the whole hog, openly demanding that the intrusion of the military in politics must be curtailed and the army's overweening power cut to size.
If its ratings are falling, the army's ability to manipulate politics for dubious ends is also diminishing. In the old days, the army chief was the most powerful member of the ruling troika by virtue of an alliance with the president. Now the president's role has changed and there are two new and powerful contenders in the equation. The judiciary under Chief justice Iftikhar Chaudry has unprecedentedly pushed the military on the defensive for being unaccountable (the Mehrangate affair of 1990, disappearances and murder of Baloch and Taliban extremists in captivity). And the electronic media is reaching tens of millions of Pakistanis and courageously raising their consciousness. Neither will countenance any direct or indirect military intervention in politics.
Recently, General Asfaq Kayani made a bid to salvage some wounded pride. He disputed the size of the defense budget and denied involvement in quelling unrest in Balochistan. But there are few takers for his version. Defense expenditures are in fact closer to 25% than 18% if pensions and salaries and supplementary handouts are considered. And the fact remains that the Rangers and Frontier Corps who are in charge of "law and order" in Balochistan are directly commanded by army officers who report to GHQ even though they are formally under the interior ministry. No less questionable is the military's insistence on hogging key civilian positions in government and bureaucracy.
Many of the army high command's current troubles flow from its aggressive overreach and miscalculation. In the old days, setbacks and losses could be propagated as victories and gains, and coup-making generals billed as national saviours because information was not easily or freely available. But that can't be done now. Confronted by a tsunami of young people demanding "change", government, opposition, media and judiciary all want to appear "anti-establishment" because the establishment is another name for the status quo. The international environment is also anti-military hegemony in the third world following the Arab Spring.
The Pakistan military's 64 year old "national security state paradigm" has collapsed with devastating consequences for Pakistan. It is time it retreated to barracks for good and let the civilians cobble an alternative "social security state paradigm" for stability and prosperity. If it doesn't do that, a terrible alternative is staring us in the face.