Kayani’s Independence Day Address: Signs of Introspection?
General Kayani’s annual Independence Day address to Pakistan Military Academy cadets at Kakul (14 August 2012) was remarkable in more ways than one. It reminded in painstaking monotone of Jinnah’s objective to create Pakistan ‘not only as a geographical entity’ but as ‘an ideal Islamic welfare state’, where ‘minorities would be guaranteed security of life, property and religious freedom’. Ironically enough, Kayani stressed ‘this later part’ as ‘the unfinished agenda of 1947’, a phrase usually used by Pakistani leadership in recent years only in the context of Kashmir.
While reiterating that ‘Pakistan was created in the name of Islam’ and ‘no one could separate Islam from Pakistan’, Kayani cautioned against ‘religious bigotry, disharmony and discord’ permeating ‘our lives’. Today ‘extremism and terrorism present a grave challenge’. Qualifying that this may not have been a ‘menace of our own making’, he added, ‘only Allah can and will decide who is a lesser or better Muslim.’ Any ‘person who believes his opinion to be the final verdict is an extremist. It becomes blatant extremism when one not only insists upon finality of personal opinion, but tries to impose it on others, through use of the gun’. Kayani pointed out that Islam ‘did not allow anyone to claim to be a know-all, and flirt with divinity’. Postulating this to be ‘the correct definition of extremism and terrorism’, Kayani went on to suggest that ‘the war against it is our own war, and a just war too’. Any misgivings in this regard could divide Pakistanis internally, when the need of the hour was to be united against this threat.
Kayani acknowledged the difficulty about the Army fighting its own people but he stressed, ‘no State can afford a parallel system of governance and militias’. Peace would have to be sought in accordance with principles of Islam but pragmatically, within the Constitution and ‘owned by the society at large’. He paid homage to the ‘Shaheeds, Ghazis and families’ of the armed forces making sacrifices in the war against terror but added that these sacrifices would ‘be meaningful if the civil administration is able to administer the affected areas without the Army’s assistance.’ This would take some time and need appropriate laws against terrorism to be passed but these were ‘our own issues’ which would have to be resolved. ‘No outsider can, or will do it for us’.
Kayani’s remarks come in the aftermath of new Director General, Inter Services Intelligence, Lt Gen Zaheer ul Islam’s recent visit to meet his CIA counterparts in USA which was intended to restore the turbulent and deteriorated security relationship on a more even keel. This was followed by a visit to Islamabad of US Centcom General James Mattis and a statement by US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta that the Pakistani Army may be finally taking up a military operation in North Waziristan. However, Kayani has been careful to respond to domestic concerns first, especially of the Islamic rightist elements, by qualifying that the timing and content of any such operation would be designed to suit Pakistan’s own national interests, not those of the US Army or ISAF.
There has been talk of ‘coordinated action’ as different from ‘joint operations’. In effect, this may mean Pak Army action against select Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP) factions like those of Hakimullah Mehsud, Maulana Fazlullah and Maulvi Faqir Mohd, now believed to attacking Pakistani security forces and installations, rather than a blanket operation against the Haqqani network.
Meanwhile, drone operations by US forces continue in North Waziristan. Despite their professed opposition to these and the claim of seeking this technology from the Americans in the recent talks between ISI and CIA, as long as these drone attacks are carried out against specific militant targets, lead to or are based on limited intelligence-sharing and avoid extensive civilian casualties, the Pakistani Army may not be averse to reluctantly stomaching their ire.
The refreshing candour of Kayani’s address notwithstanding, it may be premature to conclude that mere recognition of the grave internal existential threats facing the country would be enough to signal any quick change in the Army’s age old doctrine of projecting India as the ‘eternal enemy no 1’ or of giving up use of the asymmetric option of non-state actors selectively against India any time soon. However, if the shift in military thinking enunciated in Kayani’s Kakul speech converts to concerted action against even select terrorist groups hostile to the Pakistani establishment, its ripple effects would be gradually discernible on Islamic fundamentalist groups operating elsewhere in mainland Punjab and on Pakistani civil society as a whole. This would need to be closely monitored and assessed by Pakistan analysts here in the days to come.