Thursday, November 15, 2007

Forecast for Pakistan: Declining American Patience with a Chance of Reign by Kayani

With commendable restraint, the New York Times piece on a possible post- Musharraf future didn’t get around to hyping Ashfaq Parvez Kayani until the fourteenth paragraph.

It’s difficult for me to determine whether the dump-Musharraf sentiments in the article issue from the agitated bowels of the Bush administration, or if it’s mainly aggressive spinmeistering by the pro-Bhutto crowd constellated around Zalmay Khalizdad.

But, if pushed, I’d vote for spinmeistering.

Let’s look.

Several senior administration officials said that with each day that passed, more administration officials were coming around to the belief that General Musharraf’s days in power were numbered and that the United States should begin considering contingency plans, including reaching out to Pakistan’s generals.

More than a dozen officials in Washington and Islamabad from a number of countries spoke on condition of anonymity because of the fragility of Pakistan’s current political situation. The doubts that American officials voiced about whether General Musharraf could survive were more pointed than any public statements by the administration, and signaled declining American patience in advance of Mr. Negroponte’s trip.

The “declining American patience” line is one of my favorites.

Whenever we engineer some cock-up in the Middle East and things go wrong, our hapless proxy caught on the local cleft stick trying to implement our flawed policy is slagged for exhausting our patience.

There are no bad policies, you see, just bad clients...

Of course, as I wrote yesterday, Musharraf was armtwisted by the United States into accepting the Bhutto powersharing arrangement that has turned into a total disaster.

I would suggest that the reason it didn’t work has a lot more to do with Bhutto’s vaunting ambition than it does with Musharraf’s undeniably unenthusiastic implementation of America’s grand plan.

But Bhutto has skillfully played the democracy card and she looks untouchable, at least as far as criticism from Washington is concerned.

That leaves Musharraf as the scapegoat for democratization gone awry.

I tend to think Musharraf is doing OK internally with the state of emergency, and so his opponents are counter-attacking in the foreign press, using the international bully pulpit to convince the army that Musharraf has lost the confidence of the Bush administration and they should start making other plans.

Then they go back to the Bush administration and say, The generals are ready to break with Musharraf, and try to get the U.S.government to officially lower the boom on him.

The old whipsaw.

And, to frame the argument in Washington, the article helpfully establishes a rather arbitrary red line that should determine that Mush Must Go:

One red line the military would probably not be prepared to cross would be if it were called on to maintain internal security anywhere beyond the areas of the insurgency. If widespread political protests were to emerge, the army could be called out to enforce law and order.

While no large-scale protests have emerged since the emergency was declared, the apparent collapse over the last week of American-backed talks to create a power-sharing deal between Ms. Bhutto and General Musharraf could lead to more street confrontations, diplomats said.

My personal feeling is that making statements like these is like sending Benazir Bhutto off to fight a fire with a bucket of gasoline.

We’ll see if she takes this as invitation to try to foment street disturbances large and violent enough to bring the army out.

The Pakistan endgame apparently involves Kayani, whom Bhutto has known since he served as deputy military minister in her previous administration in the 1990s—and has been assiduously cultivating and praising since he served as Musharraf’s aide at the Abu Dhabi power sharing talks between Musharraf and Bhutto this summer.

Let’s meet Mr. Kayani.

From the New York Times:

Pakistan’s cadre of elite generals, called the corps commanders, have long been kingmakers inside the country. At the top of that cadre is Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, General Musharraf’s designated successor as army chief. General Kayani is a moderate, pro-American infantry commander who is widely seen as commanding respect within the army and, within Western circles, as a potential alternative to General Musharraf.

General Kayani and other military leaders are widely believed to be eager to pull the army out of politics and focus its attention purely on securing the country.

Just to toss in my personal observation about “securing the country”: I think one thing the army doesn’t want to do is be forced to conduct even more aggessive counter-insurgency operations in the northwest as the price of U.S. aid and political support.

My personal theory is that America’s continued insistence on fighting this unpopular, dangerous, and destabilizing war is the biggest hindrance to the army just giving up on Musharraf and making some deal with Washington.

Interestingly, Kayani’s designation as army chief of staff was one of the signs that Musharraf was doggedly proceeding with the power-sharing arrangements.

From India Express:

Islamabad, October 2: Pakistani president pervez musharraf made moves on Tuesday to smooth his re-election by appointing former ISI chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani to succeed him as the Army Chief, while his government dropped graft charges against possible ally Benazir Bhutto. Kayani’s appointment as the army chief is the clearest indication yet that Musharraf will follow through with his promise to the Supreme Court and give up his uniform when he is re-elected as President.

And, even more interestingly, he’s the only top military guy with whom Bhutto can claim any kind of positive relationship.

Tracy Rubin, a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, wrote in article titled--what else?--U.S. needs to back Plan B in Pakistan:

Musharraf's designated successor as military commander if he leaves the army is Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, a man widely admired within the Pakistani military and by members of Pakistani civil society. Kayani is said to be a "soldier's soldier" who wants the army out of politics.

U.S. and Pakistani military officials have told the media that Kayani supports a stronger military effort against Islamic extremists. Equally important, his background indicates he would be ready to work with an elected civilian leader like Bhutto, who is favored to win free and fair elections.

Bhutto has publicly pledged to fight hard against the Islamists. But some critics argue the army would never cooperate with her. However, a Pakistani source close to Bhutto told me: "Kayani is the only general with whom Bhutto has good relations.... He was her deputy military secretary during her first term as prime minister." [emph. added]

I think we can see the outline of America’s deal with Musharraf. He gets the presidency, Bhutto becomes prime minister, and the army goes to Kayani, who seems willing to play ball with Bhutto and the United States and, hopefully, get even more confrontational with Taleban and al-Qaeda forces.

So Bhutto gets her graft charges dropped, the law banning her third term is overturned, and she's able to return to Pakistan and operate freely within the country--an opportunity she's taking the fullest advantage of.

Musharraf designates Kayani, his natural successor, as military strongman, gets ready to assume the presidency, but wait! gets left high and dry because the Supreme Court isn’t ready to certify Musharraf as President.

Musharraf opts for the quick fix: a state of emergency and a packed Supreme Court ready to declare him president.

Then Bhutto says Musharraf has to give up the presidency, and the Bush administration looks more interested in being seen supporting Pakistani democracy than Musharraf.

In other words, Musharraf went through with the deal...only to learn that the deal might end up not involving him.

Funny about that.

And now the Bhutto strategy relies--both for its basic viability and, more importantly, for its credibility with the United States—on securing support of the army through Kayani, even though he just saw his boss getting screwed.

You can almost hear Bhutto’s group fuming, Just mount the fricking coup, for goodness sakes.

Wonder how much longer before we hear about “America’s declining patience” with Kayani for declining to resolve Pakistan’s political crisis with another coup?

1 comment:

Atif Ashrafi said...

wonderfully written and very insightful