Advancing a Free Society

Balance of Power Within Pakistan is Changing

Friday, September 30, 2011

Pakistani politicians are outraged at Admiral Mullen’s assertion that their country’s intelligence service and military are complicit in attacks the Haqqani have undertaken in Afghanistan.  Yesterday Pakistan’s political and military leaders gathered at Prime Minister Gilani’s house to denounce as baseless Admiral Mullen’s allegations and to give the Pakistani military their full support.

But amidst this loud nationalist backlash are important signals the Pakistani military is losing its stature within the country, and that would be a good thing for Pakistan and a good thing for the United States.

During the Islamabad meeting yesterday, the head of the political opposition, Nawaz Sharif, questioned Generay Kayani’s story, saying “there must be something that the whole world is pointing its fingers towards us.”   Sharif was forced from power in 1999 by a military coup.

Pakistan’s military has controlled the country for more than half its existence; an elected government returned to power only in 2008.  The Pakistani military accretes to itself a domestic role, much as Latin American militaries did before the democratic renaissance, as guardians of the state.  The elected leadership lacks the power to dictate its will to the military, even often to know what the military is doing.

Increasing terrorism within Pakistan has been the real cause for declining trust in the Pakistani military.  Thirty thousand Pakistanis have been killed or wounded by domestic attacks in the last few years -- attacks by groups the Pakistani intelligence service seems to support.  Admiral Mullen’s accusations are getting such attention in Pakistan in part because the Pakistani military has to defend itself against complicity in the violence Pakistanis are suffering.

Our raid into Abbottabad to kill Osama bin Laden precipitated tough questioning of the military about both bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan and their inability to know we were operating with impunity deep inside their country.  It was the first time the military’s competence was called into question.  A subsequent attack on a naval base had indications of an inside job.  Mullen’s comments will further stoke concerns about the Pakistani military (their intelligence service is part of the military) is complicit in violence within Pakistan.

Pakistan is not well governed: its political parties are corrupt, its civilian institutions are weak.  But every time Pakistanis get the opportunity to vote -- even in the tribal regions -- they vote for the political mainstream, not for extremists.  By contrast, the Pakistani military is deeply involved with and supportive of the very forces threatening our interests and their society.  The ballot is the means to moderate Pakistani politics; the military is not.