ISLAMABAD: A lack of progress on the National Action Plan (NAP) to counter terrorism in the wake of the Army Public School massacre was just one of many reasons behind the civil-military tensions that boiled over last week.
In background conversations with Dawn, military officials and civilian leaders offered their own interpretations for the reasons behind a public spat between the government and the army.
Sources say that there have been a number of recent developments that have strained the ever-sensitive balance of power between the two institutions.
After the corps commanders’ meeting on Nov 10, the military leadership expressed its dissatisfaction with the government’s performance on NAP. This prompted an uncharacteristic response from the PM Office the following day, which emphasised that effective implementation of NAP was the shared responsibility of all national institutions working within the ambit of the constitution.
A senior government functionary close to the PML-N leadership told Dawn that the prime minister had never been very comfortable with the army chief’s trips to international capitals. He was particularly unhappy, the functionary said, with Gen Raheel Sharif’s visits to Saudi Arabia in the first week of November, and now the US.
As far as Saudi Arabia is concerned, the thinking within government circles is that the army chief must focus on other countries because the Sharif brothers already have a direct relationship with the Saudi royal family. In the case of the US, the PM had just completed his own sojourn to Washington, where he had held detailed deliberations with the White House, the official said.
“In any another country, a visit abroad by the army chief doesn’t attract much attention, but things are different in Pakistan. With the GHQ’s omnipresence in the formulation of foreign and defence policies, one may well wonder what is the background of the army chief’s current visit to the US if both sides (military and civilian) are on the same page,” remarked a ruling party lawmaker.
However, Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid insisted there was nothing unusual about the army chief’s trips, nor were there any tensions between civilian and military leaders.
“Pakistan is playing an important role in the war on terror and with America’s direct involvement in Afghanistan, heads of security institutions are required to have regular meetings,” he said.
Mr Rashid said the government was doing its best to meet various challenges and that all national institutions were playing their due role in this regard.
This was a marked change in tone from the language of the official press release issued on Nov 11 — ostensibly on the minister’s orders — which made it a point to remind all concerned that NAP implementation was a shared national responsibility.
But a senior security official told Dawn that there was more to the tensions between the two institutions than just NAP and the slow progress on that front.
The military leadership, he said, was unhappy with the way the government had handled the MQM issue. Following the Rangers-led operation in Karachi, during which a number of MQM leaders were arrested, the party had publicly denounced GHQ. However, the federal government chose to sit on the fence, something that did not go down well with the army.
“In response to the MQM outcry, the government constituted a grievance redressal committee. As a result, the party is back in parliament despite making a big fuss and resigning from both federal and provincial legislatures over alleged excesses against its workers by law-enforcement agencies,” he said.
The federal government, explained the security official, was seen as taking the MQM’s side in this case, which did not go unnoticed among the relevant quarters.
In addition, the government’s selective anti-corruption campaign has also ruffled feathers. For example, the official said, the much-publicised matter of supermodel Ayan Ali was a case in point. Despite over two dozen hearings, nothing concrete has happened so far. “The ludicrously slow pace clearly suggests that the government is protecting someone behind the scenes,” he said.
This is but one example and there are many joint investigation teams (JIT), which the ISPR referred to in its Nov 10 statement, that have yet to complete their tasks. These include JITs on very high-profile cases, such as the Karachi airport attack, the Lahore church attack in Youhannabad and the assassination of former Punjab home minister retired Col Shuja Khanzada.
The military official also said that there was a perception within the security establishment that the federal government had gone soft on the PPP leadership in corruption cases and failed to take action against corrupt elements in Punjab. “The military leadership is particularly unhappy over Punjab government’s lacklustre campaign against banned militant organisations operating inside the province.”
When asked, a senior PML-N office-bearer told Dawn that the government was in tight corner. “Imran Khan continues to challenge the government, making it difficult for the PML-N to open fronts against the MQM or the PPP at this time,” he concluded.
Published in Dawn, November 16th, 2015