Pakistan, the Army and the Conflict Within

Pervez_HoodbhoyPervez Hoodbhoy and Zia Mian in MERIP:

Pakistan’s generals are besieged on all sides. Like never before, they are at odds with their own rank and file. According to the New York Times, the discontent with the top brass is so great as to evoke concerns of a colonels’ coup. The army also is losing support from its domestic political allies and subject to the increasing hostility of the Pakistani public. The generals are even at risk of being dumped by their oldest and most generous supporter, the United States.

Pakistani army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani and other military leaders know it is wise to stop digging when in a hole. But it is not clear if the generals can stop. On July 5, the New York Times reported that US officials hold senior officers of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the military intelligence agency, responsible for the kidnapping, torture and murder of Pakistani journalist Saleem Shahzhad. Shahzhad was well known for his reporting on the military’s ties with militant Islamist groups.

The immediate cause of this crisis was the successful US operation to discover Osama bin Laden’s hiding place in Pakistan, stealthily enter the country and kill him. But, in reality, the generals have been brought to these dire straits by army policies, particularly those enacted over the past three decades, which have left the army, and Pakistan, deeply divided. Keeping the army and the country together is part of the same challenge.