On March 7, 2007, the Carnegie Endowment hosted a talk “Changing Orientations of the Military and problems of governance in Pakistan” by Prof. Hasan-Askari Rizvi from the School of Advanced International Studies at The John Hopkins University. Frederic Grare, Visiting Scholar at the Carnegie Endowment, moderated the event.

Prof. Rizvi argued that the military- the most formidable force in Pakistan- sees itself as critical for security and stability in Pakistan. The military’s role has expanded, in both the societal and economic realms, more under President Musharraf than any other ruler. As a result, very little space exists for autonomous political activity and political actors have gained credence only through cooptation by the army.

He further asserted that the army did not have an exit strategy, and was instead focusing on unifying the central command to cement its hold on power. Musharraf derives his political clout from the army— the Office of Army Chief therefore becomes crucial for him. By ensuring that the political and corporate needs of the core commanders are looked after, Musharraf has made the cost of defection very high for them.

The extraordinary control exerted by the army over autonomous political actors has grown over time. Ever since Independence, the Pakistani military continued to gain prominence due to the presence of external threat (India) as well as the threat of internal collapse. In 1958, the first coup was staged by the military, and since then, the army has continued to indulge in political and constitutional engineering. Traditionally, the army had avoided linking with the Islamic parties, but under Zia-ul-Haq, the army assumed the role of the guardian of territorial and ideological frontiers.

Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment was impressed by the effectiveness of the Afghan strategy against the Soviets- using various groups to advance the state’s agenda. Kashmir became the logical arena for them to experiment this strategy for themselves. Prof. Rizvi maintained that General Musharraf inherited this infrastructure, and ‘jehad’ remained a key strategy.  After 9/11, Pakistan abandoned the Taliban at the highest level, but not the ‘jehad’ strategy. The debate in Pakistan after 2001 revolved around three key questions: 1) is ‘jehad’ an instrument or a goal in itself;  2) has the use of jehadi groups outlived its utility, or should new circumstances be taken into account; or 3) should the strategy be suspended for now, but the option be kept open for the future. This debate, Prof. Rizvi claimed, has not been settled yet.

Describing Musharraf’s counter-terrorism strategy, Prof. Rizvi said that the state did exert itself but could not evolve ways of developing an enduring solution primarily because this policy was not rooted in a social consensus. Musharraf is afraid of strengthening the political parties by using them to mobilize support for his counter-terrorism policy, Prof. Rizvi argued.

Prof. Rizvi warned that the recent alienation of the MMA has caused the confrontation between the government and religious groups to increase, and this problem could snowball in the future. He lamented that there is enough political space for Islamic discourse but not for liberal political discourse.

Pointing out that the lower and middle levels of the government and the military do not necessarily see Pakistan’s counter-terrorism policy as being in Pakistan’s, Prof. Rizvi claimed that at these levels, Islamic discourse is dominant. Therefore, Musharraf’s policy has been to keep the public demobilized to keep his regime secure. Various counter-terrorism policies are drafted but there is very limited implementation. This keeps everyone satisfied, as the government is perceived to be acting against terrorism without alienating the terrorist groups and their sympathizers.

Prof. Rizvi also drew attention to the numerous domestic threats that Pakistan is currently facing. Besides suicide bombings, the Pakistani government is facing the Baloch insurgency, which is showing an increasing ability to affect Pakistan. There are also other law and order problems. Prof. Rizvi concluded that the government is not in a position to do more than what it is doing. This trend of periodic action against Pakistani Taliban leaders will continue. However, since this is election year, the government is unlikely to do anything will prevent Musharraf from staying in power.

During the subsequent discussion, Prof. Rizvi suggested two ways to strengthen the representative character of Pakistan’s polity: expand the political space for liberal discourse, and continue to have elections over a long period of time to establish a truly democratic culture. Talking about external influences in Pakistan, he pointed out that besides the United States, some Middle Eastern states including Libya, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, have supported groups in Pakistan, in addition to private Arab sources and Pakistanis living abroad.

He claimed that the conflict with India had hurt the democratization process in Pakistan; if India-Pakistan relations improve, hawkish nationalism would decline as well. He pointed out that the Pakistani army is concerned by Indian activism in Afghanistan since Karzai came into power, and continue to view the Taliban as an anti-India force. Prof. Rizvi described the extent of the army’s involvement in commercial and economic matters. This, in turn, implied that any government policy affected the interests of the army, thus raising the stakes for the army to maintain control over the policy-making process.

He conceded that the army is seen as a reliable provider of stability. Besides, its pro-West orientation and its history as a reliable ally during the Cold War make the army an attractive partner vis-à-vis a weak and divided civilian elite. In addition to benefiting from the public’s lack of confidence in civilian leaders, Musharraf has pursued a shrewd strategy of co-optation of political opponents, tolerance of criticism, and economic development. However, Prof. Rizvi maintained that the political elite had the potential to provide an alternative to the army, provided the perennial restrictions on their activities were removed. Finally, Prof. Rizvi argued that the transition from Musharraf to the next leader is likely to be smooth. The top army command, he believed, would abide by the constitutional procedures and a new President would be elected within 60 days.

This report was prepared by Anirudh Suri, Junior Fellow in the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment.