PPP and the Pakistan army
Daily Times editorial, January 15, 2008
President Pervez Musharraf’s view, expressed to an American magazine, that the late PPP chairperson, Benazir Bhutto, “was very unpopular with the military”, clears the issues surrounding his policy drift in the last eight years and foreshadows what might transpire in the coming months. He began his career as the ruler of Pakistan by stigmatising both the mainstream parties, then plumping for the breakaway PML, in line with his military indoctrination against the PPP. The army’s dislike of Ms Bhutto dated from her 1988-1990 government when she was reluctantly allowed to rule under “conditions”, but was doubly disliked when she failed to walk in step with the military adventurers of Pakistan .
The army’s hatred of Ms Bhutto was once hatred of the PPP as a legacy of its populist founder, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was the first truly elected leader of Pakistan after the 1970 elections. Mr Bhutto’s handling of the post-1971 military structure brought out the animus of its upper echelons, but the anti-PPP orientation became really entrenched in the entire body of the army during the era of General Ziaul Haq who hanged Bhutto, then changed the ideological identity of the state to keep the PPP out of power. What was purely a self-protecting reaction to Mr Bhutto’s interventionist approach gradually became an ideological animosity. Ms Bhutto was treated roughly by General Zia after her father’s hanging because he feared a “ revanchist -dynastic” backlash.
The PML was Gen Zia’s gift to the politics of Pakistan . He bequeathed to it what he had bequeathed to the Pakistan army too: Islam, superimposed on the old India-driven nationalism. Ms Bhutto soon began to be called a “security risk” after she took over the government in 1988. The PPP now began to be judged by the army and the broad rightwing Urdu press on the yardstick of Pakistan ’s revisionist stance towards India . The army top brass and the rank and file now had a catechism on which to judge one another. Officers suspected of being pro-PPP walked under a shadow and were not promoted.
The PPP was allowed to rule in 1988 by army chief Mirza Aslam Beg only after she had accepted the army’s “preconditions”, which included non-interference in the following spheres: India and Afghan policy and the nuclear policy. She was ousted because she was seen as not adhering to the “preconditions”, and ISI officers were caught red-handed trying to topple her through a rigged vote of no confidence in the National Assembly. Her interior minister, Mr Aitzaz Ahsan, was accused in the anti-PPP Urdu press of betraying the Khalistani secrets to New Delhi .
Then there is the relationship between the Pakistan army and the US . Every time the Pakistan military cohabits with the United States , it breeds an intense anti-US sentiment among its officers. Under SEATO and CENTO, a whole generation of officers grew up hating the US for not “helping” during the 1965 war. The same sort of thing happened when General Zia got the army to cohabit with the US to defeat the Soviet Union in Afghanistan . The army bred Generals Aslam Beg and Hameed Gul as a result of this period of perverse cross- fertilisation , prized for their contribution to the army’s anti-US pathology. Therefore the PPP was condemned as the “liberal” party which was accused of not being faithful to the country’s ideology.
In 2001, the army’s chief did something that its torso was unprepared to accept overnight. General Pervez Musharraf went with the American global response to Al Qaeda because he thought there was no other reasonable course to take in the national interest, but he knew fully that this course would make him unpopular with an army that still responded to the anti-American maunderings of Aslam Beg and Hameed Gul. That is why he had to get rid of Gen Mahmood Ahmed, the then DG-ISI, because he was not fully on board. However, one concession that General Musharraf made to the army at this point was to pander to its enduring anti-PPP legacy, which could very well have been also a result of his own personal development as a successful officer. From condemning both the mainstream parties, he settled down to rule in conjunction with the PML after excluding from it Mr Nawaz Sharif with whom he had a personal score to settle.
That General Musharraf was a half-formed man with some tactical skill was the only way one could look at him after 2001, but as time passed he also developed some strategic skill unknown in the Pakistan army. He negated the military shibboleth of overtly hating India and secretly hating the US , and projected a vision of a “liberal” Pakistan serving as a “trade corridor” for India and the rest of the world. As he distanced himself from the army’s entrenched position, he appeared to move closer to the worldview of the PPP as led by Ms Bhutto, arousing misgivings and fears in the breast of his PMLQ partner in power. This was the period of ambivalence. It cost him more than he may have realised. His policies failed because of lack of political support. Caliban -like, he drove on till an accumulating mountain of failures overtook him in 2007.
Now General (Retd) Musharraf seems to be returning to the military’s traditional anti-US stance. But this won’t even get it brownie points with the anti-US middle classes of Pakistan . Today the Pakistan army is viewed by them as an “interfering” army, and he has become the symbol of this “subversion of democracy”. The PPP stands to make big gains in the coming elections, as a parting gift from Ms Bhutto. And he is suspected of doing what the Ziaist crop of generals did in the past: derailing the political process to keep the PPP out.