A Monthly Journal of the IDSA
Pakistans Fourth Military Takeover
By Bidanda M. Chengappa *
Pakistan is once again under the glare of the media owing to the dramatic change of government from democracy to military rule in October 1999. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif dismissed Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Pervez Musharraf who in turn retaliated by overthrowing the prime minister. General Musharaff then declared himself the chief executive of the country and suspended the Parliament. While the new chief executive did not declare martial law, he imposed emergency in the country instead.
Earlier, the US had cautioned Pakistan against the possibility of a military coup on account of differences between the political and military leaderships. The validity of these statements was not clear as the COAS had in response publicly stated that all was well between him and the prime minister. Prior to the sacking of the COAS, the prime minister was instrumental in the resignation of Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Fasih Bokhari.
This paper will attempt to examine the developments in the country prior to the coup besides analysing the nature of the conflictual relationship between the prime minister and the COAS. The Pakistan Army operation against the Indian troops in Kargil also appears to have further exacerbated the tension between the army and political leaderships. The paper focusses on the relationship between the military and democracy which comprises the core issue of the crisis of governance in the country.
It then deals with the politics of intelligence between the Inter- Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate and the Military Intelligence (MI) Directorate which was a prelude to the coup. While the ISI promoted the interests of the political leadership, the MI furthered the objectives of the military leadership which led to a clash of interests between these two agencies.
Pakistan returns to military rule after 11 years of democracy with the COAS General Pervez Musharaff taking over power from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on October 12 in a bloodless coup. The general took over the government after the prime minister had dismissed his services as COAS while he was away in Sri Lanka and appointed Lt General Khwaja Ziauddin Ahmed, the director general (DG) of the ISI Directorate in his place.
Significantly, Prime Minister Sharifs choice of Lt General Ziauddin as the new COAS had departed from tradition in a big way considering that no DG-ISI has ever become the army chief till now in Pakistan. For some reason, the DG-ISI invariably retires from service and on one occasion has held a gubernatorial postion. In the case of Lt General Ziauddin, he belonged to the Corps of Engineers and was not from the fighting arms or the mainstream like the infantry, armoured corps or artillery. To that extent, he was a technocrat and did not belong to the armys mainstream of general officers from among whom the future COAS is chosen.
Apparently, Sharifs immediate provocation for sacking Musharraff and precipitating the political crisis was the a clash of interests between the two leaders. The army chief, before his departure for Sri Lanka, to attend the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Sri Lankan Army, had made some moves which affected the interests of the prime minister. He forcibly retired Lt General Tariq Pervez, corps commander, Quetta, and transferred Lt General Saleem Haider, corps commander, Mangla, for leaking information about a recent corps commanders conference to the political leadership. Both these general officers were close to the PM, with Tariq Pervez being the younger brother of Federal Communications Minister Nadir Pervez. 1
Perhaps Nawaz Sharif, after successful attempts at meddling with the military leadership had developed the confidence to dismiss Pervez Musharaff. Earlier, he had managed the exit of the former COAS General Jehangir Karamat in October 1998, and later, of Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Fasih Bokhari recently, without any hiccups. 2 So Sharif had probably hoped that this time too, sacking General Musharaff would go off smoothly which, however, was not to be. Instead, the turn of events proved disastrous for the prime minister.
The genesis of the on-going political crisis can be traced to the resignation of Karamat in October 1998, which was the initial manifestation of tension between the army and political leaderships. The former COAS had spoken about the need for good governance at a public military function and in the process displeased the political leadership which resulted in his exit from service. The resignation created history as no Pakistan Army chief had ever done so in the past five decades.
The former COAS was also the chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC)_the apex military body in the country. The JCSO comprises the three military chiefs wherein the senior-most four-star general, air chief marshal or admiral among them by rotation becomes its chairman. The fact that the PM kept the position of CJCSC vacant for a full five months from November 1998 to March 1999 would indicate strains in the political-military relationship since then.
Perhaps Sharifs other act of commission when Karamat left service in October 1998, was to antagonise the army with the replacement of Lt General Nasim Rana, the DG-ISI, by a new officer, Lt General Ziauddin. The prime minister may have acted in order to make a complete break from the past and, worse still, appointed the ISI chief independently of the Rawalpindi-based General Headquarters. More importantly, this was reportedly done without active consultation with the new COAS, namely General Musharaff. 3
The Pakistan Army does not allow the political leadership to interfere in its workings and has over five decades professionalised its internal decision making but also increasingly insulated itself from involvement of the civilian authorities at both administrative and operational levels, even in spheres which could legitimately be regarded as the domain of civilian executive authority . 4 In the light of this, the problem that Sharif created for himself in the long-term by manipulating the appointment of Lt General Ziauddin became evident only a year later with Musharraf turning against him totally.
The DG-ISI as the eyes and ears of the government reports directly to the PM and, therefore, the two individuals tend to develop a close working relationship with each other. In a sense, the DG-ISI, apart from providing the government both external and internal intelligence inputs, also functions informally as a political adviser to the PM. The fact that Sharif appointed Ziauddin as DG-ISI implies that he probably did not trust General Musharaff completely.
According to one version, General Musharraf was unhappy about Sharifs appointment of Lt General Ziauddin as the DG -ISI without consulting him and decided to express his disappointment strongly. 5 To do so, he chose an appropriate occasion four months later, namely, the high profile visit of Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to Pakistan in February 1999. The army chief refused to be present during a ceremonial part of the visit and this created its own controversy in the media, owing to the prominence of his absence from the scene. This embarrassment supposedly angered PM Sharif and his father, whereby the decision to remove him gained further momentum.
Sharifs strained relationship with Musharaff becomes evident from the fact that the latter was reluctantly appointed the CJCSC only in April. Pakistani media reports suggested that there was a possibility that the CJCSC would be made the operational head of the nuclear command authority for Pakistan and the appointment would be upgraded from a three-star lt generals to that of a four-star full general on par with the COAS. 6 If this scheme was implemented, there was a possibility that the DG-ISI Lt General Ziauddin would be made the new COAS and General Musharaff appointed the CJCSC.
The Kargil Factor
Among various considerations for the deteriorating relationship between General Musharraf and Prime Minister Sharif, a major issue was the Pakistan Armys involvement in Kargil. The Pakistani preception of the Kargil affair is projected as a military victory but a diplomatic debacle for the country against India. In the eyes of the army, General Musharraf was credited with the military victory while the diplomatic disaster was attributed to Prime Minister Sharif .
Importantly, there was a difference of opinion between PM Sharif and General Musharraf over the military withdrawal from Kargil. While Musharraf stated that there would be no Pakistani pull-back, Sharif was simultaneously planning to rush to Washington and surrender unilaterally to India. A few months later, when a journalist queried the COAS about whether the military withdrawal from Kargil was aimed at sabotaging the military success, the bland reply was, I will not comment on it . 7 Evidently, this answer was Musharaffs attempt to parry the question in order to control the controversy which had surfaced earlier.
Also, the rift between the PM and the COAS in the context of Kargil has another controversial revelation which became public knowledge only after the coup. Pakistani journalists writing in the Indian print media publications have stated that the DG-ISI Lt General Ziauddin actually released tapes of the conversation between the COAS and the Chief of General Staff Lt General Aziz not to make any commitments on a military withdrawal from the heights and on the Kashmir issue. 8 Former COAS General (retd) Mirza Aslam Beg opines that the Sharif government thereafter wanted to dilute the humiliation of the Mujahideen and place the blame entirely on the army which only further strengthened the image of a rogue army. 9
The armys withdrawal from the Kargil operations appears to have had an impact on the morale of the soldiers. This is evident from the fact that General Musharraf visited various cantonments and army units in order to rationalise their course of action vis- a-vis the Indian armed forces. Perhaps the COAS may have also had a hidden agenda behind the extensive interaction with the rank and file of the army. Probably his relations with PM Sharif had, by then, already turned sour and he envisaged a potential stand-off with the political leadership some time in the future. In view of this, Musharaff may have been soliciting the support of his soldiers at that stage in order to have a full house back him in case of any eventuality.
The rationale behind the Pakistan Armys involvement in the Kargil operation has created considerable confusion amongst the intelligentsia in the country. A review of articles in the Pakistani Press about a post-mortem of the Kargil operation reflected a fair amount of disillusionment. 10 Several writers have questioned the strategic goals of embarking on such a military operation, considering the Lahore Declaration had just been signed, and whether it would have been better to allow the peace initiative to take its course. In sum, the underlying theme of these writings centred around the need to introduce transparency and accountability to figure out the why and the how of the entire Kargil episode so that the guilty could be punished for their acts of commission or ommission.
Obviously, General Musharrafs involvement in such a professional issue would be much deeper than Prime Minister Sharifs, given that the nuances of military special operations comprise a semi-technical subject that the uninitiated cannot grasp easily. The prime ministerial role would therefore, be limited to granting or refusing official sanction to the military operation. In the aftermath of the military defeat and the public debate generated thereafter by the media over accountability and transparency, the question which, therefore, arises is whether the PM had sought to implicate the COAS ? To what extent such a possibility could have been part of the reason for the tension between the army and political leaderships remains unclear. In August, Hussain Haqqani of the Pakistani Awami Ittehad accused the government of hatching a conspiracy aimed at causing a division among the armed forces leadership. Haqqani alleged that after suppressing the Opposition and the judiciary, the Nawaz government was trying to eliminate the national role of the armed forces. He said, Those who divided the judiciary are now attempting to repeat the same with the Army. 11
The JCSC comprises the three military chiefs wherein the senior-most four-star general, air chief marshal or admiral among them by rotation becomes its chairman. By this yardstick, Admiral Bokhari qualified for chairmanship of the JCSC and should have been conferred the appointment. Instead, the government in its wisdom chose Army Chief General Pervez Musharraf as the CJCSC for reasons not clearly spelt out. In the absence of an officially articulated rationale for breaking established norms to appoint a CJCSC, it is imperative to analyse the issue.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is the only political leader in Pakistan who has succeeded in making two military chiefs resign in a year. It only proves that the prime minister has emerged as a new power centre in the country. In the light of these developments the prime minister was clearly attempting to make the military subservient to his authority as he had with other institutions in the country, like the judiciary and the Press.
Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Fasih Bokharis resignation was the latest military controversy in Pakistan prior to the bigger event of the coup. The fact that the previous COAS General Jehangir Karamat too resigned abruptly from service in October 1998 should have signalled that the military leadership may not march in tune to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharifs beat. The navy chief s controversial resignation may not be a surprise given that the government had earlier denied him the rightful chairmanship of the JCSC-the apex military body in the country.
The governments decision to opt for the army chief over the navy chief as CJCSC brings out that the military leaders had their individual differences with each other. This becomes evident from General Musharaffs recent statement to Pakistani journalists that Admiral Bokhari could have resigned eight months ago. He was obviously referring to his own appointment as acting CJCSC in April, despite taking over as the army chief in October 1998 following General Karamats resignation. Prior to this, Karamat was the first army chief to concurrently be appointed CJCSC_which was an ad hoc appointment that the government had not made permanent. After Karamat demitted office, the position of CJCSC lay vacant for five long months from November 1998 to March 1999.
Military and Democracy
Clearly, the Pakistan Army of the 1990s is not the same power-hungry body of soldiers of the past and is now acting only as a mechanism to infuse political stability in the country. The army allowed democracy to prevail following the death of General Zia-ul Haq in August 1988. However, there is always a danger that if conditions for a return to democracy do not materialise soon enough, the generals and colonels might be inspired to make martial law last longer than neccessary.
To amplify further on this theme, it is necessary to make a distinction between two types of armies which assume a constitutional role. The first is the arbitrator type, and the second is the ruler type which takes over political power from an elected government. 12 While the arbitrator type intends to return to the barracks as soon as conditions for democracy mature, the ruler type is clear from the beginning that it will continue in power as long as possible. In this context, the Musharaff-led Pakistan Army, going by his statements in the media since the coup, would indicate that that the army is more in the category of an arbitrator type rather than the ruler type.
The problem of Pakistan being such a coup-prone state has a linkage to why democracy does not prosper there. Clearly, some features common to the four coups arise from the feudal leadership, the role of the military and the socio-economic profile. In a sense, these are the core issues that have resulted in a crisis of governance and their understanding will put this coup in perspective.
Democracy has not really matured in Pakistan because feudalism characterises the countrys political ethos. Feudal landlords who had taken over the leadership of the Muslim League in the decade before partition, and thereafter the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) during the early 1970s, did not focus on socio-economic development through the promotion of literacy and implementation of land reforms. In the process, the masses remained poor and illiterate in an environment wherein socio-economic conditions were not conducive to nurture true democracy like in the rest of the developing world, but in a greater degree. The political elite ruled in the name of the people, but in reality confined the pursuit of politics to a power struggle for sharing the economic spoils among themselves. Thus, the political leadership ensured the absence of any significant change in the socio-economic profile to successfully sustain the status quo, and feudal leaders continued to hold sway.
In the post-Zia period, the military did not take over the reins of governance but allowed the political forces to assert themselves. After the 1988 elections, Prime Minister designate Benazir Bhutto brokered a four-point deal with the then COAS General Mirza Aslam Beg which included the formers commitment to: (a) support the election of President Ghulam Ishaq Khan; (b) retain Foreign Minister Sahebzada Yaqub Khan; (c) uphold the accord with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on the economy; (d) not meddle in internal army matters like transfers, promotions and retirement of senior army officers. So the military sought to promote democracy in such a manner that its own power was not curtailed substantially, while, at the same time, there was a faćade of elected representatives managing politics.
Pakistani commentators state that in the past, martial law for extended periods has created more problems than it has solved in the country. For instance, the Zia period which symbolised Nizam-e Mustafa or Islamic rule, resulted in sectarian problems and violence which only weakened the country. To quote Napoleon, Politics is a soldiers curse has an undefeatable logic. Given these realities, the country will be able to regain political stability only after pseudo-democracy ceases and real democracy evolves in the post-coup phase.
Pakistani democracy has assumed a different connotation and has been variously labelled as limited, guided or Islamic democracy. The military identifies and prioritises the key social, economic and foreign policy objectives which the elected government seeks to implement faithfully. In such a situation, the scope for a clash of interests is bound to occur between the political and military leaderships. The dichotomous nature of political power, therefore, poses a problem with the generals and the politicians both trying to rule the country.
However, there is a difference between this coup and the past ones. Unlike earlier coups which have been pro-active, wherein the military sought political power, the present development only amounts to a reactive coup. In this case, the army did not initiate matters but was clearly compelled to react to the moves of the elected leadership which were aimed at destroying its institutional existence. Moreover, in this case, the coup was preceded by a year-long power struggle between the political and military leaderships, unlike coups in the past.
Prior to the military takeover, the Opposition parties were collectively seeking to dislodge the prime minister from power. In this endeavour, 19 political parties had teamed up to form the grand democratic alliance with a single point programme of opposing misrule in the country. Subsequently, the intrigue between the PM and the COAS culminated with the former sacking the latter, followed by the coup. Thus, events overtook the alliance effort against Sharif even before it could gain momentum. Significantly, the Opposition parties too, for now, support the military takeover which gives the General Musharaff_led government freedom to tread a new path.
Politics of Intelligence Agencies
Pakistans recent military coup was a culmination of the struggle for power between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and COAS General Pervez Musharraf over the past year. In the fight for survival, both the political and military leaderships also used their respective intelligence agencies to neutralise the influence of the other. The ISI Directorate and the MI Directorate indulged in a game of spy versus spy with the latter proving to be the winner. 13 Intelligence agencies, therefore, played a low-profile but critical role in the countrys change of leadership.
To understand the politics of intelligence, it will be necessary to profile the two organisations and define their relationship with each other. While the ISI and MI are both military organisations, there are some significant differences between them. Importantly, the DG-ISI is traditionally appointed by the prime minister in consultation with the COAS. The DG-ISI reports to the PM and not to the COAS. So much so, his loyalties are towards the PM rather than the COAS. In contrast, the DG-MI reports through the chief of General Staff to the COAS. In this case, Lt General Ziauddin was appointed by PM Sharif without active consultation with COAS General Musharraf. Perhaps the prime minister did not totally the trust the COAS and, therefore, placed his own man, Lt Gen Khwaja Ziauddin Ahmed, as the DG-ISI.
Significantly, the DG ISI is a three-star ranking lt general unlike the DG-MI who is a two-star ranking major general. The level of leadership also gives the ISI an edge over the MI regarding accessibility and clout in the intelligence community. Moreover, the charters of the two organisations are not the same. The ISI brief encompasses both internal and external functions which are to obtain information that could threaten the security of the state. In broad terms, these would include tracking political developments internally and scanning the strategic developments externally. Also, the ISI coordinates the working of the intelligence directorates of the army, air force and navy.
The MI has a primary objective of generating intelligence required for the armed forces to wage war. Its secondary function is to provide feedback to the military leadership on the state of the armed forces in terms of discipline, morale and security. While the MI and the ISI both came into being in 1948, the MI did not really evolve a culture of professionalism. This is largely because in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case of 1951, wherein some senior army officers attempted to overthrow the elected leadership, the MI developed an internal orientation as a CID type of organisation rather than the requisite external focus. 14
Thus, the ISI became a senior partner in the national intelligence community after years of military rule, largely because the army generals preferred to trust the ISI, as it was part of their military brotherhood, rather than the Intelligence Bureau (IB). 15 As a result, the IB which is a civilian organisation with a quasi-police character, remained stunted organisationally vis-á-vis the ISI. In a sense, the ISI became a handmaiden of martial law regimes and some elected governments as the DG-ISI is also an informal political adviser to the government.
Moreover, under the Zia regime during the 1980s, the ISIs successes in fighting the guerilla war by proxy against the Soviets in Afghanistan facilitated its rise to power. It enabled the organisation to evolve from a dedicated defence intelligence agency into a political police, given its increasing involvement in internal politics during General Zia-ul Haqs military regime. The late Lt General Ghulam Jillani Khan, who headed the ISI under Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto and thereafter under General Zia-ul Haq can be credited with the growth of the ISI. Thus, the ISI emerged into a power centre in the decision making hierarchy and gradually developed into a distinct organisational entity with an identity different from the Pakistan Army.
In the process, the army brass-hats gradually developed a dislike for the ISI which grew into a powerful organisation in the country. 16 The army, which was a traditional power centre, now felt threatened by a counter-weight in the form of the ISI. Given this background, the ISI and the MI locking horns with each other in the recent context, therefore, was only a logical outcome to the latest military takeover in Pakistan.
The ISI and the MI sought to counter each others moves through the medium of inspired leaks to the Press. This practice was evident initially when there was a leak in the Press that an army commander had talked to the PM about the Najam Sethi (The Friday Times, a weekly newspaper) affair in May. The only way for the media to obtain this news was on the basis of a leak by one of the intelligence agencies. Also, such a nexus between the intelligence agencies and the Press is a mutually beneficial relationship.
A classic case is the visit of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and DG-ISI Lt General Ziauddin to the US which was supposedly a secret. However, the visit became public knowledge only by default after it was leaked to the Press, presumably by the MI. Similarly, the news that certain corps commanders were briefing the political leadership would also logically be a motivated leak by the MI to the Fourth Estate. Likewise, the COAS plans to sack a corps commander, Lt General Tariq Pervez, prior to his departure for Colombo, was again leaked by the ISI to the Press. The possibility that the MI had a mole in the ISI cannot be ruled out.
The most obvious fallout of the recent military takeover was the intelligence failure wherein the premier Intelligence agency of the Third World could not inform the PM in advance about the intentions of the army leadership. Even the DG-ISI managed to misread the emerging situation which only proves that all is not well with the ISI. A fact validated by the prime ministerial proposal for an organisational re-structuring of the ISI in order to improve its functional efficiency.
Chief of Army Staff General Pervez Musharrafs bloodless October coup, overthrowing Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has terminated the decade of democracy in Pakistan. The generals have once again intervened, which only confirms that the government is a pendulum swinging between democracy and military rule in the country. In Pakistans 52 years of nationhood, military regimes have interrupted civilian governments thrice before and in the process the development of democracy remains dwarfed in the country.
A pattern has emerged which begins with the Opposition parties agitating against the government, leading to a breakdown of law and order in the country. Then the military supports the government and suppresses the agitation which could snowball into a political crisis beyond the control of the elected leadership. If this happens, then the military leadership decides that the government is discredited and cannot survive without its support. Thus, the generals were encouraged to take over power from the government. Therefore, due to the political leaderships failure to establish a culture of democracy, the military started to play a political role in governance.
For General Musharraf, the loss of face over the Kargil misadventure increased his differences with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, which eventually led to the military takeover. Earlier, Pakistani generals, after they had failed to capture the Kashmir Valley in 1947-48, attempted their first abortive coup in 1951, also referred to as the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case. At that time, senior army officers headed by Major General Akbar Khan planned to overthrow Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan. To that extent, history has repeated itself in the latest coup wherein the military plans and executes the business of ward which, after proving a failure, is then blamed on the political leadership.
Clearly, the coup has changed political equations in the country which largely revolved around the relationship between the PPP and the PML(N) (Pakistan Muslim League_Nawaz) with the military leadership at General Head Quarters (GHQ) Rawalpindi. The army had developed close relations with the PML (N) since the Zia period and conversely had an antagonistic association with the PPP after Z.A. Bhuttos execution. Now it appears that the army is likely to distance itself from the PML (N) and may no longer tango with the party that was used as a counter-weight to the PPP in the post-Zia period.
In the emerging political scenario, the military may maintain a position of equidistance from both the major political parties_the PML (N) and the PPP_in the country. To that extent, GHQ would no longer have any favourite to side with between these two major political parties. Perhaps a level playing field for the all the political parties could emerge till such time the army decides to back one particular party against another.
The change of leadership could be seen as a result of a year-long struggle for power between the political and military leaderships in the country. While Prime Minister Sharif was able to damage democratic institutions like the judiciary and the Press, his attempt to do wise with the military proved futile. The distinction between the military and the other institutions is that the former has the ability to retaliate, unlike the other pillars of democracy. The military as the ultimate weapon of state power, therefore, cannot be suppressed by any other agency.
Note 1: ANI report Pak Army General Asked to Retire in Hindustan Times, October 10, 1999 and Mubashir Zaidi (Dateline Islamabad), Two Pak Generals Leaked Secrets, Hindustan Times, October 12, 1999. Back.
Note 4: Mushahid Hussain and Akmal Hussain, Pakistan: Problems of Governance (New Delhi: Konark Publishers, 1993) p. 16; Aziz Siddiqui, (formerly editor, The Frontier Post and Pakistan Times, now with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan as joint director) writes, The armed forces claim they had to react against attempts which seemed to them disruptive of their own regimen of internal loyalties and hierarchic principles in Remedy Worse Than Disease: Inside Pakistan Today, Hindustan Times, October 16, 1999. Back.
Note 10: See Kargil: Perspectives From Pakistan a compilation of articles/editorials from news magazines like the Newsline, The Herald besides newspapers like the Dawn, Nation, News and The Friday Time in Strategic Digest, September 1999, pp. 1443-1490. Back.
Note 13: Mubashir Zaidi (Dateline Islamabad), referring to a report from The News writes that ...the intelligence war between the Lt General Ziauddin-led ISI and the Military Intelligence (MI) during the last one month and both sides were closely monitoring each others movements. Army Trying to Clip the Wings of pro-Sharif ISI, Hindustan Times, October 19, 1999. Back.
Note 16: This view is reflected in the writings of Brigadier (retd) Mohammad Youssaf and Major (retd) Mark Adkin, in The Bear Trap: Afghanistans Untold Story, (Lahore: Jang Publishers, 1992) p. 22; for a similar view, see Brigadier (retd) Syed A.I. Tirmazi in Profiles of Intelligence (Lahore: Combined Printers, 1995) p. 16, 337 and 339. Back.