Mar 19, 2009

Pakistan military helped broker end to long march

Pakistan’s army chief played a crucial role behind the scenes to resolve the long march crisis, illustrating how a military with a record of seizing power could use its influence in the future, analysts said.

The year-old civilian government led by President Asif Ali Zardari agreed on Monday to restore Pakistan’s top judge sacked in 2007, ending a confrontation between the country’s two biggest political parties that had looked set to spark street violence, Reuters reported.

Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani, who has often stressed he wants to keep the military out of politics, met the president and the prime minister several times during intense negotiations to work out a solution.

The military has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 61 years of independence and has kept a dominant role in political affairs even when not officially holding the reins of power.

But Pakistani media, traditionally hostile to military involvement in politics, hailed Kayani’s part in defusing the crisis, which analysts said highlighted a more low-key role the military can play.

‘It has reaffirmed (the) military’s vital role in Pakistan’s political process and has shown it has the capacity to play a political role even from the sidelines,’ said political and security analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi.

Zardari’s concession came after the United States, worried that Pakistan was being distracted from tackling al Qaeda and Taliban militants on its Afghan border, said US aid could be at risk unless the confrontation ended.

Security analyst Ikram Sehgal said the army was reverting to the sort of role it played through most of the 1990s, when it declined to take power but exerted its influence discreetly during periods of political turmoil.

‘The army wants desperately to keep out of the situation. They realise they do not have the capabilities to run a government,’ Sehgal said.

‘One will definitely see the army playing a role behind the scenes ... If they stepped back in it would probably be on a Bangladesh model: set up a technocratic government and run the people who run the government,’ he said.

Undemocratic practice:

While remaining in the background, the military would retain its spheres of influence for years to come, another analyst said.

‘The pressures are not just confined to the internal political dynamics,’ said ex-general and analyst Talat Masood.

‘The external situation has never been as grave as it is today, both on the western and eastern side,’ he said, referring to the Afghan and Indian borders.

‘The determination of foreign and defence policy is still the monopoly of the military,’ he said.

The fact that the army chief had reluctantly stepped into the negotiations to help end the crisis illustrated the failure of the political leadership, analysts said.

‘It shows they have not learnt lessons from the past and they have raised the problem to a point where intervention of the military becomes unavoidable,’ Masood said.

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