Pragmatic | Defeat wrapped up as victory

General Kayani’s escalation ladder versus the United States

Both the versions of the NATO airstrikes on two Pakistani border posts are out now. First, Pakistan Army spelled out its version of the events (here). Now, the US officials have come out with their explanations (here). The differences between the two sides are not going to be resolved by reconciling conflicting versions. But that is not the point here. The point of interest if why Pakistan army chose to respond the way it did. Perhaps the answer lies here.

The level of anti-American fervor that has welled up within the ranks of the country’s military is an especially difficult problem.

Brigadiers, colonels and other high-ranking officers are putting pressure on the military’s powerful leader, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, to radically reduce cooperation with the U.S. in counter-terrorism and in Afghanistan, experts say.

That pressure was intense in the weeks after the Bin Laden raid, and the airstrike last weekend rekindled it.

“Kayani has to command his troops at a time when there is a lot of anguish among the soldiers and the public about relations with the U.S., and a lot of questions about what are we fighting for, and what are we sacrificing lives for,” said security analyst Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani lieutenant general.

“This creates a huge challenge for Kayani and the military leadership,” Masood said. “That’s why they’re trying to steer the whole event in such a way that it pacifies the troops as well as the public.”[LATimes]

If the intent is to pacify the troops, then General Kayani has a rather strange manner of doing so — by stoking the fire further. Take a look at his recent statement to his commanders and troops:

“Be assured that we will not let the aggressor walk away easily,” the army chief said in a message for the troops and added that he had “clearly directed that any act of aggression will be responded with full force, regardless of the cost and consequences”.

Gen Kayani further clarified that the troops could respond on their own, when attacked, without waiting for orders from the command. “I have full trust in your capabilities and resolve,” he stressed.[Dawn]

This may be a case of genuine anger in Pakistan Army, but the frenzy that has been created has severely limited Pakistan army’s diplomatic manoeuvrability. General Kayani has boxed himself in to a position from which there seems to be no way of climbing down. If he tries to strike a conciliatory position with the US now, it will elicit a very strong reaction from the rank and file of Pakistan Army that already feels betrayed because of similar moves in the past, particularly after the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbotabad in May this year.

In the last couple of years, Pakistan and the US have been here before: a crisis followed by sabre rattling, recriminations — and moves behind the scenes to patch things up. But this time is different. Ironically, the difference is the gentleman that Generals Kayani and Pasha got rid of last month via ‘Memogate’ — Pakistan’s former Ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani. Mr Haqqani was the master at working things behind the scenes in Washington DC and pulling back seemingly impossible situations from the brink. To compound matters, Pakistan has few friends left in the White House, the Pentagon or the CIA; neither the US Congress nor the Senate is likely to vote for resuming civilian, leave alone military aid to Pakistan.

Has anyone in Pakistan factored in the diplomatic, economic and military consequences of the escalation ladder that General Kayani is climbing? Perhaps, to use Cyril Almeida’s evocative phrase, this is Pakistan army on its way to another “defeat wrapped up as victory”.

DISCLAIMER: This is an archived post from the Indian National Interest blogroll. Views expressed are those of the blogger's and do not represent The Takshashila Institution’s view.