Back to the future in Pakistan? Last week, General Ashfaq Kiyani flew to Washington for consultations with the Obama Administration; this week, it’s reported from Pakistan, he warned President Asif Ali Zardari to “set things right” in the country before March 16, when opposition forces are set to march on the capital. When the army puts the government on notice to clean up its act, you know what’s coming next.
Zardari, the husband of Benazir Bhutto, has refused to reinstate the judges sacked by former dictator Pervez Musharraf because if he did, they might resurrect corruption charges against Zardari. But his arch-nemesis, Nawaz Sharif (another self-serving politician loathed by the generals) wants the judges reinstated — even more so now that Zardari’s judges barred him from running for office.
As the country disintegrates in the face of multiple insurgencies and an economy on life support from the IMF, the generals’ patience for the shenanigans of civilian politicians is at an end. And, it seems, Kiyani has Washington’s blessing for cracking the whip.
Of course, the U.S. has traditionally relied on Generals to rule Pakistan and fight its proxy wars — most recently General Zia, and then General Musharraf. Now, after a brief and chaotic flirtation with civilian rule, it seems Washington is ready to resort to its traditional Plan B.
No doubt, Kiyani looks an infinitely preferable option in terms of getting Washington’s business done in the region. So did Musharraf. Indeed, Kiyani being a rather reluctant politician may even call on Musharraf to front the operation again once the military has taken power.
But it’s the military, particularly the ISI (of which Kiyani used to be the head) that’s been at the center of the very policies that most irk Washington. That, somehow, is unlikely to change.