Runaway Army, Democratic Paralysis

"As a mother, I am thinking to form a mothers' alliance between India and Pakistan. Let the mothers come out and stop their sons from fighting each other." This proposal was advanced last week by Dr. Fehmida Mirza, the speaker of Pakistan's National Assembly, the country's lower house of parliament. Mirza is alarmed about the odds of war breaking out between India and Pakistan. Mirza's husband, Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Mirza, is a close friend of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and is one of the most affluent people in Pakistan. She is the first woman in Pakistan's history to serve as speaker of parliament and seems to symbolize the budding democracy, established after the resignation of President General (ret.) Pervez Musharraf.

Yet it seems that free elections and a democratically-minded leadership cannot guarantee the government full control over all of Pakistan's institutions, including the army and the intelligence service, both of which have been deeply involved in the nation's politics. A few days ago Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani announced that he was planning to send to India Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the director general of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), in order to coordinate the investigation of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Immediately following that decision, Gilani was sharply criticized by members of his own government as well as senior commanders of the Pakistani army, who felt that the prime minister had overstepped his authority or, at the very least, had not followed the accepted procedure of first consulting with the heads of the Pakistani armed forces. Moreover, the army's top brass fear that Gilani is adopting an overly soft approach to India by hastily offering it Pakistani assistance and thereby encouraging Indian leaders to blame Islamabad for the attacks.

According to reports from Pakistan, a deep rift has developed between the prime minister and the army's senior commanders over the question of responsibility for the Mumbai terrorist attacks: The army believes that India's accusations are simply an act of provocation directed against Pakistan while Gilani is of the opinion that organizations within his own country, and not Indian terrorist groups, are responsible for the incidents in Mumbai. Gilani was forced to capitulate and retract his decision to send Pasha, although he had already informed India that the ISI chief would be coming to assist in the investigation.

Gilani has tried to force Pakistan's intelligence services to take orders from the interior minister, rather than from the army. However, last July, the Pakistani Chief of Staff, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, lost no time in appointing Pasha ISI chief. On the eve of the Mumbai attacks, Gilani managed to get rid of the ISI's political wing, which had been responsible for relations with the Taliban and had even been suspected of gathering information on nuclear technology for Pakistan. However, Gilani is clearly aware that his democratic regime still lacks full control over the army.

Recently, the heads of the Taliban in Pakistan, including their supreme leader, Baitullah Mehsud, and the leaders of other militant groups, declared that they were offering the government a cease-fire if the Pakistani army would stop attacking their bases. In the wake of that declaration, the army described these leaders as "patriotic" Pakistanis. A top security official recently told a group of senior Pakistani journalists that the army did not have any serious quarrel with these organizations: "We have only some misunderstandings with Baitullah Mehsud and [militant leader Maulana] Fazlullah. These misunderstandings could be removed through dialogue."

Such statements are certainly not music to the ears of Indian and American leaders, who consider these militant groups responsible for the killing of hundreds of military personnel and civilians in Pakistan, for the creation of terrorist cells, and for the provision of asylum to Taliban members from Afghanistan, some of whom may have launched the murderous attacks in Mumbai.

Furthermore, statements of this kind only reinforce India's fears that some members of the Pakistani establishment are responsible for the attacks, particularly when Pakistan's chief of staff - not its prime minister - warned this week that, if India escalates the military situation, he would be forced to transfer 100,000 soldiers from the country's northwestern frontier to the border with India.

This is as much a political warning as a military one. Pakistan's Taliban militants and the headquarters of terrorist groups are all concentrated in the northwestern regions of the country. The Pakistani army, responding to pressure from Washington, is operating in those regions as part of Islamabad's commitment to fight terrorism. The removal of Pakistani troops from that area is a clear warning that an Indian threat to Pakistan's security is also a threat to the continued vigilance of the latter's armed forces in the war on terrorism - not because Pakistan does not want to participate in this war, but rather because it must defend itself against a possible Indian offensive.

Faced with such reasoning, there is very little Gilani can do; and that is why he is politically paralyzed. He is paralyzed because, like his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, he is being subjected to massive American and British pressure not to escalate the situation. Although Washington has been shaken by the Mumbai attacks, it places top priority on the war against Taliban bases in Pakistan. That is the reason why India's politicians, currently campaigning in the national elections, must not be allowed to engage in saber-rattling rhetoric. Perhaps now is the time for Indian and Pakistani mothers to go into action.