Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s choice for the new chief of Pakistan’s powerful army is General Raheel Sharif (no relation), a man said to be a “soldier’s soldier” with little interest in politics. Having been ousted and then exiled for ten years by the last army chief he selected, Gen Pervez Musharraf, Sharif was keen on making a safer choice this time around.But Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to the US, explains in a sobering op-ed for the Daily Beast how General Kayani, Sharif’s predecessor, has ensured that the army will still call the shots:
[T]he new commander, we are told, represents a new beginning. He is non-political, opposes terrorism and is pro-Western. Ironically, all these qualities were also attributed to Kayani. The only difference, based on media reports, would be that Sharif likes cigars while Kayani preferred cigarettes. But the simplified narrative emanating from Islamabad about the new commander’s virtues may overshadow the more significant continuities in the Pakistan army’s institutional thinking.Given Pakistan’s history, an army chief can stage a coup whenever he likes. It is easier in an environment of near-chaos, such as the violent demonstrations of 1968-69, which enabled General Yahya Khan’s assumption of power, or the protests of 1977, which served as General Zia-ul-Haq’s excuse for his coup. But General (later Field Marshal) Ayub Khan took power in 1958 without major violence in the streets preceding the coup. General Musharraf, too, reacted only to his own removal from the office of army chief in 1999, not to political circumstances. Once the decision to stage a coup has been made, circumstances and reasons for it are easy to manufacture.
The piece is a good reminder to take any reassurances about Pakistan’s governance with a healthy grain of salt. Read the whole thing.