Salman Masood - Two recent episodes hogged media headlines last week. Former military spokesman, Maj Gen (r) Athar Abbas, stunned everyone by criticising his boss, Gen (r) Pervaiz Kayani, and painted him as the one responsible for aggravating the security condition of the country by dithering over the North Waziristan military offensive. On the civilian side, interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan remained in the limelight for the past several days for sulking in a corner, presumably upset over Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif not lending him an ear in key policy decisions. These two issues are, of course, not inter-linked but have brought to surface the fissures in the institutional decision making process and a state of dysfunction within various state organs.
Grumblings over an insular and aloof prime minister office have been doing the rounds for long in the capital. Lawmakers complain of having lost access to the prime minister and only a selected few -with the right genetic and geographical makeup-have the privilege of getting an easy audience with the prime minister. Pakistan Muslim League always had a history of operating through a kitchen cabinet but this time the kitchen has shrunk to a minuscular level. On Saturday, the interior minister, who was always part of the hallowed kitchen cabinets of the past, finally settled the differences with the premier as both hugged one another in Raiwind Estate. Were these differences over policy matters, as has been the speculation. Or, they were over egotistical and hierarchical issues, as has been yet more speculation.
Nisar has favoured easing out former military ruler Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf from the country but the prime minister has dug in his heels. Nawaz and Nisar also did not see eye to eye over the outcomes of peace talk with the Taliban. Public differences between officials holding the most importance portfolios does not reflect well on the state of governance and the ability of the government to deliver on key, fundamental issues that confront the country. The show Nawaz-Nisar bonhomie, exhibited Saturday, was perhaps not unexpected. Nisar peeling away from the ruling party was never a real possibility. Nawaz needs the interior minister to respond to the upcoming challenges posed by both Tahir-ul Qadri and Imran Khan.
Maj Gen (r) Athar Abbas statement came out of the blue. The critique of the former military spokesman, with a reputation of being a gentle and eloquent officer, portrayed the former army and spy chief as an indecisive and weak military officer, who accelerated the slide of Pakistan down the road of instability and insecurity due to his reluctance to take on the militants in North Waziristan. Some have construed the timing of statement of Abbas as intended to bolster the public image of the new army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, as a doer and go-getter, compared with a thinking and inscrutable Kayani. Athar Abbas has tried to dismiss any such insinuations and termed the critique an honest answer to a simple question posed by a BBC journalist. The truth may lie somewhere in the middle. Kayani dextrously maintained the equilibrium of a system he had helped erect after the political turmoil of 2007. His response to a slew of terror attacks on key security installations was dismally lacking. He was compelled by considerations both political and military. But was Kayani’s overall security calculus fundamentally different from the one of Gen. Sharif? The military is, after all, considered to be conservative and consistent towards its strategic goals and objectives.
Of late, it seems that the decision making process in both civil and military leadership remains erratic, highly individualised and, quite often, arbitrary. The implications are nightmarish.
The writer is Resident Editor, The Nation, in Islamabad.