Af-Pak Diary

Inside Pakistan: The Establishment’s Two-Front War

05 May, 2014    ·   4426

Dr D Suba Chandran comments on the Pakistani media’s clash with the ISI

The Establishment in Pakistan may have worried about a two-front war bordering India and Afghanistan for a long time, but it never would have imagined a two-front war within the country itself, vis-à-vis the elected political leadership and the media. After enjoying a preponderant position within the power structure of Pakistan, it is not an easy situation for the leadership of the military and its ISI to handle.

From Impregnable to Vulnerable: Echoes of Iftikhar Chaudhry and Pervez Musharraf on GHQ
The factors that have made the military vulnerable within Pakistan have undoubtedly been caused by two individuals – Iftikhar Chaudhry and Pervez Musharraf.

Justice Chaudhry fired the first salvo when Musharraf was the President. It all started in March 2007 when Musharraf decided to suspend Justice Chaudhry, the then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; worse, he summoned the Chief Justice, asking him to resign. The judge decided to take on the Commando - he refused to step down. Seven years earlier, almost to the day, he addressed a huge rally in Lahore, which he later repeated in Karachi in May 2007. The subsequent violence that led to the killing of more than 40 people was orchestrated by Musharraf and his supporters to prevent Chaudhry from entering Karachi.

What followed was a slow but steady movement - that was initially led by the legal community but later expanded to include a substantial section of the civil society - with the catchy slogan, 'Go Musharraf Go'. Ultimately, Musharraf had to reinstall Justice Chaudhry, but the ghosts of 2007 were to come back strongly and haunt Musharraf seven years later in 2014, with the judiciary opening up a treason case against the former president, who also happened to be a former military Chief of Pakistan.

It was the trial that exposed the chinks in the Pakistani military’s internal armour. Though the previous Chief of Army Staff Gen Kayani, who was also Musharraf’s successor, had reportedly advised Musharraf’s against returning to Pakistan, the latter did not listen. Perhaps reasoning has never been Musharraf’s forte. Not many even within Pakistan were able to comprehend Musharraf’s decision to return.

Once Musharraf decided to return, he should have been prepared to face the consequences of a legal trial for acts of omission and commission as the former President. Iftikhar Chaudhry may have been less lenient towards Musharraf, but the trial continued even after his retirement. Nawaz Sharif, who had been thrown out by Musharraf in a military takeover, and later sentenced to exile, also did not have a stake in looking for a way out or a compromise.

What was essentially a trial against a former President snowballed into an issue between the civilian and military leaderships. The trial against Musharraf is being projected as a trial of the military as an institution by two other institutions – the Parliament and Judiciary.

The larger question here is regarding the role of Nawaz Sharif in attempting to undermine the military and its ISI as an institution and bring it under civilian control. Is this at the core of the differences between the two leaders and three institutions? Or is the issue about the izzat (honour) of a predominant institution within the political structure of Pakistan?

The Shahzads and Mirs: The Media’s War against the ISI
In 2013, Syed Saleem Shahzad, one of Pakistan’s leading journalists, who was working on al Qaeda and its links with the military, was allegedly killed by the intelligence agencies. His book, Inside Al-Qaeda and the Taliban: Beyond Bin Laden and 9/11, created an uproar within Pakistan and elsewhere. The ISI was believed to have been unhappy with the book’s projections and findings; what was believed to a warning shot ended up killing him. While there were murmurs about the killing of Shahzad and the ISI initially, it opened a Pandora’s Box when Hamid Mir, another senior journalist and lead TV anchor was attacked, allegedly by the ISI.

Immediately after the attack, Hamid Mir’s brother publicly accused the ISI for masterminding the attack against Hamid Mir. The TV channel he is associated with ran the show repeatedly with the ISI chief’s photograph in the background, and several leading journalists and media people came out to openly in support of Hamid Mir. For the first time, there seems to be an organised and systematic criticism of the ISI’s activities within Pakistan, especially against the media.

The ISI is believed to be undertaking a damage control exercise by asking the Pakistan Electronic Media Regularity Authority (PEMRA) to file a case against Geo Television, for which Hamid Mir works. It has also apparently instigated a few journalists to write against Mir and organise a campaign against his group. It is clear that the ISI is no more the most powerful institution in Pakistan. 

Whether the military and its ISI have managed the damage control or not, the crucial questions are – How vulnerable are these once powerful institutions? Where is the internal two-front war heading? Is this a temporary aberration or a new trend within Pakistan?