Loyalty pays

By FIFTH COLUMN - Abhijit Bhattacharyya
  • Published 25.10.07

Since the Inter-Services Intelligence chief is an important man, the unprecedented appointment of Ashfaq Kayani as the army chief in Pakistan evokes interest. Pervez Musharraf seems to appreciate the apolitical professional qualities and the personal loyalty of Kayani, who superseded at least two of his seniors for his appointment. Interestingly, the long-serving and loyal military secretary of Musharraf, Nadeem Taj, too is the new director-general of the ISI.

But how did Kayani’s appointment come about? Is it because Kayani commanded Rawalpindi’s X Corps, the most crucial and sensitive amongst the nine corps headquarters of Pakistan? The Rawalpindi Corps, apart from being the eyes and ears of the State, is also privy to the moves of every potentially coupist general. Responsible for operations in Kashmir, X Corps looks after Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and operates along the line of control with three infantry divisions.

The ISI also has an unrestricted mandate to organize terrorism, counter-terrorism and cross-border terrorism. Bolstered and buoyed during the Soviet presence in Afghanistan in the Eighties, the ISI’s proactive role in the Khalistan movement and the Kashmir turbulence is well known. From Kashmir to Kathmandu, Calcutta to Coimbatore, the ISI runs according to its own agenda which is often at odds with the avowed policy of the state.

Loyalty pays

An important factor for the success of any military statecraft is the loyalty of subordinates. However, never before during the rule of the Generals in Pakistan (Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan and Zia-ul-Haq) has the army faced division in its ranks. The Generals faced no dissent in the barracks during their coup. In the words of Musharraf, however, “The action in Islamabad was the most tense and dramatic. More than once, officers and soldiers of the counter-coup came eyeball-to-eyeball with the armed personnel of the coup.” In subsequent events like the two assassination bids on Musharraf in 2003, officers and soldiers were believed to have played a substantial part. None of his predecessors in the army had faced such threats from their own fraternity.

But the dogged loyalty of Musharraf’s men has also worked wonders for him. When his PK-805 flight was hovering over Karachi on October 12, 1999, Musharraf’s loyal men came to his rescue. In his own words, “Consider the cast of actors and their relationship to me. Apart from being their chief, I played squash with the two commanding officers, Lieutenant Colonel Shahid Ali and Javed Sultan... Lieutenant General Mohammad Aziz Khan, the Chief of General Staff, was my appointee. Lieutenant General Mahmood Ahmed had been my regimental commanding officer. The officers in Lahore and Karachi were also my appointees. Only the head of our premier security service, the ISI, Lieutenant General Ziauddin, was close to Nawaz Sharif! The deck was stacked against the Prime Minister.”

Thus Musharraf owes his success to the loyal men in crucial and sensitive posts. He paid back his due by rekindling the proxy war in Kashmir, helping al Qaida in disguise, troubling Hamid Karzai in Kandahar and further penetrating India’s Northeast. Today Musharraf is on the threshold of a new power play — from a nine-year stint as the army chief he is poised to enter an uncharted course in the turbulent politics of Pakistan. The dice this time is heavily loaded against Musharraf. For General Musharraf, it is absolutely essential that even when Civilian Musharraf makes a mistake, or his civilian cronies advertently or inadvertently trample on the army, Musharraf’s loyal appointees of yesteryear should not take it out on their former mentor.