Islamabad, Jun 17: Pakistan's Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the most powerful man in the country, is fighting to save his position in the face of seething anger from top generals and junior officers since the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden, according to Pakistani officials and people who have met the chief in recent weeks, reports Indian Express.
Gen. Kayani, who has led the Army since 2007, faces such intense discontent over what is seen as his cozy relationship with the US that a colonels' coup, while unlikely, was not out of the question, said a well-informed Pakistani who has seen the general in recent weeks, as well as an American military official involved with Pakistan for many years.
The Pakistani Army is essentially run by consensus among 11 top commanders, known as the corps commanders, and almost all of them, if not all, were demanding that Gen. Kayani get much tougher with the Americans, even edging toward a break, Pakistanis who follow the Army closely said.
Washington, with its own hard line against Pakistan, had pushed Kayani into a defensive crouch, along with his troops, and if the general was pushed out, the US would face a more uncompromising anti-American army chief, said these Pakistani observers.
To repair the reputation of the Army, and to ensure his own survival, Kayani made an extraordinary tour of more than a dozen garrisons, mess halls and other institutions in the six weeks since the May 2 raid that killed bin Laden.
His goal was to rally support among his rank-and-file troops, who are almost uniformly anti-American, according to participants and people briefed on the sessions. During a long session in late May at the National Defence University, the premier academy in Islamabad, one officer got up after Gen. Kayani's address and challenged his policy of cooperation with the US.
The officer asked, “If they don't trust us, how can we trust them?” according to Shaukaut Qadri, a retired Army brigadier who was briefed on the session. Kayani essentially responded, “We can't,” Qadri said.
In response to pressure from his troops, Pakistani and American officials said, Gen. Kayani had already become a more obstinate partner, standing ever more firm with each high-level American delegation that has visited since the raid to try and rescue the shattered American-Pakistani relationship.
In a prominent example of the new Pakistani intransigence, the ISI has arrested five Pakistani informants who helped the CIA before the bin Laden raid.
One of them, the officials said, is a doctor who has served as a Major in the Pakistani Army. Over all, Pakistani and American officials said, the relationship was now more competitive and combative than cooperative.
Kayani told the CIA director Leon E Panetta during a visit here last weekend that Pakistan would not accede to his request for independent operations by the agency, Pakistani and American officials said.
A long statement after the regular monthly meeting of the 11 corps commanders last week illuminated the mounting hostility toward the US, even as it supplies at least $2 billion a year in aid to the Army.
The statement, aimed at rebuilding support within the Army and among the public, said that American training in Pakistan had only ever been minimal, and had now ended.
“It needs to be clarified that the Army had never accepted any training assistance from the United States except for training on the newly inducted weapons and some training assistance for the Frontier Corps only,” a reference to paramilitary troops in the northwest tribal areas, the statement said.
The statement said that the CIA-run drone attacks against militants in the tribal areas “were not acceptable under any circumstances”.
Allowing the drones to continue to operate from Pakistan was “politically unsustainable,” said the well-informed Pakistani who met with Gen. Kayani recently.
As part of his survival mechanism, Kayani could well order the US to stop the drone program completely, the Pakistani said.
The Pakistanis have already blocked the supply of food and water to the base used for the drones, a senior American official said, adding that they were gradually “strangling the alliance” by making things difficult for the Americans in Pakistan.
The turmoil within the Pakistani Army has engendered the lowest morale since it lost the 1971 war, observers say. The anger and disillusionment stems from the fact that the Obama administration decided not to tell Pakistan in advance about the bin Laden raid — and that Pakistan was then unable to detect or stop it.
That bin Laden was living comfortably in Pakistan for years has evinced little outrage here among a population that has consistently told pollsters it is more sympathetic to al-Qaeda than to the United States.
The anger at the Americans was now making it more difficult for Gen. Kayani to motivate the Army to fight against the Pakistani Taliban in what is increasingly seen as a fight on behalf of the US, former Pakistani soldiers said.
“The feeling that they are fighting America's war against their own people has a negative impact on the fighting efficiency,” said Javed Hussain, a former special forces officer in the Pakistani military.
Discipline has become a worry, as has an open rebellion in the middle ranks of officers, particularly as rumours circulate that some enlisted men have questioned whether Gen. Kayani and his partner, ISI chief Lt Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, should remain in their jobs.
Kayani's problems have been magnified by a groundswell of unprecedented criticism from the public, questioning both the Army's competence and the lavish rewards for its top brass, something that also increasingly rankles modestly paid enlisted men.
“This is not a guns versus butter argument, but a contrast between the reality of the life led by the military elite at state expense and the general situation for ordinary citizens,” Talat Hussain, a prominent journalist who generally writes favourably about the military, wrote in Dawn.
According to the notes of a participant in the session at the National Defence University, Kayani acknowledged that Pakistan had mortgaged itself to the US. “We are helpless,” he said. “Can we fight America?”