Keep Talking and Keep Listening!

They say listening is more difficult than talking. But what is even harder in today's world is to communicate - an intense process of listening and talking and listening and responding........
This is a forum for people to engage in a conversation which is an art that many people don't know. Lets listen to others while maintaining the courage of conviction.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Ludwig von Rochau's Children

Ludwig von Rochau was a German gent, a 19th century writer and politicians responsible for formulating the theory of realpolitik. The idea is about the state using Machiavellian tactics to expand its power. The theory is extremely state centric. I suspect the German really must have come and settled in South Asia because we have ample supply of people who subscribe to this theory. I suppose as the Punjabis would put it our realpolitik buffs must share their nani (maternal grandmother) with the German especially Rochau.

This preamble was meant to express my surprise at the fact that so many of the educated people, especially from media and academia, seem so enamored by realpolitik. Very recently had a chance to look at journalist Aamir Ahmed Khan's article in Express Tribune titled: 'India is not to blame" ( The main thesis of the author was that the present Pakistani civilian government is hopeless and has voluntarily given up the option to run its foreign and security policy, and that the Taliban were being created by Indian RAW. I immediately sat down to jog my memory about the last time GHQ ever allowed any political government to run either the security or foreign policies. Or is it that Aamir Ahmed Khan, who runs BBC Urdu, has joined the bandwagon of those who believe things will improve dramatically only if Asif Ali Zardari and his personal clowns would leave. What goes without saying that he probably considers these other clowns as trustworthy. Not surprised. In fact, I was reminded of a conversation I had with the author way back in 2007 just a couple of days before my book military inc was launched in Islamabad. I had gone to invite him for the event and he had kindly offered to take copies of the book to Generals Pervez Musharraf and Ehsan. At that time, Mr Khan was quite close to General Ehsan and remains so.

More recently, another good journalist known for his mastery over a European language was in the American capital. He was found telling friends about how Pakistan army was ready to and engaged in cleaning the country up of all these unsavory Taliban and militants. The proof? His meetings with General Asfaq pervez Kiyani which normally run into a few hours. The gent was of the opinion that the shortest meeting was three-and-a-half hours and only when he requested the good general to wrap up. Does it surprise anyone why the army doesn't do so well in battles? If its general spends hours explaining or educating a journalist then where does he find the time for his own men and operations!

But then there has been a transformation of the military over so many years. This is no longer a professional force particularly from the objective of fulfilling the task of protecting the state from external threat or drawing out and implementing successful military operations. However, it has done better in saving its own image and managing things politically. Its senior officers are successful public relations guys who know the art of developing rapport with journalists or using the media to their own advantage. Just look at the present army chief who appears to use his own charms, besides deploying the ISPR, ISI and SPD combine, to turn the tide in his favor. The long meetings with our journalist friend are not driven by some altruistic designs. The good general wants to convince the world that he is on top of things when it comes to fighting militancy. Such an image helps convince policymakers abroad of the dire need to retain General Kiyani as Pakistan army's service chief.

This is not to suggest that it all revolves around the issue of the general's extension. However, it feeds into that plot as well. There are three options that are being discussed. First, the general gets an extension. The problem is that he may get it because the American are interested in such an eventuality (apparently, Mike Mullen does not even hear anything against Kiyani in private meetings), but that it may give an impression of Kiyani being an over-ambitious general. Second, he gets elevated to the position of an up-graded position of the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. It may not be too favorable an option in the GHQ. Third, extension in the term of the army chief from 3 to 5 years. There are strong rumors with journalists like Najam Sethi supporting such possibility. The good general is indeed extremely smart and intelligent. If Machiavelli were to chose an heir it might be our good commander. After all, this army is trained to produce those that pursue the principle of realpolitik.


  1. My guess is that realpolitik is popular in the Pakistani media because Pakistan's problems are so big they look to be insoluble. After all, realpolitik actually deals with a very restricted part of real politics. Butif the part of Pakistan's political problems that can be addressed is limited (for other reasons) to those addressed by realpolitik, realpolitik looks good.

    Also, not to be unkind, the late nineteenth century German practitioners of realpolitik actually dealt with reality. France did exist, it was possible to defeat France, and it was possible to keep France isolated by making defensive alliances with both Austria-Hungary and Russia. I see no sign that Pakistani advocates of realpolitik understand reality well enough to practice realpolitik.

    Pakistan's real problem is to move from a mostly late feudal state to a modern democratic system that is acceptable to the people of Pakistan. German experience and thinkers do have a lot to offer about this problem, but realpolitik is not the tradition to look to.

    That said, General Kayani's policy may be sensible, within the limits of his definition of Pakistan's interests. He does his best to send Islamic radicals into Afghanistan, to be killed by the Americans, or into Kashmir to be killed by the Indians. From his viewpoint, either is more useful than Pakistan's radical Islamists remaining in Pakistan and fighting the Pakistan army. Also, Pakistan's policy of helping both the US and the Taliban probably pleases the Chinese. After all, it wears down both the US and the Islamists, at little cost to China. Since China supplies most of the Pakistan army's equipment, and unlike the US is hostile to India, this is very important.

    So General Kayani's policy appears to be realistic, if you assume that his purpose is to maintain Pakistan as it is. i assume operational is done by his operational and logistics staff officers.

    Incidentally, good luck in Pakistan. The situation there seems to have declined to the point where neck retention could be a serious problem. Don't suggest that you be cautious, because you're a better judge of the situation than I. Also, if you stopped speaking out and trimmed your sails to the wind, you'd have to live with yourself. But you won't do the rest of us any good if you are "disappeared". Of course, things are probably still better now than they were under Musharraf.


  2. Raymond,

    It is obvious that at least one serious flaw bedevils the calculations of Messers Kiyani and his predecessors. After all, several years of pushing militants into the American and Indian meat-grinders have not yet purged Pakistan of its problems.

    I am surprised that a man of your obvious intelligence does not see what so many people do: that your (and supposedly Kiyani’s) logic is predicated on there being a finite number of jehadis, and each militant pushed into Afghanistan or Kashmir is one less problem for the Khaki-clad Superheroes.

    The reality, alas for Pakistan, is that Rawalpindi no longer controls much of the machinery that it set up to manufacture its delightful bearded toys. Some of it, for sure; but large sections now function autonomously. And with that programmed with the software of Muslim victimisation and lubricated with the lucre of global jehad… killing militants --- whether in Kabul, Kashmir or Kohat --- only steps up the capacity of the product line.

    Very few believe that the tooti, to borrow General Aziz’s memorable term, is any longer in GHQ’s hand.

    You must be kidding if you think that China is happy about what’s happening. When the US heads back to Tampa, China will stay right here amidst the spreading carnage. They know that well.

    Take care, all.

  3. Hi,

    Broadsword you misunderstand the assumptions behind my argument, which leads you to assume that my argument that I think Kayani's "success" means something.

    Pakistan's decayed educational system and resulting large number of madrassas, combined with the limited opportunities for youth in a country squeezed by the IMF, plus the fact that when judged by Islamic criteria Pakistan is far from ideal, produces a large number of discontented young radical Islamists. General Kayani cannot do anything about that. All he can try to do is diffuse the Islamist effort, so that most of it is devoted to killing people other than him.

    If you judge his effort by this limited creiterion, he's not doing too badly.

    As for the Chinese, the Chinese in Pakistan are probably acutely aware of the fact that radical Islam is anti-Chinese. The Chinese in Beijing may not be. The US didn't think ahead when it was backing the Taliban against the Russians, and if you read history the US was more typical of imperial powers than unusually stupid. So I'm assuming that the Chinese think that having two of their enemies fight each other, rather than either fighting China, is a good thing.

    It's worth noting that in some respects my view is not that different from yours. General Kayani is almost irrelevant to solving the problems of Pakistan, and it is a serious problem for Pakistan that he is as significant as he is in Pakistan's politics. I just think the problem is systemic, and replacing General Kayani with the next general will probably neither hurt nor help that much.

    Strange as it sounds, I don't think Pakistan's army is capable of understanding, much less contributing to soliving, most of Pakistan's problems


  4. “Strange as it sounds, I don't think Pakistan's army is capable of understanding, much less contributing to solving, most of Pakistan's problems”

    You sure have good understanding of what the Pak army is all about. The Generals are a bunch of clowns whose sole aim is to safeguard their own plus the institution’s interests. But more often than not, the army’s interests are pushdown when they collide with personal ambitions of Generals.
    Perhaps sometime around the 60s and I think especially after the 1965 war with India, it downed on the army that Pakistan simply has no means or resources to support a large army. Since then the army’s sole game is to garner some international sponsors that can keep it going. It found a willing partner in Pentagon and both have been collaborating rather successfully in that area. The primary reason for attacking the East Bengal was also to get rid of an area and population that, in the army’s opinion, was a drain on Pakistan’s resources and was cutting in to the army’s growing needs.
    During the first afghan jihad the Pentagon and the army partnered to fight the communists. In the US keeping public focused on one issue for long time is simply impossible and the Reagan administration was tired of the afghan war and wanted some solution. The Pak army sabotaged the Geneva talks in 1985, sponsored by both the US and USSR. The Pakistani Prime Minister under US pressure sign off the deal to end the Afghan war. That was not acceptable to the army as the end of the war would have meant no American money and American armaments for the Pak Army (and that is exactly what happened after the first Afghan war.). Pakistan army continued with the war keeping the US tied in a war that most of the American had forgotten about until Zia was murdered in 1988. Gen. Zia was bent upon keeping the war on until his plane blow up in pieces in the Sky. (strangely, 1980s was a bad decade for some not so friendly South American leaders too. There planes too dropped from the skies in to pieces. Jaime Roldós of Ecuador, 1981 and Omar Torrijos of Panama, 1981 come to mind instantly.)
    Pakistan Army has strong control over the Pakistani Taliban and the groups allied to them in Punjab but Pakistan Government has no such control. Incidentally, the rise of Taliban and especially the Pakistani Taliban and their allied groups in Punjab also reminds me of many countries in South America in the 70s and the 80s. Rightwing groups emerged from nowhere and were effectively used as death squad or to harass some not-so-friendly politicians and regimes. I am not sure whether the Pak army planners were keen students of South American politics or were guided by some who had experience in raise the semi-military outfits. There will always remain a question of who controls the arms supply lines to the Afghan Taliban; I am sure NATO supply trucks don’t play a part in there.
    Pakistan’s education system is just another emerging excuse to find a way to continue to find a way to support the fledgling army and cover up its sins in Pakistan. I see Gen.McChrystal’s sacking also a part of the effort to ensure that Pak army remains in the right corner and picks up the pieces that US would eventually leave behind.
    I enjoyed Ayesha’s comment about Adm. Mullen wouldn’t listen anything against Gen. Kiyani. These guys probably grow up together and Gen. Kiyani appears to be a good protégé and knows when to obey orders from the masters.

  5. Regret the errors. I find the process to post comments here really annoying. Preview is impossible and on top of that I have a poor network connection.

  6. Hossp,

    I'm a bit sceptical about the "strong control" that the Pakistan Army likes to suggest (especially nowadays) it has over the Taliban. I know that there was a high degree of coordination when the Taliban was being midwifed and through the early 1990s... but I would argue that the control has dissipated gradually starting from the time the Taliban took power in Kabul in 1996.

    Today, Rawalpindi's importance to Washington in shaping the political future of Afghanistan depends upon how much control Washington believes it has over the Taliban. And, in everything that GHQ is doing --- such as press conferences in which it highlights its ability to broker negotiations with Mullah Omar --- there is this rather obvious theme of: We're Da Man!

    What do you say to that?

  7. Broadsword,
    The Taliban constitute an important part of the famous strategic depth doctrine that the Pakistan army developed during the first Afghan jihad.It is not a matter of how much control Pakistan has over the Taliban, it is a matter of how much control it will exercise in delivering a solution that could help the US.
    There might be a few renegade groups within the Taliban and the Army sees no problem in punishing them in either South Waziristan or in Swat but it maintains a firm control over the majority of the Taliban groups.
    I also think that the Army has some strong support groups in the US that allow the army to promote a certain line which shifts depending on how fluid the situation is a particular moment in that area.
    The US has a problem since 2004. It now has two foreign policies, one by the civilians and the other by the Pentagon. The army works with the Pentagon and promotes the Pentagon foreign policy goals in the area.

  8. Hossp,

    I admit that you probably know much more than I do about the real dynamics between the Pakistan Army and the Taliban. However, there are a some things that just don't make sense to me about the Pakistan Army's actions over the last couple of months... specifically in the way it is positioning itself as an honest broker in beginning talks between the US, Karzai and the Taliban.

    If the GHQ actually had total control over the Taliban, why would the generals not just wait for the withdrawal of US forces... and then go all out to support a Taliban military move on Kabul, a la 1986?

    Why would it go to such lengths to broker talks in which the Taliban would get just a share of the power... with Karzai still calling the shots from Kabul?

    Doesn't add up.

  9. In my view, it is really a good piece. I think the PPP-led government should not live with Gen Kayani. Because being a 'smart' military man, he may capitalize on his-led military's soft image, in the media of course, and attempt a coup- which will be a marker of the military's rationality and a poor/weak civilian control of the former.

  10. Ejaz,

    The problem is that the issue of replacing Kayani has a long run strategic aspect and a short run tactical aspect.

    In the long run,it is clearly a good idea to replace Kayani when his term is up. It is more important to establish civilian control of the military than it is to keep Kayani in his position. Not that Kayani isn't a good military man, but he's not a unique genius like Napoleon. Pakistan can find another general who is about as good as he is, plus or minus a little.

    But for the long run issues to be relevant, you have to get to the long run. In the short run, things are a bit more complicated. If the Pakistani government decides to replace Kayani, maybe CENTCOM will object. If CENTCOM objects, and the judiciary decides the government is replacing Kayani to get a general who will cooperate against the judiciary, the result of Zardari trying to replace Kayani might be Kayani replacing Zardari.

    As so often happens in politics, the Zardari government would be picking a fight if it decided to try to replace Kayani. In general, it is only a good idea to pick fights you can win, while avoiding others.

    So I have no idea whether the Zardari government should replace General Zardari. I suspect, if you think about it, you don't really know either.