A Rationale for the Pakistan Coup

03 Nov, 1999    ·   280

D. Suba Chandran reckons that Nawaz Sharif's pre-emptive gambit to rein in the Army in the face of domestic opposition resulted in the coup

The military take over in Pakistan on October 12 marked the end of yet another phase of democratically elected governments in Pakistan . None of the democratic governments completed their term of five years, but the two thirds majority garnered by the Pakistan Muslim League in the 1997 elections raised hopes of democratic entrenchment. When Jehangir Karamat, former Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan, was forced to resign last October after calling for the formation of a National Security Council to tackle the various issues facing Pakistan , it seemed to signify the end of the Army's hold over the nation's democratic polity. 



Within a year after Karamat’s removal, Army stepped in. Why did the Army decided to take over now, when it refused the same in the previous year? Why did Gen. Pervez Musharraf decide to overthrow Nawaz Sharif, despite being handpicked by him? What went wrong suddenly, especially after Musharraf’s elevation as the Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, which extended his tenure up to October 2001 recently? 



First, a close look at the functioning Pakistani Army in the last couple of years would reveal a growing sense of professionalism setting in, especially since the 1997 elections. The Pakistan Army remained neutral during the Government-Judiciary showdown, government-press row and during the strikes and demonstrations organized by the Grand Democratic Alliance. Despite the entire opposition and the press supporting the remarks made by former COAS Karamat on the need for formation of a National Security Council, he resigned. There was no wide spread reaction inside the Army either when Karamat resigned or when Gen. Musharraf was selected as the COAS superseding two senior Generals. 



Secondly, during the entire Kargil crisis, the Army played a secondary role to political objectives. All major decisions such as sending Pakistan Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz to India for talks, Nawaz Sharif's decision to visit the US and the subsequent Washington Declaration, the decision to withdraw the mujahideen from the Indian side of the LoC were discussed and taken in the Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DCC) which include representatives of the Pakistani Army. In fact, it was Musharraf who announced on 26 June a meeting with Gen. Anthony Zinni, the US Commander-in-Chief of Central Command, that Sharif would meet President Bill Clinton regarding the de-escalation of the Kashmir situation. Hence the entire thesis that the Army felt betrayed by Sharif's US visit and the subsequent Washington Declaration is invalid. Musharraf himself went on to say that "Kargil was a great military success".



The coup, thus was not because of the failure of the Kargil adventure but because of certain other developments inside Pakistan in the post Kargil period, especially internal criticism against Sharif over Pakistan 's misadventure in Kargil. The entire country felt humiliated over the Washington Declaration and held Sharif responsible for the debacle. The various opposition parties exploited the outpouring of anger for narrow political objectives. They organized demonstrations and strikes and formed a Grand Democratic Alliance with the single objective to oust Sharif. 



Sensing the opposition, Sharif decided to find a scapegoat for the Kargil misadventure and also wanted to protect himself from the only source from which a threat could emanate to his position -- the Pakistan Army. After attempting to undermine institutions such as the judiciary, the parliament, the press and the Sindh National Assembly, Sharif decided to take on the Pakistan Army. According to the spokesman of the new regime Brig. Rashid Qureshi, there were efforts "to create differences between the Army hierarchy and General Musharraf". Musharraf echoed the same in his speech on 16 October that a "few at the helm of affairs in the last government were intriguing to destroy the last institution of stability left in Pakistan by creating dissension in the ranks of the armed forces of Pakistan". When Sharif decided to remove Musharraf from the post and appoint Lt. Gen. Khwaja Ziauddin as the Chief of Army Staff,  while Musharraf was on an official visit to Sri Lanka , the Army decided to take over.



The military take-over seems to be a spontaneous reaction and not a pre-planned move on the part of the Army. The fact that Musharraf took his time to assume the office of the Chief Executive of Pakistan, and proclaim the Provisional Constitutional Order No. 1 of 1999 three days after the take over, shows that the coup was not pre-planned unless the proclamation was deliberately delayed to appear that way.