Saying no operation was eventually launched 'due to the indecision of General Kayani', Abbas replied in the affirmative to a question whether "personal weaknesses" of the former army chief played a part
Pakistan is reverberating with the damning indictment of General Ashfaq Kayani, a former army chief, whose apparent diffidence to a decisive military operation against militants in North Waziristan back in 2010 has been called into question. That the charges have come from Major-General Athar Abbas, the former Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations (DG ISPR) — the public relations wing of the military — who was handpicked by Kayani, have laid bare the leadership vacuum many had come to see in both the military and civilian echelons of the time.
In an interview with BBC and, later, Dawn Media Group's web portal dawn.com, Abbas said a decision had been taken four years ago to launch a decisive military offensive in the militant-infested North Waziristan — the US had long been pushing for it — but concluded that out of fears over a right-wing backlash as well as the impression that he (Kayani) would be seen as taking American dictation, Kayani baulked, and which, cost Pakistan heavily in both materialistic and strategic terms.
Abbas says the militants are far more organized, better equipped and strategically placed now than they were in 2010. The comments make for interesting, if troubled, reading. Saying no operation was eventually launched "due to the indecision of General Kayani," Abbas replied in the affirmative to a question whether "personal weaknesses" of the former army chief played a part.
"This is generally true," he said. "He (Kayani) was hesitant regarding the military offensive in North Waziristan. He kept delaying the decision because he thought it would be considered as his personal initiative. "This cost us dearly," Athar observed.
"The delay has strengthened the extremists — they have grown in numbers and are more resourceful now. They are better connected with each other now and in my opinion things have become more complicated," the former ISPR chief reasoned. The timing of the ex-DG ISPR's assertion has itself raised a storm, and not alone for the reason that a retired employee in the service of Pakistan is legally barred from speaking on issues such as he did before a mandatory lapse of two years, post-retirement. Abbas is yet to see out the mandatory period after being in the position for four years at a time of much trepidation in terms of decision-making at the top.
In a subsequent interview with dawn.com, Abbas may have revealed more than he could chew perhaps, given that these may have future repercussions for the institution he came to represent.
Kayani, who has so far not responded to the charges — perhaps, being more mindful of the two-year bar that his former subordinate Abbas seems to have breached — it may be recalled, was the first army chief whose full term was extended by yet another by a civilian government. His mostly coup-happy predecessors simply walked into power, giving themselves extensions at whim.
Kayani remained the chief of the army staff for six consecutive years from 2007 when General Parvez Musharraf reluctantly, doffed his khakis nine years into the post following a political deal that envisioned for him the role of a powerful civilian president.
Although Abbas later explained the controversial aspects of his BBC interview to dawn.com as incidental given the nature of the questions asked of him, the reference to how "whatever the elements of the Haqqanis were there, intelligence (agencies) was supposed to manage them" in the dawn.com interview has left both the domestic and foreign audiences with searching questions about the actual role of the only organised institution in a country locked in an existential war.
Kayani was highly regarded for bringing a paradigm shift by studiously keeping away from interfering in politics — a role until then self-righteously arrogated to itself by the powerful security establishment.
The only aberration was when in 2011 it attempted to entrap the Pakistan People's Party government over the infamous Memogate issue when Hussain Haqqani, the-then Pakistani envoy to the US, was accused by it of authoring a memo that sought US help to avert a military takeover in the wake of the damaging US raid to take out Osama bin Laden in the garrison city of Abbottabad.
However, Kayani left behind a somewhat not-so-envious legacy because of the Osama Bin Laden episode, for one, after which he and the spy chief were summoned and forced to give an explanation to the parliament for the intelligence failure. Ironically, the PPP government bailed out the military at high noon!
However, the Abbas interview coincides with a belated, if robust, military offensive launched by General Raheel Sharif, Kayani's successor, giving rise to speculation about its very timing. Were his interview contents "incidental" as Abbas claims or was it a calibrated move to show how General Sharif is a swift and bold decision-maker as opposed to his ex-boss — is open to question.
The author is a senior journalist based in Islamabad. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.