Pakistani Military Saw Sharif as American Lackey

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

London ( - Pakistani army officers who toppled Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif Tuesday had among their gripes the fact Sharif was seen as too willing to bow to American dictates on security-related matters.

As Pakistanis started to come to terms with the fact the army has taken over for the fourth time in the country's 52-year history, senior officers quoted in local media Wednesday charged Sharif with bringing "disgrace to Pakistan's army by bowing down before the U.S. administration" -- by agreeing to withdraw from the military confrontation with India over Kashmir this summer.

The retreat was regarded as a "humiliation" and a wasted opportunity, both by the military and by Islamic fundamentalists supportive of Muslim militants in Kashmir. Adding salt to the wound was Sharif's refusal to allow the military to launch a revenge assault after India shot down a Pakistan Navy aircraft in July, killing all 16 on board.

The military was also wary of Sharif's apparent willingness to give in to U.S. pressure to sign the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty, without waiting for nuclear rival India to do likewise.

Thirdly, officers had been concerned about recent discussions in Washington between U.S. officials and Pakistani intelligence chief Lieutenant-General Khawaja Ziauddin, which seemed to be leading towards a break in Pakistan's strategic relationship with the Islamist Taliban militia in Afghanistan.

Although the military is not uniformly supportive of the Taliban, officers were concerned about the affect the shift could have on stability inside Pakistan, whose militant Muslim clergy enjoys close ties to the militia controlling most of Afghanistan.

Sharif has in recent days made statements unusually critical of the Taliban, accusing it of backing terrorism inside Pakistan and of allowing terror bases to operate on Afghan soil. The U.S. says the Taliban is providing a safe haven for Osama bin Laden, the Islamist militant suspected of masterminding the August 1998 embassy bombings in East Africa.

Major Charles Heyman, an editor with Jane's Information Group, said Wednesday there had been a strong perception in Pakistan that Sharif "wanted to be seen as a friend of the Americans."

"The army will almost certainly take a different line," he told

Heyman said he did not envisage a period of serious regional instability in South Asia. The military would have its hands full working on the "number one priority - internal stability ... the last thing they'll want to do is start adventuring beyond the borders."

In the longer term, however, "there could be scope for problems with India," with all the nuclear risks those could entail.

Heyman voiced pessimism about the outlook for Pakistan, predicting "three or four" more shifts between military dictatorship and democracy there over the next 20 years. "Democracy hasn't taken root in Pakistan the way we would have liked."

Analysts say Sharif tried to shore up his government by playing to both the military and Islamic extremists, but ended up alienating both. This was particularly evident in the clash with India over Kashmir, with almost led to a fourth war between the neighbors. Sharif had wanted to score points with the military and Islamists alike, but the humiliating climb-down at Washington's behest angered both.

The Pakistani army seized power late Tuesday hours after Sharif announced he was replacing the army chief of staff, General Pervez Musharraf, with intelligence chief Ziauddin, the Sharif loyalist and close friend who has been engaged in security talks in the U.S.

Troops captured key installations and placed Sharif and Ziauddin under "protective custody" inside Sharif's Lahore residence.

In a televised address early Wednesday, Musharraf announced the army had taken over "as a last resort." He accused Sharif of attempting "to politicize the army, destabilize it and ... create dissension within its ranks."

Musharraf has promised to make public his policies later today.

The coup did not come as a complete surprise to observers. The U.S. late last month warned the Pakistani military against "extra-constitutional measures." Pakistan's The News reports that army officers had been preparing for the coup for weeks, and were thus able to swing into action immediately the news of Musharraf's dismissal broke.

And there was another clue a week ago, Heyman told, when the chief of the navy, Admiral Fasih Bokhari, resigned unexpectedly. "It seems the commander of Pakistan's navy had picked up signs [of a coup plot] and wanted nothing to do with it."

Britain, which ruled the area today comprising Pakistan, India and Bangladesh until 1947, has warned its citizens in Pakistan to "stay indoors" and monitor reliable news reports, while advising those planning a trip there to postpone.

Foreign Minister Robin Cook in a statement called "on all parties to respect the constitution, the rule of law and the democratic process."

Although Pakistan has survived three previous military takeovers, this is the first since the country became a declared nuclear power last year. Neighboring India, also nuclear-capable, has placed its military on full alert.

The Times of India warned Wednesday of a "doubly dangerous [situation] in a nuclear Pakistan where there is no political leadership to rein in a general capable of pressing the nuclear trigger ... a coming together of the hard-line army and religious right-wing political groups may be the perfect recipe for disaster in South Asia."

But Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon played down fears that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal could fall into irresponsible hands.

"It is my understanding that the Pakistani Army has controlled the nuclear program,
and the security of the nuclear weapons, as a matter of course," Bacon told the Voice of America.

"So I don't think that anything should change, based on the events that we see taking place in Pakistan."

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow