Is Pakistan on a path back to military control?

From the New York Times:

In a sign of the mounting power of the army over the civilian government in Pakistan, the head of the military, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, will be the dominant Pakistani participant in important meetings in Washington this week.

At home, much has been made of how General Kayani has driven the agenda for the talks. They have been billed as cabinet-level meetings, with the foreign minister as the nominal head of the Pakistani delegation. But it has been the general who has been calling the civilian heads of major government departments, including finance and foreign affairs, to his army headquarters to discuss final details, an unusual move in a democratic system.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has been taking a public role in trying to set the tone, insisting that the United States needs to do more for Pakistan, as “we have already done too much.” And it was at his request that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton agreed this fall to reopen talks between the countries at the ministerial level.

The talks are expected to help define the relationship between the United States and Pakistan as the war against the Taliban reaches its endgame phase in Afghanistan. It is in that context that General Kayani’s role in organizing the agenda has raised alarm here in Pakistan, a country with a long history of military juntas.

The leading financial newspaper, The Business Recorder, suggested in an editorial that the civilian government of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani should act more forcefully and “shun creating an environment conducive to military intervention.”

The editorial added, “The government needs to consolidate civilian rule instead of handing over its responsibilities, like coordination between different departments, to the military.”

“General Kayani is in the driver’s seat,” said Rifaat Hussain, a professor of international relations at Islamabad University. “It is unprecedented that an army chief of staff preside over a meeting of federal secretaries.”

As Gen Kayani rises in power, it’s hard not to wonder whether the United States is falling back into its habitual pattern of preferring to deal with powerful military leaders rather than elected governments. For Washington, international relations always seem so much easier to manage on the basis of personal relations with generals who won’t be held accountable by a troublesome electorate.

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