Pakistan and its 'Topi Drama'

      It is a term ordinary Pakistanis use to describe a theatrical production staged by the army to fool people into believing just about anything. You hear of it often in Pakistan , more so in Islamabad where rumours and gossip are a way of life. 'Topi Drama' literally means a drama enacted by those who wear the beret. And, last week's events are being clubbed as just that, yet another attempt to make people believe that a democracy is in place and decisions are taken by a democratic government. Close on the heels of the three-year extension granted to General Kayani as army chief came the announcement that the US Government had decided to retain its ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, for an unspecified period, even though, she had already spent four years in Islamabad. She could well stay in the Pakistani capital till 2013, as long as the army chief. Where does the writ of the US Government end, and, where does the Pakistan Government's begin is a matter of speculation and gossip in Islamabad . The announcement of General Kayani's extension for three more years as army chief of Pakistan came over the weekend, but rumours of this bloodless coup of sorts had been doing the rounds of Islamabad for long. The decision was ostensibly taken by the civilian government to grant General Ashfaq Kayani the three-year extension, but the people dismiss it as a 'Topi Drama'. It is well known that the 'General' was writing his own orders. In the past two years, Kayani could have overthrown the elected government and established martial law whenever he wanted like his predecessor General Pervez Musharraf. General Musharraf had dismissed the Nawaz Sharif government on October 12, 1999 . Now, living in self-imposed exile in London , the former president called General Kayani over the weekend and congratulated him, saying that Kayani's contribution as army chief would be beneficial for national integrity and Pakistan 's stability. Kayani's continuation is supposedly to give continuity and stability to Pakistan 's war against terror. That it is close to 9-10 years since this war has been going on, and that it shows no signs of ending of course is not the point. Defending the extension given to Kayani, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said: "The term of the Prime Minister is until 2013, the term of President is also until 2013, the chief justice will also stay in his seat through that period, and we also extended the service of the chief of army staff through that period." Kayani's supporters -- General David Petraeus, NATO Secretary General Anders Gogh Rasmussen and the slightly reluctant US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- had come and blessed the extension orders. More 'Topi Drama'. India has no illusions about who wields power in Pakistan . While endless debates in the media continue about the futility of India talking to an elected government in Pakistan when, the decision making in that country rests with the army, the fact is that Indian foreign service officials who deal with Pakistan know it is one and the same thing. When they talk with the Pakistan Government, they are actually talking to the army, but using a via media. The India policy in Pakistan is directed and driven by the GHQ (General Head Quarters) in Rawalpindi . That has always been the case. Whenever any Prime Minister has tried to script the policy on his own, as did Nawaz Sharif, he has had to pay a heavy price for it. Sharif lost his job. Continuity to the India Policy and now to the terror war is only provided by the army. Imtiaz Alam, the editor of South Asian Journal writes "As compared to 12 Pakistani army chiefs who had on average over five years of tenure and four military rulers who ruled on average for over eight years, Pakistan had 16 prime ministers whose average tenure did not last two years. This shows a precarious equation of civil-military relations that did not let democracy and constitutional rule work." Kayani is irreplaceable for the Americans at this stage. 2010 is crucial as it sets the stage for the imminent withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan . But before that happens, it needs Pakistan 's support to achieve its goals in Afghanistan . Pakistan is "at the heart" of the search for peace and stability in Southern Asia said Richard Holbrooke, America's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan in London last week. It ought to be clear to India , that to the US from now till 2011, South Asia means just Af-Pak. India is peripheral to the problem and the solution.

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