RAWALPINDI - There is no danger to democracy or threat of a coup under Gen. Raheel Sharif’s watch but the civilians must come forward and work with the military to make the operation against insurgents successful, according to Lt. Gen (r) Naeem Khalid Lodhi, former secretary of defence and corps commander.

In an exclusive interview with The Nation, Lt. Gen (r) Lodhi, who is currently Chief Executive and MD of Fauji Fertilizer Limited, expressed his independent views on civil military relations and the internal and external challenges that the country faces.

Gen. Lodhi stressed that the military operation alone cannot succeed in completely rooting out extremism until the extremist ideology of the insurgents is not defeated at the ideological, political, economic and societal level.

“These are military operations. These are kinetic operations. In a war like this which is against insurgents, where locals , outsiders, external enemies are involved, the army alone cannot fight. It is war of survival. But all elements which should be fighting this war have to play their important roles. “Gen. Lodhi said during the interview at this residence in Rawalpindi.

“The foremost thing is ideological answer. The answer to extremist ideology is missing. The political response is also needed. Army has been sitting in Swat for such a long time. Somebody has to take over. The political parties must go there. Development and economic revival is another important aspect. Those people have to be provided with opportunities. You have to create jobs in their areas. Whatever happens in the country, the government has to take ownership.”

“Talking and fighting simultaneously is the answer now, as Army has created a position of strength for the Govt. TTP and some smaller factions are purely ideological and some are abetted by the enemies of Pakistan. There are gun runners, narcotics barons, abductors. Some people are misguided. There are also foreigners. Some people will have to be eliminated. I think, now when there is a lot of pressure on them, again we must open talks, and take away those factions which are willing not to fight. This is the political side of the problem. Talks and military operation should continue side by side.”

Talking about the state of civil military relations, Gen. Lodhi said that there has been a tectonic shift in the military’s thinking in the past six years.

“What I have seen is, as I was with Gen. Kayani and I know the serving generals, the thinking of the army has changed a lot. The credit goes to Kayani who convinced us that we must support democracy. Even now, the top generals, who are at the helm of affairs, in my assessment majority of them think the same. Armed forces are quite clear that they have no role in politics and they try their best not to play a role unless they are dragged in,” the general said. “As much as I know of Gen. Raheel Sharif, the army chief, he is a straight soldier. During his tenure, I think there is no danger to democracy, unless something happens which we are not visualising. Anything which can be visualised, I don’t think he is the sort of person who will threaten democracy or think of doing it.”

The constant stream of suspicions fanned by certain quarters was a cause of worry in the army circles, Gen. Lodhi stressed.

“The suspicions from some of the politicians are not going away. That is bothering some of us that despite all of our efforts to show our sincerity, you keep on listening to statements which throw a spanner of suspicion that the armed forces are doing something. I don’t think there is any interference from the army now. The political side should also clean their hearts and minds. They should not make controversial statements. I would advise the government that they should not do anything that would de-popularise the army within the masses.”

“The government and armed forces are not equal institutions,” he said. “The government is the apex institution as it represents the will of the people. The army is very clear that they are subservient to the government.”

Gen. Lodhi credited the former army chief Gen. Pervaiz Kayani for making the military move away from politics, as compared to some of his predecessors.

“Six years of Gen. Kayani have definitely affected the army in a positive manner as he took army away from politics. In spite of being through trying times when there was split in thinking, the integrity of the army never faded away.”

Gen. Lodhi dismissed the speculation that certain elements within the mil-intell community were conspiring against democracy and supporting politicians like Imran Khan and religious leaders like Tahir-ul Qadri.

“I don’t think there can be a rift between the army chief and ISI chief that the ISI chief starts doing things at his own. Some people say that Gen. Musharraf is the main problem for us and because of him ISI is supporting certain opposition politicians then it can be tested very easily. Just send Musharraf away and see if everything stops.  Imran Khan is not likely to stop his march. Qadri will continue whatever he is saying.”

“ In armed forces, pro Musharraf and anti Musharraf people are in the same ratio as in the masses. But the esprit de corps does exist. Musharraf was our chief. If we see him being degraded and desecrated, we cannot remain aloof to this thing. Whether we like him or don’t like him, we don’t want him dishonoured,” Gen. Lodhi said.

“My assessment is that the present leadership of the army will not go for a coup,” Lt Gen Lodhi said regarding speculation about a military coup if Musharraf is prosecuted in treason case. “They will keep conveying their concerns to the government”.

“Army will only act in the interest of the nation and country. Army will only act if there is such a breakdown of law and order that big factions of people start fighting with each other and all modicum of law and order is dissolved. This is for the politicians to make sure that such situation does not arise.”

“There is a difference between the personalities of Gen. Raheel Sharif and Gen. Kayani. Gen. Raheel Sharif is a straight soldier. He would not interfere in political matters. This is my assessment. He will not go to the political parties advising them to do this or that. He thinks that politicians are wise enough; they have a lot of experience. Gen. Kayani, whenever he thought that advice was required, he would do that. He did that very successfully. Even now, a lot of pressure can be deflated from the balloon if the government agrees to recount in 4 constituencies.” he said.

Gen. Lodhi said the possibilities of violence erupting due to a mass mobilisation of people, as being expected on August 14, remained very high, even if the government decided to let the protest continue peacefully.

“If there is a very big mob of people and even if the government allows them to gather in Islamabad peacefully, what about the enemies of Pakistan. What if there is terrorist act? What if somebody from the mob fires at the government,” he said.

Talking about Afghanistan, Gen. Lodhi said that a stable Afghanistan was in Pakistan’s interest as stability across the border translates into stability in our border areas.

“The border with Afghanistan cannot get stabilised unless Afghanistan is itself stabilised. Some intellectuals keep on saying that we should not interfere in Afghan affairs. Someone should ask them who else is interfering in Afghanistan. If Americans are interfering, if Iran is doing so, if India doing it then are we the only good boys, who should not do anything? ,” Gen. Lodhi, who has previously served as corps commander Bahawalpur, asked.

“We have the greatest interest in Afghanistan. If everyone else has a finger in Afghanistan, how can we remain out? You should assert yourself. You have a big leverage as far as Afghanistan is concerned. It must be utilised and we must endeavour to keep ourselves in a situation in a way that whatever anybody decides about Afghanistan other than Afghans, we should also be a part of that dialogue,” Gen. Lodhi said.

“Of course, ideal situation is that we should not get involved in Afghanistan. But if the world is not leaving Afghans alone, why are they teaching us to stay away. You can’t stay away. You can wish but you can’t. This world, alas is not a level playing field.”