|Saturday, August 29, 2009
Taj M Khattak
In the aftermath of last month’s Supreme Court decision invalidating Musharraf’s actions of Nov 3, 2007, the debate has warmed up once again as to whether doors for martial laws have been shut for ever. While the judgment has been hailed by some as landmark and historic, one experienced politicians observed that all it takes to show the door to the present civilian regime is two trucks and a jeep.
The country is on a crossroads and it would be useful to rewind our collective memory and review where we made a hash of opportunities in the past.
After the 1971 fiasco the military was totally demoralised, with over 93,000 PoWs were languishing in India. It was time for some delicate and deft handling in Pakistan to resurrect its bruised armed forces into a credible fighting machine once again. It was the need of the hour to give it both a sense of ownership and a stern stewardship to confine it to barracks under the civilian authority.
One would have thought that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had, emphatically and authoritatively, stamped civilian authority over the military when, in one sweep, he retired nearly two dozens general-rank officers of the three services on Dec 18, 1971.
Had Bhutto paused there and initiated the now much talked about “truth and reconciliation” exercise, he might have been hugely successful in removing the civilian-military distrust. Quite to the contrary, when he assumed the title of civilian chief martial law administrator, he unwittingly dignified the concept of military rule over the civilians.
His sacking of the Army and Air Force chiefs caused a minor stir, but he could still have had the confidence of the country’s soldiers to look up to him for redemption of their lost honour and dignity.
But when he decided to show the Pakistani Army’s surrender ceremony at Dhaka on the TV, he went too far. The soldiers, already smarting under the ignominy of the surrender at Paltan Maidan in Dhaka, were immensely disillusioned.
Bhutto, the political master of the country that he was at the time, could have emulated the circus ring master, who after getting the tame lion perform its entertaining act for the audience, “walks back” the lion to its cage, and once inside, slams the door shut on the animal.
As Zia appeared for his “My dear countrymen” speech in 1977, the nation hardly remembered that only six years ago, Bhutto had pronounced an end to all military takeovers.
The next opportunity for the political leaders to regain what was theirs came in 1985. Zia, after a lot of dithering, had handpicked Muhammad Khan Junejo as his prime minister, and he surprised his mentor, in his very first speech from the floor of the Parliament, when he bravely, and to the applause of all members, announced that democracy and martial could not go together.
He had thrown the gauntlet to Zia and in retrospect that should have been enough. Zia was at the end of his rope from God, Junejo could just have bided his time and the history of this country might have been different. But he also probably wanted to make history when he announced that he will put the generals in a Suzuki car.
The Suzuki was quite a comfortable vehicle to begin with, and most people saw no issue getting into it. But when the tone and tenure of Junejo’s statement of “putting the generals in Suzuki” (like Zardari rolled the word Musharraaf in his press conference before forcing him to resign), echoed from the cantonments across the country, the Suzuki, suddenly looked an alien vehicle.
Junejo’s obsession with the Ojri Camp disaster’s investigations, as we all know, was the last straw on the camel’s back, and thus another opportunity was squandered. In the immortal words of Munir Niazi, kuj shehr de log ve zaalim san, kuj sanu maran da shouq ve see. ( Niazi’s poetry defies translation, but a bad and a loose one might go like this: They, at the township were no angles, but in no small measure did I too contribute to my own undoing.)
Come Benazir Bhutto and she put up quiet gracefully with her COAS, a disciplined soldier otherwise, who would just never appear with headgear in her vicinity, which said it all, as to where the civil-military relations rested.
She yet tested the waters futilely, after the Zarb-e-Momin exercise, in trying to place the then Corps Commander 4 Corps (largely seen as a dove) as deputy chief of the Army
Staff at the GHQ after granting him an extension, which was seen as a sinister plan. His retirement put an end to any strategy she might have had in mind about civilian supremacy over the military, till the country entered Nawaz Sharif’s era.
Nawaz began with sacking the then CNS, but soon stumbled on something quite unnecessary when he overreacted to a statement on national security from Gen Jahangir Karamat. Gen Karamat was as level-headed a general as they come, and an odd statement need not have alarmed Nawaz to an extent which ended up in such a severe reaction.
Having seen the back of Gen Karamat, Nawaz could not resist the idea of putting his own man in the GHQ, without realising that the ground under his feet was slipping very fast. Just as Bhutto had reached the edge with a series of actions seen by the military as hostile, and Junejo after him, Nawaz had reached the danger zone with the sacking of Gen Karamat, and the rest, as they say is history, when the military, to the misfortune of the nation, once again moved to centre-stage.
An idea being floated these days about “one more term to the army” is patently naïve, to say the least. What did not work for Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz is unlikely to work for President Zardari.
The July judgment is an important one, no doubt, but that in itself is unlikely to shut the doors permanently on martial laws. The rulers could do with a little more surplus of credibility, rather than the present deficit of trust.
In August 1991, Boris Yelsten climbed atop a Soviet Army tank on the roll in a coup attempt against Gorbachev. Yelsten had no love for Gorbachev, nor was he such a popular democrat, but his climb on the tank signified a big “No” to the Soviet military, and that alone which made a huge difference.
Invest in the people of Pakistan. Give them good governance, give them their hopes in the future of their land for which their forefathers sacrificed so much and they too will stop the two trucks and the jeep dead in their tracks the next time they venture out of 111 Brigade headquarters.
If not, and with utmost deference to their Lordships, the landmark and historic judgments and Musharraf’s trial proceedings, if any, will, sooner than later, form part of the archives in bar rooms for the well heeled lawyers for hair splitting arguments in the future.
The write is a retired vice admiral and former vice-chief of the naval staff. Email: email@example.com (The News)