Without discipline the Army would just be a bunch of guys wearing the same- color clothing. — Frank Burns
In recent days, one cannot help but notice some extremely disturbing and perturbing indicators in the political arena of the country. At the onset of this democratic era, many of us who had fought alongside the lawyers and the politicians hoped that our efforts would result in the army renouncing all participation in politics. And that, if nothing else, the politicians would not give them the excuse to dabble in political matters in the future. Although I am delighted at the lawyers and civil society achieving their goal of securing a determined judiciary trying to correct its previous follies, I unfortunately am not as glad as to the army’s current role in our political system.
Ever since the democratic government came to power, there has seemed to be a power struggle of sorts going on between the GHQ and the PPP-led government. Unfortunately, at all crucial points, the army has shown its reluctance at the thought of being subservient to Parliament and the democratically elected government. This can be fathomed from various incidents which have taken place over this short democratic period.
The first indicator was when the government sent out a notification bringing the intelligence authorities within the control of the ministry of interior, which the army clearly found totally unpalatable. Although a silly idea to begin with, the reasons for its revocation rather than the revocation itself are a cause of concern. The fact that the notification was taken back within hours rather than days indicates the influence the army held within the political circles, and the degree to which the political government was able to control the army. The rumoured intervention of the army chief in the reinstatement of the chief justice of Pakistan, via the much trumpeted “Kayani formula,” is also an indicator of the army’s continued involvement in politics even at this stage.
Other than that, the fact that important foreign dignitaries or officials who grace Pakistan with their presence meet the army chief and discuss “various matters” in addition to talking to his political counterparts indicates the larger global role that the army has undertaken and retained despite the return of democracy. Much more recently, and extremely disturbing, is the meetings that the COAS has allegedly had with certain political leaders of the ruling and opposition parties, with the exclusion of the persons who make up the present government. And om addition to this, the press statement released by the ISPR which commented on the Kerry-Lugar Bill, despite its being a matter solely within the domain of the political arena, also has resulted in some eyebrows being raised.
Now let’s be clear. Clearly, in addition to the army’s role in politics, there are certain persons in the media and political circles who, intentionally or inadvertently, bolster the image of the armed forces at the expense of the political leadership. The army should be praised where it has done something commendable, but in an appropriate manner, and not at the expense of any other institution or pillar of the state. For example, certain people tend to claim that the army is solely to praise for the success of the Swat offensive, despite the fact that similar operations that took place under the leadership of Musharraf resulted in utter failure. The one difference between those previous operations and the present one was the political shrewdness of the ANP and other political parties which enabled the army to arise victorious by successfully cutting off all local support to the Taliban via the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation episode. But this element of the debate is usually overlooked.
All this does not bode well for this nascent democracy which has barely completed a year! The political government, despite its immense shortcomings and incompetent handling of administrative matters, must be given a fair chance. After all, if we can give dictators years on end, why can’t we allow the democratic dispensation to complete its term? The people elected them for five years, and that is the time that it should be given. Perhaps people will then realise the true worth of their votes, and will cast them with a bit less reckless abandon, and much more caution.
Side Note: On a related matter, I find it astonishing how the ISPR so brazenly commented on the Kerry-Lugar Bill and its contents before the Parliament even had a chance to go over it! Clearly, this bill comes within the purview of the political leadership, which must conduct foreign affairs, among other things. An argument is made that the document deals with “national security” and hence can be analysed by the army but, then again, one wonders where was this argument when Musharraf was selling Pakistani citizens to America for some “well deserved” bounty, or when the first drone attacks took place in FATA, or when Musharraf started a full-fledged operation in Balochistan bringing the federation to its knees.
The writer is a graduate of Columbia University who is currently working as a lawyer in Karachi. Email: basil.nabi@ gmail.com
ISLAMABAD, Oct 8: The fissures created by the top army command’s objections over some of the conditionalities attached to the Kerry-Lugar aid package continued to have a direct impact on the functioning of the government, with ripples created during the day as sources said that the Prime Minister’s Secretariat had received the detailed version of the objections raised by General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani and his fellow commanders a day earlier.
There was a near paralysis in government circles as most ministers, parliamentarians and officials remained locked in debates at various forums on the consequences of the army’s objections, and the manner in which public mood was being influenced by some opposition leaders and a section of the media.
A few were furious over what was described as army’s over-intrusive action, but were not prepared to go on record.
Sources in the government said the communication by the army chief sent directly to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was based on army’s interpretation of various clauses or conditions attached to the American legislation, which the military commanders believe are highly intrusive in nature and will have serious implications on national security.
There was no immediate comment either by the army spokesman or government’s media managers on the detailed report sent by the army to the prime minister. However, official sources said brainstorming sessions were held at Aiwan-e-Sadr and Prime Minister’s House during the day where ways of dealing with the situation were discussed.
Though Prime Minister Gilani had said in his National Assembly speech on Wednesday that the concerns of the army over the bill would be addressed, official sources said the word from President Asif Zardari was that the government and party would defend what they believe was a ‘pro-democracy legislation’.
The presidential camp was further encouraged in the evening when US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W. Patterson met Mr Zardari, mainly to discuss the fallout of the Kerry-Lugar bill controversy.
Presidential Spokesman Farhatullah Babar confirmed the meeting, but did not provide its details. According to him, “it was just a routine meeting”.
However, a private TV channel which interviewed Ms Patterson quoted her as saying that there were a few drafting errors in the legislation, and that the US embassy would convey to Washington the views and objections being raised by concerned quarters in Pakistan. She was also quoted as saying that the Pakistani military would also be consulted on the matter. Another TV channel had earlier quoted her as saying that the legislation was supportive of the people of Pakistan.
Even otherwise, during the day the presidency remained over-active in finding ways of encouraging PPP politicians and government allies to take on the critics of the aid package.
But despite a clear message from Mr. Zardari to adopt a pro-active approach, most ministers and senior party leaders during the day avoided taking up the issue, either in the parliament or on the electronic media. A senior PPP politician told Dawn that most of them were not willing to stick their neck out at a time when uncertainty prevailed after the army’s strong reaction against the US legislation.
Even most of the media managers were reluctant to go on record, and instead were busy distributing prepared material among journalists and analysts in support of the legislation, but desiring to remain anonymous.
In the end it was once again the selfless Farhatullah Babar who decided to spearhead the president’s team with a forceful defence of the government’s position on the US bill.
“There is not a single thing in the bill that is against the interest of the people of Pakistan”, he said during a debate on Dawn News TV.
Mr. Babar appeared with a host of documents in support of his argument, including copies of the aid deals the former military ruler President Pervez Musharraf had struck with the US government, and in which conditions mentioned were as ‘strict’ or ‘controversial’ as they were in the Kerry-Lugar bill. The main thrust of his argument was that it was a bill approved by the Congress with the conditions addressed to the US State Department, and neither the agreement was with Pakistan, nor the Pakistani president or prime minister were its signatory.
The argument was presented as former ministers Faisal Saleh Hayat and Aftab Sherpao, who were once strong defenders of Gen Musharraf and his actions spoke in the National Assembly, criticising the conditions attached to the aid package, calling it an insult to the honour of Pakistani people.
Some of the more sober elements in the main opposition party like writer-politician Ayaz Amir were seriously concerned about the language used in the bill, and thought it was too humiliating for the people to accept it. He, however, declared in a televised debate that the parliament through a democratic process would be able to find an honourable solution to the crisis.
Although the criticism of the Kerry-Lugar bill has been going on in the media for a few weeks, it acquired an entirely new dimension when the army command, instead of communicating its reservations to the government through a formal channel like the Defence Committee of the Cabinet decided to go public. However, the formal communication sent to the prime minister on Thursday was not made public.
However, sources in the government said the main areas where army had expressed its reservations to the prime minister on the inclusion of a clause under which an assessment was required on whether assistance provided to Pakistan was going directly or indirectly to aid the expansion of its nuclear weapons’ programme. The army in its communication has said that the language used in the bill would amount to the capping of the nuclear programme.
Concern has also been expressed over the requirement of certification that Pakistan has made progress in preventing cross-border attacks and whether it has dismantled the alleged terrorist basses in Quetta and Muridke. And another serious reservation was on the clause related to civilian control of the military’s promotions and other related matters that were totally unacceptable to the military commanders.As the belated debate continues over the finer points of Kerry-Lugar, the prophets of doom who have never been in short supply in Islamabad, have already started predicting that unless the government succumbs to the army’s pressure, its days will be numbered. And the presidential camp believes that the real objective is to isolate President Zardari, and hopes that it will once again be thwarted with the active support of the prime minister. (Dawn)