Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus while compiling his literary work Chiliades Adagiorum [Thousands of Adages] never would have thought that one day his words (including the title of this piece) would be used to describe the state of Pakistan’s defence forces, especially its army as viewed by Pakistanis.
The Pakistan Army is seen both as a white knight and a ravager. Some Pakistanis consider the army as the author of every ill that afflicts the country while others view the army as the sole reason of its sustenance. Commentary on the Pakistani military is aplenty on the internet, and most active contributors are the Pakistani cyborgs (internet warriors), who with easy access to the internet and plenty of time at their disposal to comment on day to day developments in the military and the military-civilian relationship on various platforms.
Their comments can be favourable and then the most vitriolic attacks as well. While the positive comments even if unwarranted at times can be attributed to fan-boy patriotism, the beef certain latitudinarians have with the military at times is unjustified. And that is what I will pick up today.
Traditionally, brushing aside the Zionist conspiracy theories, the acrimony toward the military has often been blamed on the ‘God Complexes’ of certain military men and their claims of ‘moral superiority’ over their civilian counterparts.
But of late one finds that there is little to qualify for the nasty accusation of “vanquishing this country” that is hurled toward the forces.
It is for all to see that the military has undergone drastic reforms in its outlook to the democratic set-up post-Musharraf: no more Vae Victis! no more interjections, no more coups. I ask once again, since Musharraf’s ouster how many ultra vires occurrences can those so critical of the army quote?
Not one can regurgitate the rhetoric of rigging of elections. Kudos to the new COAS who quite rightly refused to meddle in ‘civilian affairs’ and did not allow the military oversee the national elections in 2008. Gen Kiyani even forbade his generals from maintaining contacts with politicians, withdrew his officers from civilian duties and most important of all let the government closed the Political Wing of ISI soon after he was sworn into office.
It is also pertinent to mention that it was only under Gen Kiyani that the same ‘unaccountable’ generals stood (answerable) first in front of the elected representatives of the Nation and then in front of theSenate Standing Committee on Defence.
So why is it that these so-called liberals (right wingers rarely have a problem with us), have their draggers drawn?
Well, so we are told that they think that the military calls most of the shots, but I say it’s all conjecture.
Some people are still asking for a civilian to head the ISI. There is nothing wrong with a civilian heading the ISI, only that Kamran Shafi’s argument of copy/pasting the tradition of other intelligence agencies being head by civilians, so must the ISI, is (technically) flawed. Nevertheless, we can surely afford a civilian head of the ISI, but then there are a few snags that I am sure Kamran Shafi and his ilk would like to remove before implementing their proposal.
Most pertinent of these that I ask are:
- Can we allow a supreme commander of the armed forces with the credibility like Zardari to appoint ISI’s civilian DG?
- With ‘patriots’ of a similar credibility filling the Cabinet and pawns of doubtful character leading our national ministries, can our national secrets remain safe as we move further towards allowing them access to ISI’s operational briefs?
- Can we guarantee that the civilian DG would be free from internal and external influences? As regards to the internal influence/pressure, the Memogate episode should serve as an eye opener to all of us. Let’s be grateful to Gen Pasha or else with Intelligence Bureau fully stacked with nincompoops and ISI with a civilian boss, no one (including the army) had any chance to contest the government’s ‘holier-than-thou’ onslaught).
- Lastly, can a civilian DG hold his grounds and make the right decision during critical junctures when simultaneously confronted from all the four sides – military, ruling parties, opposition and outsiders?
With issues such as Zardari’s commitment to no first use of nuclear weapons and the government’s feverish stance on the Memogate scandal, there seems a fortiori requirement for a constant check over our rulers – not necessarily by the military. In developed countries this task would have be executed by the People (assisted by the state institutions).
So after all said and done at least one thing is clear, that while we can’t allow the military to transgress its limits thus affecting the maturation of democracy again, we too can’t allow our politicians (including the civilian bureaucracy) to run amok. The Supreme Court can serve as a soft alternative to the controversial checks the military puts in place, but (ideally) it is ‘We the People’ who have to ensure the accountability and scrutinize those who are paid to rule us before we can live without ‘em’.