Reform processes have winners and losers. Where losers are strong and powerful, they impose a heavy cost and do not let the reforms take place easily. General Kayani's strong statement on 5th November while talking to the group of officers at the GHQ need to be seen against the backdrop of the country’s most powerful institution resisting change. It marks the re-assertion of the military’s high self-perception to declare that they run the show in Pakistan and they better be left un-challenged.
Recently, a spirited defense of the military appeared in a newspaper by Vice Air Marshal (Retd) Shahzad Chaudhry. While criticizing the liberals for demanding supremacy of civilians over the military; Mr Chaudhry did not refer to the civilian-military relations in the developed or even developing countries including our next door neighbor India. He fails to acknowledge that Pakistan is a praetorian state. There is no mention of the preponderance of military is usurping power for the very initial years of the independence till recently, to indulge in the backdoor political wheeling-dealing even when the so-called civilian set up is in power. In other words, either the military has been ruling Pakistan or it has been a king-maker. The recent Supreme Court judgment in Asghar Khan case validates this point of view that liberals hold of military.
Mr Chaudhry also does not take into account the role of Pakistan army in committing flagrant and massive human rights violations and massacres from East Pakistan in 1971 till now in Balochistan. Neither is there any mention in how the military and its intelligence agencies have patronized and bred the sectarian groups in Pakistan for decades which are not only killing Shias in Balochistan, Karachi and other parts of the country but have also launched terror attack across the border in Mumbai that could have initiated another catastrophic war between two nuclear armed neighbours.
A very lame excuse of linking liberals’ demand of accountability and transparency in the military with American wishes does not carry any weight other than propaganda value. It is almost like saying that liberals in Pakistan like moon just like Americans do; hence liking the moon must be an American agenda. If there is any single institution that has overtly and covertly dealt with America the most, benefitted from America in money and equipment the most; it is none other than military. If America and the rest of the world blame the military for playing a double game on Taliban, Haqqani group and war on terror, it should be taken seriously as they have dealt most extensively with the military often bypassing the civilians. This double game is also supposedly being played internally in terms of patronage of sectarian and other India-focused militants groups such as Jammat-ud-Dawwa and its predecessor Lashkar-e-Taiba.
This uproar over the criticism being heaped on military is stemming from the recent Supreme Court judgment implicating ex-Chief of Army Staff and ex-ISI head in their role in stealing the people’s mandate away from the Pakistan People’s Party in 1990. Other than these two retired general, the press has reported that another seven retired generals are being investigated for their role in financial corruption of gigantic magnitude. General Kayani’s statement admonishing against any criticism of the military needs to be seen in that background.
However, there is no paradigm shift in the civilian-military relations in Pakistan. Military will continue to hold its hegemonic control for the foreseeable future. One cannot expect epoch-making reforms anytime soon. The lack of a good and forceful response by political parties to General Kayani's statement is no surprise. Sadly their extreme apprehension to seize the moment and shift the balance of power in Pakistan reflects the real-politik.
The judiciary and media have made some noise against the unbridled power of the military. However, anyone who heard ex-ISI head Gen (Retd) Asad Durrani's interview on BBC Urdu's Talking point knows that the main co-accused, Asad Durrani and Gen (Retd) Aslam Beg do not think seriously that they will be punished in some effective way, least of all hung on the charges of high treason. Durrani came across as quite relaxed and told the anchor of the programme "not to frighten him" (of any prospects of punishment).
The judiciary has taken up the commendable task of looking into the massive forced disappearances in Balochistan and the seemingly un-stoppable daily killings in Karachi. The judiciary's attitude towards the military in Balochistan has been very considered to say the least. The victims’ families have been crying hoarse for years that military's Frontier Constabulary (FC) is linked to thousands of forced disappearances that are followed by brutal killings of some of those kidnapped. The judiciary has not arrested or punished even a single official from the military for supposedly having committed serious and flagrant human rights violations. This is despite the fact that human rights organizations and even the UN have raised concerns over forced disappearances. Instead, the judiciary keeps on taking the toothless civilian bureaucracy and government to task who have virtually no control over the FC. Hence, the judiciary's approach towards the serving military and military intelligence agencies have been extremely considered overall.
The media is showing some teeth. It could be both due to sensationalism, populism or a change in the mind set as well. However, it is important to keep in mind that the military establishment carefully cultivated the large vernacular sections of the media since late 1970s. It drummed a very parochial, anti-modernist, anti-India, anti-West and hyper-nationalist worldview in the media. When electronic media became privatised in early 2000s, the same parochial worldview continued. Change is somewhat perceptible now. There is a possibility that the electronic media is coming of age and getting mature. Hence, it is also critiquing the military to some degree – an institution that was considered a sacred cow.
Even though there will be no visible structural transformation in the balance of power between the military and civilians. Yet, even slight criticism and call for accountability is not acceptable to the military. General Kayani’s statement made it abundantly clear. Shahzad Chaudhry’s article says the same in a sugar-coated way. To say that military should not be criticised because it is involved in counter-insurgency operations in the country is highly contentious. To link questioning of the military with weakening of the institution, the rule of law and the constitution is of course baseless. For proof look at the recent happenings in the US. America is fighting a war in Afghanistan: Director of its most powerful intelligence agency had to resign (due to the investigation of a civilian agency); its commander of forces in Afghanistan is under investigation while he is on duty in the war and another general has been demoted due to misuse of public funds.
A truly strong institution is the one which is fully accountable both internally and externally to the rule of law, constitution and the public through their elected representatives. Its budget is shared and duly audited by the law-makers. General Kayani must remember the age old dictum that absolute power corrupts absolutely. No institution with unbridled power and finances and little or no accountability can remain strong. This holier than thou attitude must change.
General Kayani's assertion that no single institution is the ultimate arbitrator of the national interest needs to be examined critically. Over six decades of our history, the military has always assumed its sole authority to decide the so-called "national interest" – whatever that means. What is most important in a nation state is human security, development and welfare. Whatever measures can bring education, health, employment, improvement in people's lives should take precedence over other vague concepts such as the "national interest", which can be manipulated by an institution for its own self-serving interests.
For decades, larger population in general and military in particular have been fed a certain mind-set. A mind-set which is anti-progress, defeatist and retrogressive and can prove to be suicidal for Pakistan. There is little transparency in thoughts, actions, operations and funds. Lies have been fed and national security myths have been created on issues ranging from the Indo-Pak wars to drone attacks. They need to set their house in order rather than asking everyone else to continue to treat the military as a sacred cow. The real strength of the institutions comes from introspection, following the rules, transparency, accountability and being answerable. Individuals and institutions grow with criticism rather than getting weak.
The writer has social science background and is based in Islamabad.