Pakistan Army: Can’t live with them, can’t live without them

Published: September 6, 2012
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Kudos to the new Chief of Army Staff (COAS) who quite rightly refused to meddle in ‘civilian affairs’ and did not allow the military oversee the national elections in 2008. PHOTO: REUTERS

Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus while compiling his literary work Chiliades Adagiorum (Thousands of Adages) never would have thought that one day his words ‘can’t live with them, can’t live without them’ would be used to describe the Pakistan Army as viewed by Pakistanis. 

The Pakistan Army is seen both as white knights and ravagers by the common man. Some consider the army as the author of every ill that afflicts the country while others view it as the sole reason of its sustenance. Commentary on the Pakistani military is aplenty on the internet and while the positive comments at times can be attributed to fan-boy patriotism, the beef certain latitudinarians have with the military is unjustified, in my opinion.

Thus, in light of Defence Day, this is what I will pick up today to serve as a neutral platform and an analysis of Roterodamus’ words ‘can’t live with them, can’t live without them’ pertaining to the Pakistan Army.

Brushing aside the Zionist conspiracy theories, the acrimony towards 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 this nasty accusation.

It is for all to see that post-Musharraf the military has undergone drastic reforms in its outlook: there have been no more coups since Musharraf’s ouster. How many ultra vires (beyond the powers) occurrences can those so critical of the army quote? They can’t even regurgitate the rhetoric of Army influencing the elections. Kudos to the new Chief of Army Staff (COAS) who quite rightly refused to meddle in ‘civilian affairs’ and did not allow the military oversee the national elections in 2008. He even forbade his generals from maintaining contacts with politicians, withdrew his officers from civilian duties and most important of all let the government close the Political Wing of the ISI soon after he was sworn into office.

Interestingly, it was only under General Kayani that the same ‘unaccountable’ generals stood (answerable), first in front of the elected representatives of the Nation and then in front of the Senate Standing Committee on Defence.

The demand of a civilian to head the ISI is another issue. There is nothing wrong with the proposal, only that the argument of copy/pasting the tradition of other intelligence agencies being led by civilians, so must the ISI, is (technically) flawed. Nevertheless, we can surely afford a civilian to head the ISI, but then there are a few snags, most pertinent of these that I ask are:

  • Can we allow a supreme commander of the armed forces with the credibility like Zardari’s 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? (Memogate episode – let’s be grateful to General Pasha or else with IB fully stacked with nincompoops and the ISI with a civilian boss, no one 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?

Non-military projects of the armed forces 

Business ventures of the Pakistani military are also a perpetual source of cribbing.

However please make note:

  • These welfare projects were established under the Charitable Endowment Act 1890 or the Societies Registration Act 1860 and are duly approved by the government of Pakistan.
  • These organisations are the highest tax payers in Pakistan.
  • They contribute tremendously to the national economy and provide employment opportunities to a large number of civilians.
  • No serving personnel are employed in any of the projects (except a few serving officers who are employed in the administration of DHA).
  • Involvement of the military in commercial and business activity is not unique to Pakistan.
  • (Information brief by ISPR) 

The AQ Khan episode

Another time-worn but sensitive reason cited to slander the military is the demonisation of AQ Khan by a ‘dictator’. However, considering the magnitude of the problem caused by the AQ Khan network and the fact that the three intended recipient (countries) of nuclear transfers were the ones the US was most anxious to keep WMDs away from, AQ Khan’s forced retirement which in turn demonised  his stature as a national hero, was nothing in comparison to what actually lay in store for him.

Moreover, it is also because of Musharraf (read the army) that the investigators have yet not been allowed to interview Dr Khan or his senior aides directly, unless of course, according to WikiLeaks, Zardari would have handed over AQ Khan to IAEA.

Sorry guys, but with this ‘Leak’ we are back to square one – can this country really subsist with or without the army and its ‘foul’ activities, thereof?

I suggest that the military should continue to stay away from politics and enervate itself even further, but perhaps with our government’s ever persisting errata sheet there seems a fortiori requirement for a constant check over our rulers, though not necessarily by the military.

In developed countries, this task would have be executed by the state institutions. So it is clear that while we can’t allow the military to transgress, we too can’t allow our politicians (including the civilian bureaucracy) to run amok. The Supreme Court can serve as a soft alternative, but (ideally) it is ‘We the People’ who have to ensure the accountability and scrutinise those who are paid to rule us before we can live without ‘them’.

This blog originally appeared here.

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Asad K

Asad K

A federal government employee who blogs at xerics.blogspot.com/ and is part of the think-tank force at defence.pk

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.