Why are we holding the Pak Army accountable for things the government should be doing?

Published: February 4, 2016

Once the threat has been eradicated or at least diminished, any multi-billion dollar project for bettering lives would seem more appropriate. PHOTO: AFP

On December 16, 2014 seven men entered the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar and killed 141 people including 139 children. On January 20, 2016 several gunmen entered, and killed 22 students of the Bacha Khan University Peshawar. These aren’t the only mass shootings to have taken place at educational institutions around the globe.

Since the 1960s, thousands of students have been killed in mass shootings at schools in countries including Canada, Germany, England, France, Finland, Israel, Azerbaijan, Lebanon, Brazil and Pakistan. Some, not all, of these attacks were terrorism related. Each nation has reacted according to the nature, intensity and motives of these attacks. Heightened security and stricter gun control laws have been the most common countermeasures.

Recent attacks in Pakistan, however, were terror related. Terrorists have attacked these soft targets and justified this barbarity with frail excuses. The motives of these terrorists or their alleged affiliation with Islam, foreign intelligence agencies of India, Afghanistan or the United States does not change the fact that hundreds of innocent children died and millions are made to live under constant threat. Be it deranged extremists or tools in the hands of another state, the fact is that they are enemies of Pakistan and this is a war, even if not entirely conventional.

Are we putting up a fight?

Are we winning?

Since this is not a conventional war, it does not call upon the men in uniform alone. Each of us is under a threat, each of us is a party in this war; a soldier by force if I may. This war is being fought on fronts including military, civil and psychological. Each institution, every citizen has a role to play. I am afraid right now it appears more of a fight among ourselves than with the enemy. Dissatisfaction over the other’s role, mudslinging and cynicism are the most commonly used weapons. Civil-military coordination or harmony though better than before, still seems gravely lacking.

Certain elements in the media have yet to realise their role and wake up to the responsibility on their shoulders. Our citizens are divided, dissatisfied, de-motivated, confused and scared. The enemy’s flush-all-norms-of-war-down-the-drain strategy has worked. By targeting children they have hit the nerve. Fear and insecurity has induced the panic they wanted to see. For centuries fear has been used as the most effective manipulative tool, and it now has a new face, the face of a dead innocent child.

For many local and international observers, ever since the APS attack and announcement of the National Action Plan (NAP), the Pakistan Army has been in the driving seat. The drive however is not as smooth as one would want it to be. Imagine driving with a bunch of toddlers in the back seat throwing tantrums, fighting with each other and not paying any attention to anything you ask of them.

The army chief’s popularity sky rocketed after his quick-to-the-feet action post the APS tragedy. Zarb-e-Azab continues and has brought a marked decline in terrorist activities. The army however does not seem satisfied with the “toddlers”. Repeated “requests” to implement NAP in its entirety seem to have fallen on deaf ears. The chief and his army continue to play the least controversial and admittedly most effective role in our war. Nevertheless some segments have jumped on the opportunity to attack the effectiveness of military’s operation and especially its efforts to fight the war on the psychological front through Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR). Songs produced by ISPR were mocked at after the Bacha Khan University attack in absolute ignorance of the fall in terror related incidents owing to military operation and the intention behind these motivational songs.

One controversial figure named Abdul Aziz has emerged as a test case for the state’s conviction in this war. Musharraf’s action against Lal Masjid and its consequences may be a deterrent for the civil and military leadership, nevertheless each blatant challenge to the state’s writ ought to be met with a more resolute reply. Maulana’s repeated challenges to the state and the state’s inaction has exposed not just the civil-military division, but the fact that such divisions run deep into our political and social system. This lack of unity and uniformity of opinion is an alarming weakness that casts doubt over our ability, as a nation, to win this war.

Last week the government decided to close all schools sighting extreme cold. The actual motive behind this step, taken soon after the Bacha Khan University attack, was however soon deciphered. There is an apprehension regarding the security of educational institutions. Parents have been insecure since the APS attack, school owners have also seemed a bit wary, but now the state expressed its own insecurity. This implied admission has unleashed a mammoth wave of uncertainty in citizens and parents. A tussle between schools and the government ensued exposing a mutual dissatisfaction over security arrangements for our children. For the parents, this silent war between school owners and government is a disclaimer saying “we are not responsible for your child’s security”. But Sirs, you are; the government more, a lot more, than the school owners.

It is the state’s duty to provide security to its citizens. While the government spends billions on better modes of commute, it cannot expect us to believe that it lacks resources to provide reasonable security to its citizens. Yes, the schools can’t do away with any and all responsibility either, especially ones that charge humongous fees. But it is the state that needs to take the lead in this matter. If our lives are secure and not under threat, we will not mind travelling on the same old roads. Once the threat has been eradicated or at least diminished, any multi-billion dollar project for bettering lives would seem more appropriate. But to better our lives, or lives of the residents of one particular city, you need to at least ensure that there is a life to better.

Citizens protested against the unreasonable fee hikes, please don’t make them come out in protest for the very lives and safety of their children.

The results of our war may not matter as long as we are seen fighting it to the best of our ability. A year on, after the official announcement of this war and NAP, we still haven’t been able to set our priorities right. Food, shelter and clothing are a citizen’s fundamental needs, then come fundamental rights to health and education. Life and security thereof, precedes it all. Be it times of war or peace, if this is not how the state sets its priorities, it fails in its duties and loses its writ in calling the citizens to perform theirs. The result is a gradual decline into anarchy, casting a doubt on which side you were on during our war against the enemy.

The latest shift from military rule to democracy presented a ripe opportunity to close the doors to any future intervention; however our self-proclaimed democracy lovers have failed to capitalise yet. The clock is running and patience is running out. The time to save the country is now, so is the time to save democracy. We all know if there is a choice between the two, democracy won’t be a real option anymore.


Zafar Zulqurnain Sahi

A Lawyer by profession. A Gold Medalist in LLB from Punjab University and has a LLM degree from University of Warwick, UK. He is also a former Member Provincial Assembly of Punjab (2008-2013). He tweets @ZafarSahi (twitter.com/ZafarSahi)

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

  • feedback

    Because Pakistan Army is governing the country, not the civilian government because our PM is nothing more than a puppet, whose strings are in the hands of establishment. The dummy democratic government is just to give a false picture of Pakistan to international community and not to forget that PMLN was invented by a dictator.Recommend

  • Akbar

    Agree with the author’s position. Unfortunately, the vast majority of media persons and judiciary heavyweights are pulling their weight for the govt. and blocking full functioning of military courts which are the only solution to eliminating terrorists and their supporters (which are many) in government. A shift is needed in the narrative to where the real blame lies i.e. nawaz govt.Recommend

  • Brain Think

    Pak army has always been the government since 1947.
    Any “bloody civilian” rule is just really a facade.Recommend

  • Parvez

    One year on from the APS tragedy the people are demanding results and not rhetoric from the armed forces…… as they have no one else to turn to. The political establishment thanks first to the PPP-Z and now the PML-N stand completely discredited and knowing this they shamelessly reinforce their ways with impunity.Recommend

  • stevenson

    Have you forgot that the military has ruled the country for more than half its existence or that many of the current problems with terrorism and instability come from the actions of dictators? Musharraf was around for a decade but we all know who blundered with the Bugti killing or not taking action against criminals along the border with Afghanistan. In the case of the Public School and Bacha Khan University, attacks were planned and staged from across the border in Afghanistan. When foreign agencies are involved in hurting a country it is the job of the military to rout out such threats. Even in US, police does not deal with foreign attacks but the army does it.Recommend

  • ram

    you are too old to be so naive grow up and face the realityRecommend

  • maynotmatter

    Because in Pakistan, Pakistani army calls the shots including economy and foreign policy. It is natural they are hold accountable. Democracy is just namesake in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Rohan

    The army grabs the lion share of the budget,hangs pm, conducts coups, is in charge of security and the India,USA and Afghan policies so if one person is to be blamed then it’s the army
    Plus if ispr says we have broken the backs of terrorists then why do the same terrorists attack schools that too of the army and universities with ridiculous ease
    This piece looks like another ispr sponsored nonsenseRecommend

  • Ravian

    Conversely “Why are we holding the government accountable for things the that the army is doing?” e.g. the security policy of maintaining “strategic assets”.Recommend

  • rex minor

    Because its performance as a fighting force has been has been demished to policing level.

    Rex minorRecommend

  • zain

    we are holding Army Responsible for the same reason we hold a doctor responsible for his negligence, cricket team responsible for losing, teacher responsible for not able to produce good results and so on …..Recommend

  • Filimon

    Could be because army has no choice but to govern? Even if it’s
    from behind the scenes. Because the civilian governments have
    a history of been incompetent? In the last ‘elected’ govt. of
    Mr.10% [Zardari] corruption was the order of the day. Corruption
    ruled. The current govt. is led by an incompetent, 3 time loser. Who
    is a billionaire [US dollars] and was a beloved portege of Zia ul Haq.
    Nawaz took huge loans from state banks and never paid them back!!
    Who put his daughter in charge, of a govt. loan scheme to entrepreneurs
    She had no oversight. She was fully in charge. She had no experience in banking. Billions of rupees under her sole control. Talk about corruption.
    Nawaz is considered the PM of Punjab only. Not the rest of the country.
    He is only interested in enriching himself. And he/his cabal owns Punjab.
    Rest of the country, is not much of a going concern to Nawaz.Recommend

  • rex minor

    The author is comparing apples with pears! The attacks in kpk are in retaliation to army bombings in the tribal autonomous country causing death and destruction of the population and their displacement in millions whereas in other countries they were terror acts of individuals most if not all in need of psychiatric treatment.

    Rex minorRecommend

  • rex minor

    You are the victim of military propaganda. There are no foreigners involved in kpk resistance. The government and the people of Afghanistan do not recognize the divide line in the autonomous tribal land.

    Rex minorRecommend

  • Humza

    So the army has no choice but to govern according to you since the majority of Pakistani voters can’t be trusted to take part in democracy? Is that your take and the reason why the majority of Muslim countries are dictators and run by autocratic kings? Pakistan is one of the few Muslim countries to have witnessed a peaceful democratic transition of power after elections. There is no greater event that has taken place in Pakistan’s recent history. International rating agencies and analysts have had positive things to write about in Pakistan for the last few years which is a welcome change. The economy and political situation has improved. Independent analysts have also commented on an improved corruption index even. Troubles and glitches will abound like trying to route CPEC and privatize PIA but it’s good to argue about policy. Governments can be voted in and out and you are welcome to call Mr. 10 % and Mr incompetent 3 x loser all the names you want or level all kinds of accusations ( true or not) because you have the right in a democratic dispensation! The military’s role will remain behind the scenes, especially since they ruled for so long but I think it’s great that they have realized that times are changing.Recommend

  • Bana Post

    Mr Safar the answer is simple and easy because your being controlled by the kakis nor by the democratic system (if there is any) And dont write article of this kind because you are responsible for supporting the armed forces follies in the past and in the futureRecommend

  • Filimon

    [The subject is Pakistan. Only. Not majority of the Ummah,
    and what their voting habits are. So, do not sidetrack.]
    There is loan after loan after loan. With every description attached. Circular loan, perpendicular, horizontal loan, pay
    by the paycheck loan, Monthly payment loans. Even loans
    have loans on them! The corrupt government is hiding the
    true financial figures. The Finance Minister got caught in a
    virulent cover up just last week. In front of Parliament.
    His main job is where to get the next loan. If Somalia could spare $10. Dar will be there quick. Nobody and his brother has a any idea about the fake economy. There is no transparency. Austerity is the order of the day, but that applies to the great silent majority, who look the other way, every time their children/students get blown up. It becomes the new normal. The bottom feeder Elites do not have to pay taxes, or any such thing. They are VVVIIIP. The Untouchables. Just recently a 10 month old girl died because she could’nt get to the gridlock hospital. Why so? Two politicians wanted 15 minutes of TV face time! Last year in Faisalabad, 27 babies died in 2 months, because the incubators and other respiratory aiding equipment was broken. For years. CM was busy building roads to nowhere.
    And which are these International rating agencies? Moody’s?
    A Negative CCC to a Negative CC? The Ethiopian Banking
    and Finance Agency? Mali’s Statistics and Figures for Asia?Recommend

  • ytakeeasy

    Calm down sir. One Mirag fighter costs more than many hospitals or many schools including the running costs of both. Pakistan now has conventional nuclear bombs and strategic ones too. Nuclear weapons are the only choice Pakistan has our enemy, Hindustan. It is a deterrent. Reduce our military and military budgets. It will release resources and most importantly send a message to Hindustan that Pakistan means business.Recommend