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Why martial laws go horribly wrong —Ikram Sehgal

By the time Musharraf exited, the army’s name was in mud within the country, and outside. Where once the uniform was worn with pride, it became a target of public anger and scorn. Rumour had it that somehow the army’s image had to be reinstated in public eyes

The atrocious mob lynching incident in Sialkot, with the police present as conniving bystanders, and the despicable cricket ‘spot fixing’ incident, alleging the involvement (among others) of one of our new young bowling heroes, shocked the country and deepened the pervasive national depression prevalent because of the man-made and natural disasters simultaneously besetting us. One may be forgiven for believing, even for a fleeting weak moment, that we may indeed be God-forsaken. Is it a coincidence that militant propaganda in the conflict zones as well as the flood-affected area pushes this perception to our gullible masses for all that it is worth? How do we reverse the tide (no pun intended) of the twin floods of terrorism and water? Certainly not while we are facing the greater disaster of being subjected to deliberate (and even criminal) mis-governance under the banner of ‘democracy’.

The February 18 elections in 2008 gave us hope in change for the better; this optimism was grossly misplaced on the premise that having suffered long incarceration, Asif Ali Zardari had somehow turned over a new leaf. No such luck, as what we got was more of the same. Utter contempt for the rule of law by our leaders is not a new phenomenon as it has been in place for decades; the present government has simply institutionalised it. These are all the signs for sliding pell-mell into anarchy.

General Pervez Musharraf imposed his draconian rule in October 1999 without calling it a martial law. To give him his due, it was widely welcomed by all, including the PPP. General Moeen emulated this in Bangladesh in 2006 but acted with the full concurrence of the Supreme Court (SC) instead of forcing post facto SC sanction (the ‘doctrine of necessity’ as per Provisional Constitutional Order-I, or PCO-I as it became known) a few months later like Musharraf did. The Bangladesh army’s action was also greeted with universal acclaim in Bangladesh. To quote my article of July 17, 2008, ‘A refined Pakistani model’, “Lieutenant General Moeen Ahmad refined Musharraf’s 1999 Pakistan model into the Bangladesh model in early 2007 by not making the mistake of sending uniformed officers and men into civilian jobs. Unfortunately, almost every military chief who takes over civilian power discovers his own immortality in governance as ‘the saviour of the nation’ and his intentions become suspect. Disappointing for me personally, Moeen is no exception. With loss of credibility, the Bangladesh model will fail its primary aim: to cleanse the body politic of the corrupt.”

Unlike Musharraf, Moeen set a tremendous precedent by handing over power to the elected representatives in early 2009 after conducting free and fair elections; he then retired a few months later at the end of one year’s extension as chief of army staff (COAS).

To quote my article of June 29, 1995, ‘Why do martial laws fail?’: “Martial laws fail because the initiators of all extra-constitutional rule ride into town on tanks with the lofty aim of saving the country, relying on that platonic national purpose to make themselves credible. They soon adjust the aim to more material (and less patriotic) reasons of self-perpetuation. The original aim remains publicly the same, and becomes an exercise in self-delusion. This diversion of aim means that one individual or group is simply replaced by another (or others), instead of being a transition mechanism that provides for and facilitates the process of the democratic system being repaired and renovated to reflect the real genius and aspirations of the people. Martial laws fail because the armed forces get themselves involved in mundane, routine bureaucratic duties that they are not supposed to be involved in. Martial laws fail because those who impose martial laws do not have correct knowledge about the working of the state or the individuals who run it, and soon surround themselves with sycophants who are usually holdovers from previous governments.” When he imposed his form of martial law in 1999, Musharraf had no intention of heeding this advice rendered in print as far back as 1995. One doubts any future military dictator will; power is a great aphrodisiac.

By the time Musharraf exited, the army’s name was in mud within the country, and outside. Where once the uniform was worn with pride, it became a target of public anger and scorn. Rumour had it that somehow the army’s image had to be reinstated in public eyes. Instructors in army schools of learning are called ‘Directing Staff’ (DS). Students plan out various alternatives; the ‘plan’ the instructors prefer is called the DS solution. To bring the army back from the dumps, the DS solution was to have a predictably corrupt political leader in place against whom all the collective public venom would be directed, and this would deflect public anger away from the army. The calculated risk was that he would not change, but if he did, even that would be counted as a plus. Zardari helped considerably by his recent Nero-like presidential jaunt to London and Paris while the country drowned. This confirmed him as easily the most hated person ever in Pakistan’s history. He could not care less; such revulsion has never really bothered him. The army’s success in counter-insurgency (COIN) operations, achieved through great sacrifice in blood by all ranks, was a major turnaround for the army’s image. The massive flood relief effort is acting as a force-multiplier bonus to bring the army back to its pedestal in public eyes. Hardly two years after being hounded out of office, even Pervez Musharraf is looking good in contrast, and even threatening to return. If the much-vilified Asif Zardari can become the president of Pakistan, why can Musharraf not make a comeback?

General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani is very popular within and outside the military. His getting another term as COAS for three years was still seen as a compromise of sorts with the present political rulers. People did not like it, but they accepted this fait accompli because they wanted Kayani to stay on in some capacity. The sab achha (everything is ok) vibes created by PR tend to deaden the groundswell of resentment. Friends and colleagues will only tell him what he wants to hear. People who are likely to tell him otherwise will be kept away like the plague. They are no different from the ones who filled Musharraf’s ears about his omnipotence till it was too late. Hopefully, someone is conveying the pervasive mass feeling that serious thought must be given to getting Pakistan an extension in existence.

With both positive and negative lessons learnt from the 1999 Pakistan and 2006 Bangladesh military interventions, a refined ‘Pakistan model’ must still remain the route of last resort. Uniformed personnel have no business running the government (or for that matter businesses); they must support the honest and capable in governance. Martial laws with platonic intentions end up perpetuating individual rule, as happened in Musharraf’s case, and can go wrong, horribly, horribly wrong.

The writer is a defence and political analyst. He can be reached at

Article originally published in Daily Times, reproduced by permission of DT.\09\02\story_2-9-2010_pg3_3

1 thought on “Why martial laws go horribly wrong —Ikram Sehgal”

  1. AN Appeal to all Pakistanis from a Pakistani
    Read this article and help a Pakistani National in getting Justice.

    Uzbekistan is a most wonderful country having admirable history, traditions, culture, wonderful weather, most beautiful scenery, and above all the most lovable people. But there are many aspects of that society which are not known to the world. The peace and tranquility on the roads is only because of fear of death, torture, kidnapping, detentions, by the most ruthless and inhuman security forces in the world.
    SNB (Ruthless Intelligence Agency) officers of Uzbekistan hate Pakistan and always keep on trying to impress upon the President that the reason for all the terrorist activity is Only Pakistan’s support of Terrorism.
    President is very much concerned about the security and thus SNB gets the free ride to detain, kidnap, torture, and even kill any body. Uzbekistan has constitution, has laws, has Courts, has Prosecutor offices, has so called Ombudsman office, has embassies but no body dare to utters a word against SNB. Tashkent Rehabilitation Center is the place where thousands of innocents are detained for months and years.
    If they want to Torture, or use other tactics then they shift the detainee to other place known as GVD. People are released when they pay the officials a substantial amount. Thousands of people are being detained in Tashkent Rehabilitation Center only because they were not having their passport in their pockets when they were checked by the police official. Can the readers imagine a country where a local Citizen has to sit in jail for 30 days only because he was not having his passport when the policeman checked him. In Rehabilitation Center that poor citizen will be fed Only Once in 24 Hours with a food which dogs will not even eat, He would be locked in a Cell 4X6 meter with 12 to 20 persons with only one whole to breathe. He would be daily abused by the guards. The agony will not end here. If he knows any skills then he would be sold to private parties to work from 06.00 am to 20.00 hours daily. The Local party will provide him One packet of non Filter Cigarette and One pack of NASVAR. But Mr Rustamov Hafiz will take the money for the detainee labor and distribute that amongst Aliev Yaqub, Khaldar Alisher, and Botirov Odil. Those inhuman officials will become richer and richer and the family of the Victim will go hungry and will get loan from relatives and friends to get the victim out. Prosecutor office issue remands in Bulk as per the instructions of Police Officials. But the situation of Foreigners is worse than the locals. One Tajik Citizen was sitting in Detention since 19th january 2009 (16 months), One Afghan was sitting for more than 3 months, One 58 Years South Korean Businessman who came to Uzbekistan to open a Tourist Company was sitting in Detention for more than 87 Days, One Israeli National was sitting in detention because his visa had expired, 4 Siri Lankans were sitting since 18 Months because of Visa problem. I am a Pakistani national and was kidnapped by the security agencies on 10th december 2009 and deported on 12th April 2010. Though I have a house, Running Business, Assets, and 18 years of positive contributions to Uzbekistan society.
    Pakistan Embassy is Tashkent could not even contact me inspite of all the efforts. Security agencies never accept that they have kidnapped a person. According to Uzbekistan law a detainee has to produced in front of the Prosecutor but for 124 days I was never produced in Front of any court or Prosecutor. I was never told the reasons for my detention and till today I do not know why my life was destroyed. So on the 19th Independence day of Uzbekistan is the 19th year of suffering under the most ruthless Security agency. Read my story of Kidnapping in detail: I am really grateful to the following officials for all the help: President office Pakistan, Prime minister Secretariat Pakistan, Mr Shah Mehmood Qureshi FM Pakistan, CH Shujaat Hussain EX PM Pakistan, MR Alisher Shamsiev Deputy Minister for Tourism Uzbekistan, H.E. Oybek Usmanov The Ambassador of Uzbekistan in Pakistan, Respectable Mir Shahid The First Secretary in Uzbekistan Embassy in Islamabad, Officials of Pakistan Embassy in Tashkent, Wahabov Anvar in Tashkent and above all Karina Trubnikova The Director of freedom Holidays Tashkent. I request all the Pakistani officials, International and Pakistani Media, People of Pakistan. Human Rights Organizations, World Governments, United Nation Offices, and all the human beings of the world to send only one request to the Uzbek Government. Why Mr Haroon Choudhry was detained and deported?
    The SNB Oddicials will never reply but the real reason is that they were paid by Some Tourist Companies big amount for detaining me. Can the Uzbek Government Hold an inquiry? Think thousand times before travelling to Uzbekistan you may end up in jail for days and Years. IN UZBEKISTAN SNB is GOD. Today on Independence day of Uzbekistan I would remember all those nice and fine people of Uzbekistan and wish them happiness, health, success, and every thing what they wish for. GULLA YASHNA MUSTAQLIK UZBEKISTAN

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