By Shehzad Chaudhry
Most of the employment of the army in anti-terror operations continues under the rubric of general authorisation of force in support of the civilian government but lacks exceptional powers through newer legislation. That has denuded it of the needed legal cover for such operations.
The US seeks a Bilateral Security Agreement for its troops to remain in Afghanistan post-2014, for similar reasons. India has provided immunity to many actions of its forces through the AFSPA while deploying its forces to fight in Kashmir and in India’s north-east. Some legislation has only recently been enacted after years of delay.
Such disconnect between the authorisation of anti-terror operations and the institution of enabling and supporting legislation has given rise to a plethora of complaints by affected people inducing disaffection against the armed forces.
Implicitly then the political structure becomes the net gainer as the military’s image continues to be battered and delivers to the politicians increased institutional relevance. The military continues to lose both in perception and in position.
Among the many other vicissitudes that came the military’s way, Bin Laden was discovered in Abbottabad and was duly taken out by the Americans. It became the most shaming event in the history of the armed forces. ‘Either they were complicit or incompetent’ was the cry, day after day. Salala in November of 2011 added fuel to this fire. A military literally on its knees was further thumped by the hourly rant on the news cycle of its inability to do anything right; this became the rallying cry for many in the political, intellectual, media and NGO circles.
When the army-led Anti-Narcotics Force laid its hands onto incriminating evidence against PM’s son, the PM publically inferred his military to be a state within a state. Following soon after, what became known as a Memogate scandal was a series of secret communications between an American national, Pentagon, and Pakistan’s ambassador to the US, to undermine military’s stature by exploiting Pakistani military’s ‘weakest’ moment following OBL discovery and raid. The politics, the military and the state were, thus, stuck in separate orbits.
There were reports of parts of the media being influenced by vested interests, or through selected funding internally by the government to win favour for a continued tirade against the military. Still in its infancy, the media found unmatched freedom and sought ready recognition as an integral arm of the state, but ended up using the inherent fault-lines in Pakistan’s political, institutional and social makeup to make for expedient debate.
To that end it has ended up only emphasising what is negative, engendering a more confrontational and an agitated society. Such a trend then is easily manipulated by interested quarters. The army’s dominant role in Pakistan’s power equation thus continues to find eminence in this debilitating and discursive discourse.
The tradition of the educated liberal in Pakistan has been succeeded by elements in the media who tend to now use the more effective reach of the television to popularise their version of liberalism – to some superficial – by trashing all that is connected to the military (sadly, a liberal’s most qualifying attribute in today’s Pakistan).
Most NGOs have found or supported think-tanks that bolster liberal notions hinged around anti-religion and anti-military sentiment. There remain no red-lines in this vigorously competitive industry. This, in turn, gives cause to enhancing acute institutional division..
What further cornered the military was its declared intent to accept and respect political control. A deliberate effort to thwart any notion of overt military dominance over the civilian structures, as had been the tradition till then, became visible as the army stepped back from its presence from the various civilian setups it had manned during the Musharraf years.
The chief justice who had been sacked earlier by Musharraf was reinstated with no insignificant prodding of the military. There was a visible progress by the politicians and the military to forge a common understanding on issues that had earlier been the exclusive domain of the military.
It wasn’t perceived as nobly at the political end, though. It was assumed that Kayani was an unlikely prospect to impose himself, and remained committed to civilian supremacy. That he sought personal gain through an extension in his tenure; to many the ‘extension’ neutered army’s proverbial bite.
The political structure thus, in keeping with an agreed element of the ‘Charter of Democracy’, exploited this visible regression in the army’s influence to push the envelope of its own influence further. The recent history of a visible tenuousness in the civil-military relations is a testimony to that trend in the political experiment. Bit by bit the process of chiselling away at the army’s perceived stature therefore continues in the shape of the latest volley by some government’s ministers.
Every move of the government that calls into question the army’s (or as a shield, its former commander’s) conduct is now met by a voice of serious concern through either the army chief’s retort or a press release following a Corps Commanders meeting. This is not a good place to be at. Not for Pakistan, which has many grave challenges ahead that will need the government and the military to work in close harmony. It is also risky where a new commander of the army is pushed against the wall to secure the army’s dignity and respect.
The government has mistimed its effort for more space by not giving the army chief sufficient opportunity to establish his credibility among the ranks, where much early in time he may be forced to prove his credentials to the rank and file by an extreme riposte to perceived humiliation. For a fledgling democracy this can prove to be suicidal.
In the absence of any assertive response by the army to the current tirade the army will perceive itself to be on a sliding slope in its credibility. Shorn of dignity and callously debased, it shall soon lose its pride and esteem. It will also lose its self assurance, and a belief in its ability to fight threats, external or internal.
With a weakened army politics will have prevailed and the military finally subjugated, except that such a military will only be a ceremonial structure with an empty core. A weak army does not make a strong nation.
The ruse of ‘being on the same page’ with the military, or Musharraf alone being the object of such ridicule by the politicians, is a heap of nonsense. There is greater method to this madness.
The writer is a retired air-vice marshal of the Pakistan Air Force and served as its deputy chief of staff.
Courtesy: The News