Jun 132008

THE retired servicemen seem to have rebelled against President Musharraf calling for his impeachment and trial for planning the Kargil operation. In a press conference held on June 4, a group of retired servicemen demanded Gen Musharraf’s trial, restoration of judiciary, revision of the Kashmir policy and the revoking of the controversial NRO.

An important point raised during the meeting was to investigate the Kargil crisis which cost Pakistan a lot of money, precious lives and reputation.

While an audit of military operations by the government is certainly needed, the important question which must be asked is that is this press conference just a ‘rebellion’ of ‘civilianised’ army men against the former army chief in defence of democracy and higher political values in the country?

If at all, the ex-servicemen’s call for revamping Musharraf’s political and military legacy indicates a malaise within the political power structure, especially the deeper establishment. Broadly speaking, this indicates the problems which arise with the military’s long entrenchment in politics which is now working against the organisation’s much-flaunted ethos of unity of command.

But before we get into a systems analysis, lets look into the actors who are part of this ‘rebellion’ and whether it is true that they merely acted in defence of democracy and independence of judiciary. It is interesting to note that this club of ‘old soldiers’ struck at the time when Musharraf is engulfed with criticism from all sides.

Notwithstanding the importance of the movement for restoration of judiciary, the intent of the ex-servicemen, especially some of its members could be more than strengthening a civilian institution. So, the onlookers have to be careful in distinguishing between the need to investigate the Kargil crisis and the actual intent of people like Gen Jamsheed Gulzar Kiyani and others in telling the story now. The good general sat silent all these years enjoying his stint as head of Fauji Foundation’s company Marri Gas and then as the chairman of the Federal Public Services Commission. The question is that why didn’t he ask any question then?

One of the features of popular or semi-popular movements is that they throw up all sorts of personalities who join a political race for their own goals. In fact, the dialectics of the political movement of these ex-servicemen wannabe heroes denotes two interesting issues.

First, there is a rift within the deeper establishment and this group of ex-servicemen is just a glimpse of the internal friction. Contrary to the argument that these retired generals, brigadiers and colonels are innocent civilians, the fact of the matter is that they are part of the military fraternity which includes serving officers, retired officers and some civilians as well who are linked with or dependent upon the military’s power. The retired ones, hence, are as much part of the larger institutional politics as the serving officers. It was very clear from the press conference that the real issue was removing an individual than strengthening democratic institutions.

The retired officers defended the economic, political and social power of the armed forces and defended the organisation’s control of the state. They even mentioned the military’s right to ten per cent jobs as granted by the constitution which is an absolute fallacy. The ten per cent quota was granted by Gen Ziaul Haq and is mentioned in the Establishment code of the government and not in the constitution.

What makes the old officers’ attack against Musharraf significant, as mentioned earlier, is that these voices represent the friction within the deeper establishment that is the military. The retired officers serve the purpose of airing views that the serving cannot. While representing one view or the other, these officers represent differing points of views rather than an independent voice. So, while some would air the concerns of the pro-democracy lobby, others speak for the pro-US, pro-China or pro-Islamist views within the defence organisation. The reason that these voices have become louder now is because the friction has increased. Moreover, with the years of engagement in politics of the military what could one expect but for the noises to become more audible?

But why should these people be treated as informal spokespersons of the internal lobbies? This is because the military suffers from the lack of a strong institutional mechanism for internal dialogue. The Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, (JCSC) which was established during the 1970s to redress this very problem, came to nothing due to the army’s take over in 1977. Gen Sharif, who was the first chairman JCSC, was of the view that the Zia martial law killed the institution. Since then, the three services have used two mechanisms: (a) retired servicemen and (b) media to debate their interests and present their perception. The smaller services also have favourite journalists they can lobby to present their standpoint since they do not have any other option.

Then there is the problem at another level which is the services themselves where different groups and lobbies have to convince the higher command of their point of view. This is where the voices of the retired officers become part of the din. The Kargil crisis itself is an example of the absence of string internal mechanisms for debate and analysis. The retired Gen Kiyani says that even the ISI was not informed about the operation. However, the fact is that a major war-like operation was launched without sitting officers seriously objecting to it. Some will argue that the silence itself is a sign of professionalism. The officers are meant to obey the higher command and not present their views. In the post-colonial military tradition the command of the service chief cannot be challenged. Nonetheless, the officers, who in the past have challenged the higher command on moral grounds, were no less professional or officer-like than those who continued to obey questionable decisions. The three brigadiers who refused to fire on civilians in Lahore in 1977 were real officers.

This discussions, nevertheless, is not about what is a real officer but to make a simple point that the wannabe heroes amongst the retired officers do not necessarily represent an alternative. They have during the course of their careers been part of questionable decisions and it will be sad if they become heroes by aligning themselves with the lawyer’s movement. There should certainly be a trial for Kargil but for all the other sins as well which were committed by many in the course of the country’s history. What is even more important is creation of institutions within the state and the deeper establishment so that we can be saved from unwanted heroes.

The writer is an independent strategic and political analyst.

Source: Daily Dawn, 13/6/2008

 Posted by at 5:02 pm

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