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All is Not Lost Yet Part- II

Despite all such difficulties, General Kayani took some important steps which showed his keen desire to keep the army away from its traditional political role.

5.     When the old dictatorial regimes of the Middle East and North Africa began collapsing as a result of widespread popular uprising, the people of Pakistan also had the feeling that they were not getting the real benefits of independence and that in spite of having a democratic government, all the important decisions were being dictated by the GHQ. It was also felt that some incidents leading to the international isolation of our country were also the result of the stupid acts committed by our army. The close alliance between the army and the United States also became a cause of major discontent among the people.

6.     Most of the politicians, especially the nationalists living in Sindh, Balochistan and KP, who have always been complaining against the army, have often treated the army and Punjab as the two names of the same thing. The same bitter feelings flared up prejudice against the Pakistan army in the former East Pakistan and even today, those who are hostile to the army are even more hostile to Punjab. In these circumstances, Nawaz Sharif’s advice that the army should remain within constitutional limits and that it should stop taking arbitrary decisions and considering itself to be a sacred cow, is becoming a popular demand which cannot so easily be dismissed as perceptual bias.

Despite all such difficulties, General Kayani took some important steps which showed his keen desire to keep the army away from its traditional political role. Besides his attempts aimed at restoring the public image and credibility of the army, he stated on numerous occasions that no army can succeed without popular support. Restoring peace in Swat is one of his major achievements. In addition to this, he established closer contacts with the journalists, writers and intellectuals and took effective steps for the education and employment of the young people of Baluchistan. Moreover, under his leadership, the army vigorously played its traditional role to provide relief to the victims of the devastating flood.

In spite of all such admirable steps, he failed to give a positive manifesto or a dynamic line of action to the army, which could enable it to reform itself to cope with the new challenges in the changed circumstances. Consequently, the army still retains its traditional mind set, upholds its general attitudes and is inspired by its inherent sense of superiority and domination. It is still actively interested in non-profe-ssional activities and is aggressively insensitive to all criticism. It still vigorously pursues pro-US foreign policy regardless of popular discontent, has no effective mechanism for self-accountability, has its own concept of national interests and continues to protect some uniformed men despite their heinous crimes. It still has a hostile attitude towards the media and its agencies are still actively involved in political manoeuvring.

The release of Raymond Davis and the recent incidents in Abbottabad, Khrotabad and Karachi have only served to intensify the public pressure on the army, which has already been an object of criticism for several years. After the completion of his tenure, while General Kayani has been given a three-year extension, our country is passing through the most difficult phase of its history since the fall of Dacca; and this psychological pressure may prove more difficult for him to bear than all the above mentioned difficulties. But he still has two and a half years at his disposal and my optimism about him suggests that he is fully capable of launching and implementing a massive reform programme in the army. But what should be the salient features of this reform programme?

First of all, the army must have a clear understanding of its inherent weaknesses, short comings and flaws, but unfortunately, the long press release issued by the ISPR at the end of the 139th corps commanders’ conference does not give us the slightest indication of any such realisation, because all criticism has been outrightly dismissed as a propaganda of some elements. But is it possible for a highly organised and well-informed institution like the army to be totally unaware of the trends prevailing in the public opinion and the media? It is said that General Kayani regularly studies the newspapers, including their articles, columns, editorials and even letters to the editor. General Javed Zia, the commander of the Southern Command Quetta is the next senior-most General after Kayani. From his conversation, he seems to be a veteran university professor, rather than a General. Such persons are not expected to be taken in by eulogies. Regardless of the words of the press release, it is hard to believe that General Kayani and his colleagues might have been satisfied only by describing the criticism directed against the army as a conspiracy and manifestation of ‘perceptual biases.’ Before initiating and implementing any reform and improvement prog-ramme, the armed forces must get rid of the ‘institutional bias’ and answer the following questions categorically.

1.    Are the army’s general attitude, behaviour and institutional approach towards politicians, political governments and democratic institutions correct? Are the political governments really free to take important national decisions?

2.    Should the army continue its traditional policy of using its agencies and secret funds for making and breaking political alliances and influencing elections results?

3.     Is it a wise step that under some particular security perception, the army should deliberately use its resources for creating some militant groups and organisations, which may sometimes serve the army’s interest while at other times, may turn their guns towards their own country and institutions?

4.     Is it a judicious policy that without the consent of the political government, the army should take its own initiatives in India, Afghanistan or elsewhere, (Such as Kargil operation) which may at any time, endanger the country’s interests, security and integrity?

5     Should the army interfere in the formulation of the country’s foreign policy to such an extent that the political government is unable to pursue a foreign policy according to its own priorities?

6.     In spite of the fact that Pakistan is facing severe economic problems, should the armed forces continue to receive the same huge proportion of budgetary allocations?

7.     Like India and other democratic countries, should our parliamentary committees also have the powers regarding the allocation and monitoring of defence budgets?

8.     In the light of the Hamood-ur-Rahman Commission report, is it not the need of the hour to make changes in the syllabi of military academies and teach the army officers as to how to respect democracy and civil society?

9.     Should the army continue to protect those uniformed men, who deliberately violated the constitution, committed crimes and thus became a cause for the disgrace of the whole army? Why does the whole army have to pay for the wrong doings of a few individuals?

10.     Is it not the right time for the agencies working under the army to stop their belligerent and aggressive activities against politicians, ‘undesirable people’ ‘rogue elements’ and ‘defiant journalists?’ Are such activities not damaging the image and credibility of the army?

11.     Army officials are actively concerned with the running of wide ranging industrial and commercial ventures, such as housing societies, sugar mills, cement, fertilizers and pharmaceutical factories, goods transportation trucks, leasing institutions, insurance companies, petrol pumps, CNG stations, super stores, general stores, bakeries and marriage halls, etc. Are such activities improving the army’s image? Is it not better for the army to distance itself from such activities and pay full attention towards its professional responsibilities?

12.     Should the army officers continue to receive highly lucrative commercial and residential plots in all the major cities of the country?

There are several other questions of this sort, but even this check list can be sufficient for those who are really interested in reformation and improvement. The cause of my optimism regarding General Kayani is the fact that he is following a model quite different from that of Musharraf and regardless of the examples set by four military dictators. He is likely to be the first army chief to hold this post for six years. Iqbal has said that the most difficult phase in the history of the nations is fearing new trends and sticking to the old ideals. Transition from the old to the new is indeed the most difficult challenge facing General Kayani. He has still got two-and-a-half years of his service and during this period, he can at least, gird up the loin for taking bold initiatives. Those who are inciting him against the sincere critics of the army are neither his friends nor well-wishers of the army. The misleading statements of those who used to dance to Musharraf’s tunes can never boost the army’s image.

The army belongs to 180 million people of Pakistan and the springs of its honour and prestige emanate from their hearts. If someone is really the victim of ‘perceptual bias’ we know as to how to deal with him, but the military leadership should realise that times are changing dramatically, resulting in the humiliating downfall of autocratic dictators and monarchs. The people of Pakistan are, therefore, rightly demanding that their army should abandon its old mind set and put on a new colour, in consonant with the entirely changed global scenario. If General Kayani is really interested in making his six-year tenure most memorable in the country’s history, the best option available to him is that he should undertake the difficult mission of enabling the army to cope with the demands and challenges of the changing circumstances. The second option open to him is to preserve the status quo and pass his time in a calm and peaceful manner. Only time will tell which course of action he will take, but we are still optimistic about him. All is not lost yet and our high hopes associated with him are not yet completely over.

By: Irfan Siddiqui

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