Politics and the army Friday, October 09, 2009
Without discipline the Army would just be a bunch of guys wearing the same- color clothing. -- Frank Burns
In recent days, one cannot help but notice some extremely disturbing and perturbing indicators in the political arena of the country. At the onset of this democratic era, many of us who had fought alongside the lawyers and the politicians hoped that our efforts would result in the army renouncing all participation in politics. And that, if nothing else, the politicians would not give them the excuse to dabble in political matters in the future. Although I am delighted at the lawyers and civil society achieving their goal of securing a determined judiciary trying to correct its previous follies, I unfortunately am not as glad as to the army's current role in our political system.
Ever since the democratic government came to power, there has seemed to be a power struggle of sorts going on between the GHQ and the PPP-led government. Unfortunately, at all crucial points, the army has shown its reluctance at the thought of being subservient to Parliament and the democratically elected government. This can be fathomed from various incidents which have taken place over this short democratic period.
The first indicator was when the government sent out a notification bringing the intelligence authorities within the control of the ministry of interior, which the army clearly found totally unpalatable. Although a silly idea to begin with, the reasons for its revocation rather than the revocation itself are a cause of concern. The fact that the notification was taken back within hours rather than days indicates the influence the army held within the political circles, and the degree to which the political government was able to control the army. The rumoured intervention of the army chief in the reinstatement of the chief justice of Pakistan, via the much trumpeted "Kayani formula," is also an indicator of the army's continued involvement in politics even at this stage.
Other than that, the fact that important foreign dignitaries or officials who grace Pakistan with their presence meet the army chief and discuss "various matters" in addition to talking to his political counterparts indicates the larger global role that the army has undertaken and retained despite the return of democracy. Much more recently, and extremely disturbing, is the meetings that the COAS has allegedly had with certain political leaders of the ruling and opposition parties, with the exclusion of the persons who make up the present government. And om addition to this, the press statement released by the ISPR which commented on the Kerry-Lugar Bill, despite its being a matter solely within the domain of the political arena, also has resulted in some eyebrows being raised.
Now let's be clear. Clearly, in addition to the army's role in politics, there are certain persons in the media and political circles who, intentionally or inadvertently, bolster the image of the armed forces at the expense of the political leadership. The army should be praised where it has done something commendable, but in an appropriate manner, and not at the expense of any other institution or pillar of the state. For example, certain people tend to claim that the army is solely to praise for the success of the Swat offensive, despite the fact that similar operations that took place under the leadership of Musharraf resulted in utter failure. The one difference between those previous operations and the present one was the political shrewdness of the ANP and other political parties which enabled the army to arise victorious by successfully cutting off all local support to the Taliban via the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation episode. But this element of the debate is usually overlooked.
All this does not bode well for this nascent democracy which has barely completed a year! The political government, despite its immense shortcomings and incompetent handling of administrative matters, must be given a fair chance. After all, if we can give dictators years on end, why can't we allow the democratic dispensation to complete its term? The people elected them for five years, and that is the time that it should be given. Perhaps people will then realise the true worth of their votes, and will cast them with a bit less reckless abandon, and much more caution.
Side Note: On a related matter, I find it astonishing how the ISPR so brazenly commented on the Kerry-Lugar Bill and its contents before the Parliament even had a chance to go over it! Clearly, this bill comes within the purview of the political leadership, which must conduct foreign affairs, among other things. An argument is made that the document deals with "national security" and hence can be analysed by the army but, then again, one wonders where was this argument when Musharraf was selling Pakistani citizens to America for some "well deserved" bounty, or when the first drone attacks took place in FATA, or when Musharraf started a full-fledged operation in Balochistan bringing the federation to its knees.
The writer is a graduate of Columbia University who is currently working as a lawyer in Karachi. Email: basil.nabi@ gmail.com
There was a near paralysis in government circles as most ministers, parliamentarians and officials remained locked in debates at various forums on the consequences of the army’s objections, and the manner in which public mood was being influenced by some opposition leaders and a section of the media.
A few were furious over what was described as army’s over-intrusive action, but were not prepared to go on record.
Sources in the government said the communication by the army chief sent directly to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was based on army’s interpretation of various clauses or conditions attached to the American legislation, which the military commanders believe are highly intrusive in nature and will have serious implications on national security.
There was no immediate comment either by the army spokesman or government’s media managers on the detailed report sent by the army to the prime minister. However, official sources said brainstorming sessions were held at Aiwan-e-Sadr and Prime Minister’s House during the day where ways of dealing with the situation were discussed.
Though Prime Minister Gilani had said in his National Assembly speech on Wednesday that the concerns of the army over the bill would be addressed, official sources said the word from President Asif Zardari was that the government and party would defend what they believe was a ‘pro-democracy legislation’.
The presidential camp was further encouraged in the evening when US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W. Patterson met Mr Zardari, mainly to discuss the fallout of the Kerry-Lugar bill controversy.
Presidential Spokesman Farhatullah Babar confirmed the meeting, but did not provide its details. According to him, “it was just a routine meeting”.
However, a private TV channel which interviewed Ms Patterson quoted her as saying that there were a few drafting errors in the legislation, and that the US embassy would convey to Washington the views and objections being raised by concerned quarters in Pakistan. She was also quoted as saying that the Pakistani military would also be consulted on the matter. Another TV channel had earlier quoted her as saying that the legislation was supportive of the people of Pakistan.
Even otherwise, during the day the presidency remained over-active in finding ways of encouraging PPP politicians and government allies to take on the critics of the aid package.
But despite a clear message from Mr. Zardari to adopt a pro-active approach, most ministers and senior party leaders during the day avoided taking up the issue, either in the parliament or on the electronic media. A senior PPP politician told Dawn that most of them were not willing to stick their neck out at a time when uncertainty prevailed after the army’s strong reaction against the US legislation.
Even most of the media managers were reluctant to go on record, and instead were busy distributing prepared material among journalists and analysts in support of the legislation, but desiring to remain anonymous.
In the end it was once again the selfless Farhatullah Babar who decided to spearhead the president’s team with a forceful defence of the government’s position on the US bill.
“There is not a single thing in the bill that is against the interest of the people of Pakistan”, he said during a debate on Dawn News TV.
Mr. Babar appeared with a host of documents in support of his argument, including copies of the aid deals the former military ruler President Pervez Musharraf had struck with the US government, and in which conditions mentioned were as ‘strict’ or ‘controversial’ as they were in the Kerry-Lugar bill. The main thrust of his argument was that it was a bill approved by the Congress with the conditions addressed to the US State Department, and neither the agreement was with Pakistan, nor the Pakistani president or prime minister were its signatory.
The argument was presented as former ministers Faisal Saleh Hayat and Aftab Sherpao, who were once strong defenders of Gen Musharraf and his actions spoke in the National Assembly, criticising the conditions attached to the aid package, calling it an insult to the honour of Pakistani people.
Some of the more sober elements in the main opposition party like writer-politician Ayaz Amir were seriously concerned about the language used in the bill, and thought it was too humiliating for the people to accept it. He, however, declared in a televised debate that the parliament through a democratic process would be able to find an honourable solution to the crisis.
Although the criticism of the Kerry-Lugar bill has been going on in the media for a few weeks, it acquired an entirely new dimension when the army command, instead of communicating its reservations to the government through a formal channel like the Defence Committee of the Cabinet decided to go public. However, the formal communication sent to the prime minister on Thursday was not made public.
However, sources in the government said the main areas where army had expressed its reservations to the prime minister on the inclusion of a clause under which an assessment was required on whether assistance provided to Pakistan was going directly or indirectly to aid the expansion of its nuclear weapons’ programme. The army in its communication has said that the language used in the bill would amount to the capping of the nuclear programme.
Concern has also been expressed over the requirement of certification that Pakistan has made progress in preventing cross-border attacks and whether it has dismantled the alleged terrorist basses in Quetta and Muridke. And another serious reservation was on the clause related to civilian control of the military’s promotions and other related matters that were totally unacceptable to the military commanders.As the belated debate continues over the finer points of Kerry-Lugar, the prophets of doom who have never been in short supply in Islamabad, have already started predicting that unless the government succumbs to the army’s pressure, its days will be numbered. And the presidential camp believes that the real objective is to isolate President Zardari, and hopes that it will once again be thwarted with the active support of the prime minister. (Dawn)
|Deep breath, count to ten, exhale|
|Friday, October 09, 2009|
It is difficult to determine just how much 'outrage' the Kerry-Lugar Bill is generating outside the media, blathering politicians, the armed forces and the chattering classes generally. A canter through the TV channels would suggest that we teeter on the verge of revolution, such is the public dismay at the contents of a bill that is American in origin, has not yet been signed into law by the US President, and whose contents remain a mystery to the majority of the population who are illiterate anyway. How many of us have read the Kerry-Lugar Bill in its entirety? (I have; worthy but dull like most legislation.) And why have we got ourselves in such a lather about it anyway…is our sovereignty – and anybody care to give me a definition of 'sovereignty' – so compromised by it, are Blackwater (…or Xe or Xi or Pi) poised to take over the country, why does the President smile so much and is there anywhere that I can buy sugar for Rs40 a kilo?
To the ordinary mortal such as myself the principal problem with the Kerry-Lugar Bill seems to be that it puts in writing what had previously been a tacit understanding, and that the nod-wink-handshake way of doing business with Pakistan is now a thing of the past. It also seems to signal a sea-change in the way that America does business with us in a far wider sense. It is still a transactional document and there is very much the sense that we are having a finger wagged at us, but there are some subtle shifts. The American financial relationship with us hitherto has largely been focused on the military at the expense of development and infrastructure. The US has supported assorted unsavoury military dictatorships around the world – including ours – over the last 50 years in support of its own global hegemony, but the world is changing and America has to change with it. The priorities and preoccupations of the Bush years are not all the same as those of Obama.
After 9/11, the American foreign policy, not only in Pakistan but in many other countries as well, has become hugely unpopular. The Obama presidency is seeking to change the course of the American ship of state -- change course, not turn around, please note. America needs to re-brand itself, restore some of the confidence and popularity it once enjoyed, create 'signature' projects that polish its image and mollify its critics. In the case of the Kerry-Lugar Bill that means a marked shift in priorities, towards civilian projects and with an emphasis on bolstering governance and the democratic institutions.
Understandably, the military are less than delighted with this turn of events. They have enjoyed a pre-eminence for the entire life of the nation, have directly governed it for more than half that life and indirectly governed it for the rest. There is no sense that the military is or ever has been accountable to civilian bodies as it is in other democratic states, the military budgets are never published and are minimally discussed in the legislature. The Defence Ministry is little more than a front-of-house billboard and the armed forces conduct their business out of sight of civilian bureaucrats. All of the avenues of accountability have been closed off. Once again this is a state of affairs arrived at by the consistent failure of civilian governments and the civil service to deliver the goods to the population – the most recent evidence for this being the yet-unresolved 'sugar crisis' that was the product of a cabal of mill-owners who were also politicians fixing the markets to their own advantage – hardly the stuff of emerging democracy and unlikely to impress the military establishment as an example of what the civilians can do if left to their own devices.
The military has, over the years, colonised parts of civil space – banking and housing to name but two – and has a very different relationship with the nation than does the military elsewhere. It is because of the weakness of civilian governance that it has been able to do this; and if America now seeks to back a civilian dispensation against the long-established trend of backing the military then tension is inevitable at every point of contact between the two – a tension now exploited to the full by the polarised political parties who themselves are now busy with backchannel negotiations to ensure their own place at the front of the queue if the military decide to move the pieces around on the board again.
What the Kerry-Lugar Bill begins to do is redefine and reshape the relationship between the military and civil institutions, and military and civil-political reaction to it has generated more heat than it has light. It is not difficult to see such a move as a direct challenge to our sovereignty, a Trojan horse within which is hidden the seeds and agents of yet more micro-management of Pakistan by an external player. It is not difficult to interpret the wording of the bill in such a way as to see that there is a desire to influence, however indirectly, the internal dynamics of our governance and the civil/military relationship; and the bill will have been drafted in a detailed knowledge built up over many years of the personalities and institutions on which it will impact. It presents difficulties to the 'establishment' and the military like in that it may be a challenge to the status quo that has prevailed whatever the government in power – khaki or feudal.
At the end of the day as a past senior law officer said on a private TV channel on Wednesday night that "beggars can't be choosers". If we go cap-in-hand anywhere in the world seeking money with a track-record for corruption and lack of transparency such as ours then there are going to be conditionalities. We are always going to have that kind of transactional relationship with any donor no matter how 'friendly' – and a past ambassador to both London and Washington Maleeha Lodhi has said several times that there are no permanent friends in international political relationships. We are not friends with America, nor they with us. We are not friends with any of the countries making up the Friends of Democratic Pakistan group. We have a relationship with them that is determined by mutual interest, not by whether we like one-another or not. The Americans may dislike and despise us as we dislike and despise them, but being true friends is not the way to do diplomatic business. America has an interest in sustaining us not because it wants to see happy smiling Pakistani faces painted with American flags across CNN and Fox News, but because it suits their wider geopolitical agenda and regional interests. $1.7 billion a year for the next few years is, frankly, peanuts. Loose change. We may not like picking it up but we don't have much choice in the matter – short of walking away from it completely. The Kerry-Lugar Bill is not yet signed, and we need to take a deep breath, count to ten and gently exhale before we paint ourselves into a corner. Again.
The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email: manticore73@ gmail.com (The News)
army should stay under the limmit.president of pakistan should chair the meetings of core commanders.enough is enough,it should be decided who will rule pakistan, army or the politicians.
Kashif said: (Off the Record, 8 Oct 09)
Hats off to Asma Jhangir. This is first time some one showed Hamid Gul mirror.
“Hum ne foj ke kartoot dekh leye they ‘71 mein”
“Foj ko kiss ne ejazut de ke beach mein phuduk ke aa jai”
Shame on all those who prefer GHQ over parliment. Zardari is very unpopular and I don’t give a damn about him. He is the most possible corrupt person who can possibly lead Pakistan. I don’t mind if he is kicked out. He doesn’t have any roots in public anyway.
If Zardari is replaced by Nawaz Sharif or IK or Qazi …. we will have same power struggle between Rawalpindi and Islamabad. Why Musharaaf and GHQ kicked NS out. He was fairly popular and had 2/3 rd majority. Shame on PMLN for getting everything and getting in bed with GHQ again in sheer violation of CoD.
Last but not the least I back every word that Kashif Abbasi read from Hussain Hiqani’s book. US (mostly republicans) have strengthend Army over civlian institutions. They should reverse the course. They should use their influence (aid $$$) to bring GHQ under civilian regime. Hussain Hiqani is my hero. I do not endorse everything that he did to date but these days he is serving Pakistan tremendously. He is the best possible spokesman Pakistan can have at this time. I salute him.
You are right. I think Corps commander’s conference declaration, Mian sb. meeting with Kiyani , and of course the KL perceived impact on the army needs to be discussed. It seems to me that the battle between establishment (read army) and democratic forces is now again in the open. I would have thought that AZ could immediately dismissed Kiyani , he may do so even now? However I may be wishful. Though unlike you I still believe that AZ and NS are together in this battle , the meeting between NS and Kiyani may have been on the request of Kiyani , who might have feared his dismissal. I am sure NS would not have offered him anything except a cunning smile and kind hearing.
I am still hopeful that Kiyani (and perhaps couple of his associate corps commanders) should be immediately dismissed by AZ, it could happen after Parliament passes resolution in KL bill and pass comments against the corps commanders uncalled for comments.