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Archive for December 21st, 2009

Image: Flickr Zahidpix

Throughout Pakistan’s history, the role of the country’s military has been intertwined with the state, often playing a decisive role in the political sphere. While many perceive the military as the watchdog of the state, others disagree, arguing that the institution impedes the progress of Pakistan. Below, Tariq, based in Karachi, (who asked not to have his full name printed) presents the latter view in his opinion piece for CHUP:

Pakistan’s day of reckoning is near. At this moment, we should rise up to seize our collective destinies without equivocation, because the country that we are left with tomorrow will be the country that we deserve – either a war-torn banana republic fit for a nation of people with medieval values, attitudes and aspirations or a modern democratic republic fit for a nation of progressive thinkers, who aspire to harness social justice to personal freedom. The urgency cannot be overstated and we cannot continue our meandering drunken walk as usual.

For too long, we have offered rhetoric and platitudes, instead of introspection and a direction to this country, because our baser instincts took precedence. Our disdain for the West. Our hatred for India. Our self censorship due to platitudes and a misplaced sense of patriotism. Our sense of victimization. The rumors of conspiracies. The blame on fate. The list is endless. This cannot go on – the tumultuous events of the past year have convinced me that the we have arrived at the fork in the road. This is one the main reasons I decided to write this piece.

As a first basic step, I propose that the Pakistan armed forces be completely overhauled. Not reformed, but completely overhauled.

Before you stop reading because your misplaced sense of patriotism got pricked, because I insulted the “Guardians of our Frontier,” let me remind you of Mark Twain‘s golden words: “A patriot supports his country all the time and his government when it deserves it.” The armed forces are not our country, and only sometimes our government (The sarcasm is intended).

This is an army, no matter how we choose to whitewash their actions, indulged in genocide in Bangladesh, trained terrorists in Afghanistan, is still training terrorists to fight in Indian Kashmir and Punjab, overthrown the civilian government three times (or four if you count the dictators), presided over the loss of one-half of our country, hung a popularly elected civilian leader, intimidated our media and politicians through “the agencies,” set up a parallel economic system, stole elections, has a budget which is never tabled at the Parliament and runs without civilian oversight. Only an irrational idiot would still believe that our armed forces serve the popular opinion of the people and is accountable to them. Their hierarchical structure, lack of accountability and leverage over all centers of power make them a single point of manipulation and a single point of failure for the entire country. The foreign hand and foreign bodies, that we so frequently obsess about, need only buy and influence the top echelons of our army to take over the direction of the entire country, and this is what they very well might have done.

The root of our ills is our armed forces.

Yes we have a biased judiciary. But the judiciary has shown that they still can stand up for justice, even if the motive is self preservation.

Yes we have a corrupt polity. Yes, prices are rising, and yes, bribes are freely being given and taken, but which civilian government ever indulged in genocide and gave up half our country ? We tend to confuse individuals and policies with the “political system.” Our political system has never been given a chance to evolve, note that even the United States had a George Bush before it elected a more reasonable Barack Obama, but their governance is firmly rooted in the rule of law and democracy. In Pakistan, the civilian leaders we so bitterly complain about were all a result of  a compromise with the army, be it, Zulfiqar, Benazir, Nawaz or Zardari with his NRO. When have we ever held a free and fair election with no overarching army manipulation of the political class?  While I am no Zardari supporter, I do pity the man. Why did he come to power ? He made a deal with the Army. And now his deal with the army is unraveling. On the one hand, he has to be in the good books of the army and on the other hand he should not rub America the wrong way (who don’t consult him on anything anyway, and go straight to meet General Kayani). So pray tell me, when does he ever have the time to do what the people want ?

Why do we lack a credible leader who can mold public opinion through rational discourse and deliver good governance ? Because we don’t have people who lead, we have people who cut deals with the Army. Name the top two civilian leaders Pakistan had — was it Jinnah and ZA Bhutto? What is different between these men and the men who followed them ? Could it be that they did not derive their power through deals with the army ? Look at the tiny bearded turbaned man across the border, have you ever wondered why he struts around with so much confidence ? Is it the blessings of his army chief who commands a million men with guns or is it the vote of a billion people which makes him walk tall? It is stupid to blame the failures of the civilian leadership so far on the civilians, when the army is pulling the strings — either leaving them paralyzed or giving them a sense of infallibility of being backed by guns. As long as the army is involved as a player in politics and is an unaccountable center of power, we will never have a leader who can serve the people and do what is good for the country. We will only have leaders who grab power by cutting deals with the army, or have leaders who get overthrown in coups or fall because of manipulated elections.

Pause to ponder military historian Captain Sir Basil Henry Liddell-Hart‘s words from Why Don’t We Learn from History:

We learn from history that democracy has commonly put a premium on conventionality. By its nature, it prefers those who keep step with the slowest march of thought and frowns on those who may disturb the ‘conspiracy for mutual inefficiency’. Thereby, this system of government tends to result in the triumph of mediocrity — and entails the exclusion of first-rate ability, if this is combined with honesty. But the alternative to it, despotism, almost inevitably means the triumph of stupidity. And of the two evils, the former is the less.

Let us now visit our armed forces. There are some who offer the same cliched arguments:

  1. They sacrifice their lives for us. So does the army of every other modern state. None of them get to rule the country.
  2. They are the only corruption-free meritocracy. Says who? I would imagine that for an army answerable to no one, whose expenditure and income are not tabled anywhere and who cannot be scrutinized by an external agency, it is easy to maintain a “corruption free” record. This is laughable. However, the details that do slip out once in a while make for interesting reading. I would  recommend reading Ayesha Siddiqa‘s Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy for those who offer platitudes about the “lack of corruption in Pakistan armed forces”.
  3. They are the only stable institution in Pakistan. So say Americans who find it easy to deal with a dictator without the inconvenience of public opinion. Moreover, I would expect a bunch of men with all the guns and money with no accountability to be at least “stable.”

This brings us to the basic problem with our armed forces – a lack of accountability. The ability to manipulate our politicians, and more importantly, the ability to manipulate our society actively through propaganda and passively through the denial of information. The basic requirement for a functioning modern state is a “well-informed society,” not a society barred from details about the  country’s fundamental decisions. For making decisions about our future, we need a full account of what is happening and what has happened.

What exactly happened in Bangladesh in 1971 (Recommended reading: declassified portions of Hamdoor Rahman report) ? In Kargil in 1999 ? Who were the “freedom fighters” in Kashmir and Punjab? What do they have to do with the madrassas in Punjab and the Pushtuns in Afghanistan ? What is our relationship with the the various militant leaders? Who are these “Sarkari Taliban”? Are we supporting or did we ever support the “Quetta Shura“? How effective was our operation in Swat, Bajaur and South Waziristan? How many civilian causalities were there? How many people disappeared in Balochistan? Was Bughti killed? What about the many Pakistanis who have “disappeared” and were handed over the United States? How is Musharraf living in style in London with 24/7 protection from the British Police ? What was the deal between Musharraf and Nawaz (then and now)? Between Musharraf and Zardari ? Is it true that our bases are being used for predator attacks ? If so was it done because of the discretion of the army? Why is the ISI not under civilian control and why can a declaration of bringing it under civilian control so easily be reversed with a single phone call from COAS ? What about AQ Khan?

Almost every “security issue” that we have in our country today can be traced to one or more questions above, questions that need to be answered by our armed forces. All these and the entire armed forces need a thorough airing and a stint in the sunlight. Only then can we really know our past list of omissions and transgressions, where we stand as a country and make decisions about our future.

But for now we can rest in peace, because General David Petraeus after visiting our COAS has assured us that there will be no coups in the near future. I can only hang my head in shame.

The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

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