In the Line of Fire
The Pakistan armed forces find themselves looking into the gun barrel of severe public criticism following a series of blunders and oversights.
Pakistan Army, which once upon a time fancied itself as the pride of the nation, is suddenly at the lowest ebb of its popularity as well as acceptability. It is suffering a severe nationalist backlash in the wake of the Raymond Davis affair and the U.S. Navy SEALs’ successful operation to eliminate Osama bin Laden without taking the Pakistan Army into confidence.
The organization, which has ruled Pakistan through various military dictators for more than half of the country’s existence and has remained a driving force behind the scenes in the remaining period, suddenly finds itself as the target of international ridicule, internal angst and anger at a feeling of being let down and now a target of censure by the media and the political dispensation of Pakistan, some of whom are baying for blood.
On numerous occasions, the Pakistan Army has served the nation with valor and has not demurred from making the supreme sacrifice of the lives of its officers and men but it is now being argued by its detractors that the situations have been of its own making, be it the 1965 and 1971 Pak-India wars, the Kargil adventurism or the War on Terror.
Historically, the Pakistan Army has exploited the political vacuum and made inroads into the corridors of power. The first attempted coup occurred in 1951 when Major General Akbar Khan, his politically motivated wife and a handful of armed forces officers, along with the elites of the Communist Party of Pakistan, attempted to overthrow Liaquat Ali Khan’s government and assume power. At that time the situation should have been dealt with an iron hand and heads should have rolled to deter future adventurism. As a result, within seven years, in 1958, Major General Iskander Mirza dismissed the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan and the government of Prime Minister Feroz Khan Noon, appointing army commander-in-chief General Ayub Khan as the Chief Martial Law Administrator.
Thirteen days later, Mirza himself was deposed by Ayub Khan, who appointed himself president and remained entrenched in the position for over a decade. When the people tired of his authoritarian rule came out in the streets to protest, instead of abdicating in favor of the civilian dispensation, the self appointed Field Marshal handed over power to his Army Chief General Yahya Khan, instead of
the speaker of the National Assembly as the Constitution demanded. In all fairness, the second military dictator, General Yahya Khan conducted the only free and fair elections to date in Pakistan’s history but refused to hand over power to Shaikh Mujibur Rahman’s Awami League, which had secured the maximum seats.
Manipulation by politicians in West Pakistan, who did not want to concede power to an East Pakistani caused the military dictator Yahya Khan to commit one of the biggest faux pas in Pakistan’s history and led external forces to machinate and cause Pakistan’s dismemberment.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who subsequently assumed the mantle of power, gave Pakistan a new constitution with ample safety clauses to deter further coups d’état, himself became a victim of over-ambition. He lost his government and later his life in a controversial trial after his own handpicked Army Chief, selected for subservience, deposed him. The third Martial Law dictator, General Zia ul Haq, after eleven years of authoritarian rule and sowing seeds of fundamentalism in the Pakistan Army, lost his life in an air crash.
Democracy was restored but with the Army peering down the shoulders of the political dispensation and like the early fifties, a virtual merry go round between successive political governments continued, till in 1999, Mian Nawaz Sharif opted to sack the Army Chief, whom he had selected for his supposed docility. General Musharraf, as the Army Chief had indulged in military adventurism through the ill-conceived Kargil Operation, which cost precious lives of young army officers and men and brought international pressure and humiliation on Pakistan. However, Mian Nawaz Sharif chose the unconstitutional route of sacking General Musharraf when he was in mid-air, returning after an official visit to Sri Lanka and went to the extreme extent of disallowing his commercial flight to land anywhere in Pakistan. This led the army to come into motion and topple Mian Nawaz Sharif’s government and install General Musharraf as the head of government. The rest is contemporary history.
The rot that had set in with Ayub Khan, with his sons being appointed in high places and getting permits to set up industries, did not continue in the brief stay of General Yahya, who may have had personal failings but was reportedly beyond corruption. General Zia’s tenure saw two major changes, dichotomous in nature but which left indelible marks on the army and the country. Firstly, he forced religion into the army, for which we are paying dearly through the so-called jihadi culture. Secondly, quite to the contrary, he encouraged the officers’ cadre to give up their austere standards and opt for lavish standards of living. The demand for a prolific lifestyle was often at the cost of the taxpayer’s money and national exchequer.
During the Musharraf era, there was an influx of army officers into civilian organizations who also developed a penchant for acquiring real estate. While the jihadists mutely wove their way through the ranks, those in pursuit of luxury, became lax in professional matters. The two major attempts on General Musharraf’s life, one on one of his Corps Commanders, then the GHQ and recently the PNS Mehran, indicate the perpetrators to be former military personnel-turnedjihadists.
In the face of this explosive situation, there are numerous conspiracy theories that are being bandied about by the western and Indian media who say that even current serving military personnel contribute to the jihadist school of thought and there is unrest in the army, especially after the OBL operation and that there is a likelihood of a colonels’ coup.
Whereas there is some element of truth in the presence of fundamentalist and orthodox Islamists, the idea of a colonels’ coup is rather farfetched. General Musharraf attempted to purge the military of extremists but did not succeed. Despite the victories in Swat and South Waziristan, albeit at a high price, the West is desirous of conducting operations in North Waziristan. Pakistan’s reluctance owing to its own considerations has irked the West, which has accelerated the propaganda machinery to malign and disparage the Army, which it perceives as a stumbling block in its ambitions in the region. The politicians, especially Mian Nawaz Sharif, see this as an opportunity to seek revenge from the army and would like to see its wings clipped.
With the politicians busy in grappling at each others’ throats, the law and order situation rapidly deteriorating and the army being forced to lick its wounds, the situation at best is hopeless. It calls for the army to carry out its own reforms. The best way to come out of the present morass is for the army to firstly appreciate that it has no role in domestic politics, Pakistan’s foreign policy and Kashmir affairs. It has a professional role to defend the frontiers of Pakistan at the behest of the civilian dispensation. Its budget, expenses and procurement must be approved by the civilian government. The jihadist ingress in the ranks would need careful handling but essential steps must be taken for its survival as well as that of Pakistan.
The Pakistanis have always been obsessed
with their military.