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.

Southasia - - Cover story - By S. M. Hali

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.

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