The gen­eral speaks

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Amir Zia

CHIEF of the Army Staff (COAS) Gen­eral Parvez Ash­faq Kayani, one of the most in­flu­en­tial play­ers on Pak­istan’s power chess­board, may not have a ready-made an­swer to ev­ery chal­lenge the coun­try faces to­day, but he is in­deed a po­lit­i­cally cor­rect and as­tute per­son. Is­su­ing bom­bas­tic state­ments has never been his style. He is cau­tious, cal­cu­lated and eco­nom­i­cal with words and likes to de­fine him­self as a gen­eral who takes into ac­count ‘the grey area’ be­fore de­cid­ing to act.

No won­der when a large group of se­nior jour­nal­ists met him on a lazy Sun­day af­ter­noon in the gar­ri­son city of Rawalpindi, the gen­eral made sure that the po­lit­i­cally cor­rect mes­sage of con­sti­tu­tional supremacy, timely elec­tions and peace­ful trans­fer of power came across right at the start. The army chief’s talk, orig­i­nally meant as an off-the-record ses­sion, eventu- ally ended up as a widely re­ported, quoted and dis­cussed event, though at first its con­tents hit the head­lines in bits and pieces.

The credit of get­ting the em­bargo lifted should go to some per­sua­sive jour­nal­ists, who man­aged to get a nod from Gen­eral Kayani and se­nior In­ter Ser­vices Pub­lic Re­la­tions (ISPR) of­fi­cials to al­low them to report part of the ‘po­lit­i­cally cor­rect’ mes­sage. Fol­low­ing the ini­tial green sig­nal, the me­dia on its own ex­panded the scope of re­port­ing, mak­ing a se­lect part of Gen­eral Kayani’s talk pub­lic. But even if the en­tire event has been re­ported ver­ba­tim, the army chief hardly ut­tered a word which could be deemed con­tro­ver­sial. The gen­eral knows the art of speak­ing his mind and yet be mind­ful not to throw a loose de­liv­ery.

Gen­eral Kayani’s widely re­ported strong pro-democ­racy stance should un­doubt­edly help calm the nerves of many front-line politi­cians, who till re­cently saw a grand es­tab­lish­ment-backed con­spir­acy to de­rail the coun­try’s frag­ile, but highly con­tro­ver­sial and dys­func­tional, demo­cratic sys­tem. How­ever, the gen­eral at­tempted to put at rest all the plots of a di­rect mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion or in­stal­la­tion of an army­backed tech­no­crat setup for a longer-term in his open­ing re­marks by say­ing that there would be no ac­tion out­side the am­bit of the con­sti­tu­tion or the law. He also re­it­er­ated his com­mit­ment to the peace­ful trans­fer of power to the ma­jor­ity party, say­ing that the army has no favourites.

How­ever, Kayani’s com­mit­ment to democ­racy must have dis­ap­pointed many of those civil­ians and men-in-uni­form, who re­main con­cerned about the crum­bling writ of the state, grow­ing law­less­ness, chal­lenge of ex­trem­ism and ter­ror­ism, eco­nomic mis­man­age­ment, mis-gov­er­nance and ram­pant cor­rup­tion in the coun­try. The crit­ics of the cur­rent demo­cratic setup ad­vo­cate ex­tra­or­di­nary mea­sures, say­ing that the ma­jor­ity of the rul­ing elite mem­bers, who make it to par­lia­ment through elec­tions, do not have the will and abil­ity to tackle th­ese ex­tra­or­di­nary chal­lenges.

But Kayani has re­sisted the temp­ta­tion of act­ing as a saviour dur­ing both his terms as COAS. This aligns him to the po­lit­i­cally cor­rect ones, who see democ­racy – de­spite its high pre­mium – as the only way for­ward. Whether Kayani’s be­lief in democ­racy is his vi­sion or it stems from ob­jec­tive con­straints re­mains a ques­tion that in­trigues many an­a­lysts and po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tors. But if one talks of po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness, then of course the gen­eral re­mains on the right side of the fence. In the last year in of­fice as COAS be­fore re­tire­ment, it is un­likely that he would up­set the ap­ple­cart de­spite all its rot.

While Kayani’s pro-democ­racy stance hit the head­lines, it was the chal­lenge of ex­trem­ism and ter­ror­ism that con­sumed the bulk of Kayani’s time dur­ing his ses­sion with jour­nal­ists. The gen­eral pro­voked some heated ques­tions and de­bate when he said that one must dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween fun­da­men­tal­ists and ex­trem­ists. “We all are fun­da­men­tal­ists be­cause we be­lieve in the prin­ci­ples of Is­lam”, he said. It is only the ex­trem­ists, who need to be sorted out be­cause they try to thrust their views us­ing force and refuse to ac­cept the point-of-view of the oth­ers, he said, ex­plain­ing the stance that he also shares with his sol­diers.

For some jour­nal­ists, this def­i­ni­tion of fun­da­men­tal­ism ap­peared too sim­plis­tic, es­pe­cially in the Pak­istani con­text where po­lit­i­cally-mo­ti­vated Is­lamists re­main one step short of be­ing ex­trem­ists, and ex­trem­ists one step short of be­ing ter­ror­ists. Many mem­bers of the main­stream and highly or­gan­ised and dis­ci­plined re­li­gious par­ties, in­clud­ing the Ja­maat-eIs­lami, have been found aid­ing and join­ing the Al-Qaeda-in­spired mil­i­tant groups re­spon­si­ble for tar­get­ing not just civil­ians, but also the nerve cen­tres of the Pak­istani armed forces.

The politi­ci­sa­tion of re­li­gion has its cost, which the coun­try has been paying dearly for a long time now. And iron­i­cally, the orig­i­nal sin of cre­at­ing th­ese mon­sters in the sa­cred name of Is­lam and ji­had was com­mit­ted by the mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ment it­self dur­ing the dark days of former dic­ta­tor Gen­eral Zi­aul Haq un­der the di­rect su­per­vi­sion of our Amer­i­can friends.

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