It is hard to disagree with the decision of General Raheel Sharif, the Chief of the Army Staff, not to seek extension of his three-year tenure. This commendable decision will help strengthen institutional stability and promote the right balance between the elected political government and the military establishment, which are indispensable conditions for long-term stability and progress of the country. It has sorely disappointed those elements in the country who, for the sake of their vested interests more than anything else, wanted General Sharif to continue as COAS for another term on the flimsy ground that the extension of his tenure was necessary for the effective continuation of Zarb-e-Azb and the campaign against corruption.
The underlying premise of this point of view was that the departure of General Sharif from his current office would weaken both these
operations. Even a benign explanation of this argument would assume that the army is bereft of capable generals who can fit into General Sharif’s shoes. This would be a telling, and totally unjustified, criticism of an otherwise highly disciplined and well-organized state institution.
I have no doubt that the army’s top brass would be the first one to reject this uncalled for argument for the continuation of any COAS in his office beyond his normal tenure. This feeling was perhaps the main reason why some army officers criticized the extension of the tenure of General Kiyani who otherwise, in his first term, had significant achievements to his credit in the form of the Swat anti-terrorism operation and his policy of disengaging army from involvement in active politics.
The arguments for General Sharif’s continuation as COAS beyond his current tenure were also based on the flawed assumption that the army alone could successfully conduct Zarb-e-Azb or the campaign against corruption. In fact, the effective prosecution of both of them requires the concerted efforts of not just all the institutions of the state but also of the society as a whole. The success of Zarb-e-Azb is predicated upon the continued support of other institutions of state besides the army, particularly the intelligence agencies, the police and paramilitary forces as well as the political and financial support of the governments at federal and provincial levels. It is unfair to give all the credit to the army for the success of Zarb-e-Azb or to hold it solely responsible for any shortcomings, as some of our analysts are wont to do. Instead, Zarb-e-Azb’s success or failure would depend upon the ability of the government as a whole, of which the army is just one institution, to operate effectively and coherently for achieving its objectives. Even the resolve of the government alone is not enough. The society as a whole must be supportive of Zarb-e-Azb to guarantee its success. The government cannot achieve the desired results in the face of indifference or antipathy of the people at large.
What is true about Zarb-e-Azb applies equally to the campaign against corruption which is eating into the vitals of the country.
Unfortunately, no institution of state, civilian or military, is immune from corruption which has assumed epidemic proportions as the recent scandals vividly illustrate. The eradication of corruption, both in its obvious and legalized (e.g. allotment of state land at throw-away prices to civilian and military functionaries) forms, would require the sustained efforts of the society as a whole, the establishment of the rule of law, the strengthening of the judiciary and the law enforcement machinery of the state, the political will of the federal and provincial governments, and the effectiveness of the legislatures and the media to take the executive to task for its wrongdoings. It is beyond the capability of the army alone to successfully prosecute the campaign against corruption. So while the campaign against corruption must continue with full vigour, it is unrealistic to link its effectiveness merely to the continuation of the term of office of General Sharif.
General Sharif’s decision to retire on the completion of his term would also have the indirect effect of strengthening the country’s fledgling political institutions and its fragile democracy. The strengthening of democracy is an anathema to those short-sighted elements in the country, who in search of a short-cut to progress, would rather see the country under the rule of the army supported by technocrats. A recent article by a well-known Pakistani scientist supporting technocracy as against democracy is an example of the flawed thinking of such elements. These elements have neither learnt from the history of Pakistan nor from the history of other nations which have developed into effectively functioning mature democracies. They ignore the fact that the successful world democracies reached their current stage of development through a historical process of evolution in which they learnt from their experience while remaining faithful to democratic principles.
The need of the hour for us is to learn from the history of our own country which suffered grievously in the past, from the misrule by military governments with disastrous results. On the lines of a famous saying by former French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau who decried the ability of generals alone to fight wars successfully, one can say that politics is certainly too serious a business to be handled by generals. We must, therefore, strengthen democratic institutions in the country in the interest of its long-term stability and progress instead of committing the cardinal mistake of expanding the role of the army in the running of governmental affairs.
In this difficult journey, we must not be diverted or distracted from the right path by temporary obstacles and setbacks. Currently, we are passing through a phase on the road to full-fledged and effective democracy, which overflows with daunting challenges and serious difficulties. Our political institutions are weak and not delivering the desired results in terms of the establishment of the rule of law, the provision of justice to the weak, and ensuring the economic progress and welfare of the people.
The answer to these difficulties does not lie in the renunciation of democracy and the adoption of military dictatorship or some other form of authoritarian government which would merely aggravate our political malady as we have seen in the past. Instead, the current situation should propel us towards the further strengthening of the democratic institutions of the state in the country so that the state institutions become responsive to the aspirations of the people. As the history of the political process in successful democracies shows, it is only through a firm belief in the virtues of democracy and persistence that we will see the beneficial results of democracy in the country. An electorate fully aware of its responsibilities in the election of its leaders and a media committed to objective scrutiny of the performance of state institutions are indispensable conditions for progress in that direction.
The secret of Pakistan’s stability and progress lies in strengthening institutional stability as against the policy of building up individuals from which all the military governments and even some civilian ones have suffered, and in establishing the right balance between the various institutions of the state so that each institution operates within its constitutional limits and democracy takes root in the country. Nobody in this world is indispensable as the graveyards, which are full of the so-called indispensable people, clearly demonstrate. General Sharif needs to be complimented for grasping this truth and acting accordingly.