Ever since the martyrdom of Liaquat Ali Khan, civil-military relations in Pakistan have vacillated from one end of the spectrum to the other, the extremes of love and hate. If Hussain Haqqani’s case hit us like a bolt from the blue, the Zardari-Kayani eager embrace that followed was even more intriguing.
This unnatural behaviour is only a manifestation of the bigger malaise that has afflicted the leadership on both sides of the aisle: obsession with the self — the I — and overinflated egos even in those who had trumpeted the slogan of ‘Pakistan comes first’. The resultant dictatorships alternating between the civilians and military have left the nation thoroughly mauled and traumatised. Pakistan needs a messiah to resuscitate the state. Life lingers on in the vague hope of finding the one.
Ghulam Muhammad placated the military to perpetuate his monologue on the helpless people of Pakistan, giving two extensions to Ayub Khan, the army chief. Iskander Mirza offered him all the powers on a platter. The wise man, Chief Justice (CJ) Munir, prompted Ayub to take over as the office of the president had become redundant. The dictatorship only changed hands. Though Ayub turned Pakistan into a model developing country, yet the euphoria vanished with his departure, as there were no institutions to sustain the progress. The ‘I’ has only that much life.
Bhutto was in Greece but was called back by General Gul Hassan to take over the country. He made this sane soldier resign at gunpoint for only a Tikka Khan could have pleased his ego. Here it would be pertinent to quote Nehru’s example. Nehru had prevailed upon his army chief to stay when he had fallen out with Krishna Menon, the defence minister, and resigned. A Godsent opportunity to stamp civilian superiority over the military did not tempt Nehru to sacrifice national interest at the altar of his ego. He proceeded to establish institutional harmony and mutual respect, which has persisted since then. The Indian nation has always and rightly stood rock solid behind its military whether it was against China in 1962, Pakistan in 1965 or Kargil where a complete strategic surprise utterly confounded a complacent Indian army.
Bhutto saw another Tikka Khan in the compliant and overly obedient Ziaul Haq. He had dug deep into the seniority list to promote the youngest general as the chief just to suit his feudal lordship. The same humble servant stabbed him in the back. Dictatorship changed hands once again, but, unfortunately, this time from a highly sophisticated and popular leader to a crude and ruthless religious bigot. The people, however, remained the victims as before.
When Zia died General Baig was asked by Ghulam Ishaq Khan to take over. General Baig refused. He believed in democracy; he told us this in his first address after the death of Zia. Then why stage Mehrangate? Unfortunately, the truth will remain untold as spilling the beans will help no one but only harm Pakistan tremendously.
General Wahid Kakar had a soldier’s disdain for politics and politicians. He remained focused on his profession and the nuclear programme. Benazir was cautious. She did not rub the military on the wrong side. She felt comfortable with General Kakar and even offered him an extension, which he gracefully refused. General Jehangir Karamat was a gentleman par excellence. There was a time when he was being encouraged by the ‘powers that be’ to take over. He refused for the sake of democratic stability in the country.
Nawaz Sharif had an entirely different mindset. Nurtured by the military, he believed in total control. He was out to once and for all put the civilian stamp on the armed forces. He asked General Jehangir Karamat, the best chief under the circumstances, to resign. And then, what no clash of personalities or personal feud could justify, Nawaz Sharif tried to unceremoniously remove his army chief when he was abroad to replace him with a gentleman who was not his choice in the first place. Shocked, the military reacted to save itself the repeat of institutional degradation meted out to General Gul Hassan and Air Chief Marshal Rahim before him. The reason for the fiasco was the same: egocentricity. The outcome was also the same: a weaker Pakistan and an ever-suffering populace.
Today the army is once again in the limelight. The military is acquitting itself admirably well in the war against terrorists in northern Pakistan. It has done a marvellous job in stemming the rot in Karachi. But it has touched the tip of the iceberg only. A long drawn struggle is ahead to completely get rid of the evils from our midst. A solo military act cannot achieve it. The political leadership has to put its shoulder to the wheel with equal zeal and commitment. The entire nation, every segment of society to be specific, has to stand behind its military with the unflinching support that the Pakistan armed forces seem to yearn for.
We are right in the eye of the storm. Leaders must have the ability to focus despite being in the thick of it. This is the time to rethink civil-military relations, it is time for honest introspection, time to define our limitations, rights and privileges — a trait of the wise — and fully focus on that common point of Pakistan that has to come first for a change. The Pakistan military has to recognise the primary national concern of democracy, which has to be allowed to take root. If democracy fails, the solution is more democracy. If the political leadership fails to deliver, let the media, judiciary and the people take care of them. On their part, the civilian leadership must be willing to accommodate the military needs without demur. To quote Srinath Raghavan, “Nehru realised that unless military needs are balanced against societal values, Indian democracy could be hollowed out.” Pakistan has already experienced that more than once in its faltering path to democracy.
There is no ‘I’ and no ‘them’. We are all one and we are Pakistan.
The author is a retired officer from the Pakistan army. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org