The presence of Osama Bin Laden in Abbotabad has led to an opening of a Pandora’s box. The Pakistani military has had to pick and choose from limited options; that is either complicity or incompetence. The civilian government, already incapable of influencing any foreign policy, has once again chosen to side with the military and the intelligence agencies. On the surface, however, they have tried to act tough by establishing an “independent” commission in charge of analyzing the Osama Bin Laden mishap. The likes of Najam Sethi, Nawaz Sharif and Asma Jehangir have already called the commission useless. Nawaz Sharif was upfront about labeling the Osama Bin Laden a “security lapse.” He also criticized the PPP for not trying hard enough to ensure accountability within the military.
It is fair to assume that Nawaz Sharif has been bitter with the military since he was ousted in October 1999. His second tenure as the prime minister was marked with him trying to decentralize the military’s power in the political sphere. General Jehangir Karamat was nice enough to resign in face of civilian aggression, but Musharraf pounched on Sharif’s ego and ultimately ousted him. Sharif finally has seen an opportunity to once again engage in a verbal war with the military( and the election campaign of 2013). This time, the military may have found a more schrewd Sharif, and a public that is more aware of the military’s alleged incompetence. This situation is much similar to 1972, when army dictatorship collapsed.
The creation of East Pakistan sent shockwaves across Pakistan, as it lost 52% of its population within a matter of months. Martial law ended with Zulfikar Bhutto becoming both the Chief Martial Law Administrator and the President of the nation. While the public raised furor over the military’s policies, it was not fully aware of its atrocites in East Pakistan. Zulfikar Bhutto chose to keep it that way. In order to appease the military and ensure his future Presidency, Bhutto decided to conceal the “Hamoodur Rehman Commission Report” from the public. The report was also questionable in nature, as it did not indict General Tikka Khan, a military figure complicit in the army’s lawless actions in East Pakistan. General Tikka Khan went on to serve as the chief of army staff for four years under Zulfiqar Bhutto. The military, after a brief interruption in politics due to unpopularity, reinserted itself back into politics in 1978. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto missed the chance as Chief Martial Law administrator by not conducting a thorough investigation into the incompetence of the army. The result was the reinsertion of Martial Law in 1977.
Today, the PPP has once again allegedly decided to take the easy route by protecting the incompetence of the military. In fear of retaliation and possible aid withdrawal from foreign nations, it has decided to conduct an investigation in accords with the military’s wishes. Now, it would be foolish to assert that the military’s present blunders are remotely comparable to the atrocities of East Pakistan. Similarly, it is also unwise to assume that today’s PPP government is as strong as Zulfikar Bhutto’s government in 1972. Far from it, actually.
The morals of these two situations remain the same though. Public perception of the military is changing, just as it did in 1972. The PPP needs to act together with other civilian parties in order to ensure accountability in the military. It similarly needs to establish a proper independent commission in accord with the consent of the opposition parties. Najam Sethi, a distinguished Pakistani scholar, has critiqued the commission for catering towards the military’s needs. A commission needs to be established for ensuring justice within the military, not one that should be used by a party for political security from the military.
Three years ago, political parties were able to join together to restore the Chief Justice from a military dictator through unity. MQM President Altaf Hussain has already critiqued the alleged extremism within the army, and has demanded swift action within the military. Nawaz Sharif has called for a proper investigation into the blatant “security lapse” of Abbotabad. Imran Khan also wants a re-evaluation of military policy on the war against terror. This is the time for political parties to join together for a cause. Otherwise, public frustration with the military will frustrate itself to passiveness, and parliamentary democracy might once again meets its deadliest foe; martial law.