By Kamal Matinuddin
General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s direction to the army officers to refrain from meeting politicians and that the prime role of the armed forces is to carry out their professional duties is indeed a very welcoming statement and the need of the hour. It gives us hope that we have now a professional soldier at the helm of the army. According to newspaper reports army officers deployed in civil departments are being recalled to their units. This will help in reducing the criticism of the army, which we so often hear in civilian circles. It will also keep the army officers away from certain corrupt practices, which come their way when heading lucrative appointments in the civil sector.
Earlier while addressing the corps commanders he rightly pointed out that it is the harmonization of the socio-political, administrative and military strategies that will usher in an environment of peace and stability in the long run. Ultimately indeed it is the will of the people and their support that is decisive. This is a major shift from the policies so far being pursued where the views of the populace were not given any weight—where we were made to believe that only those at the helm of affairs knew all the answers.
Kayani knows full well that the strength of a nation does not depend on the armed forces alone, even if it be a nuclear power. Internal harmony, a wise foreign policy, sustained economic growth and justice for all are the other ingredients that bring about progress and prosperity in a country. It is only when the military concentrates on maintaining the highest standard of discipline and training and keeps away from activities, which brings them in contact with the civilians, that they would not be the target of their criticism. This does not mean that they should not assist the government in the maintenance of law and order or help the government during emergencies, but only when they are asked by the government-in-power to do so. If they deliberately get involved in politics they then must be prepared to face the onslaught from the civilians at some point of time.
While many in the country welcomed another military take over in 1999 they too got disillusioned with the army shortly thereafter, when the desire and the decision to remain in power, come hail or shine, became the main objective of a military-led government. Those in uniform began to believe that except those who supported their rule, others were unpatriotic and must be kept away from the corridors of power. But when expectations were not fulfilled and promises made were broken. When joining the war on terror had adverse domestic fall out the army’s popularity receded. Credibility of the army was lost when the military spokesmen entered into denial mode.
What damaged the army’s image most was when an army unit surrendered meekly to lightly armed militants. Civil-military relations took a downward turn when they did not see the armed forces giving up their self-assumed political role even after many years of military rule had elapsed
I recall my days as a second lieutenant in Multan in 1948. We were members of the Multan Club where we often had the occasion to play tennis with the commissioner Multan Division, Mr I. U. Khan and DIG Alam (father of the well known late General Rafi Alam). Despite being very senior to us in age and appointment they made us feel quite important because we were members of the newly created Pakistan Army. We hardly ever visited the city in uniform, but when ever we did the shop keepers were eager to serve us first. One could see that they too believed that these officers are the guardians of our borders.
The owner of the only cinema in the cantonment used to receive us at the gate of the cinemas, not because of fear of any punishment if he did not do so, but because of the respect he held of the army then. With every martial law the armed forces got more and more involved with the civilians. The black sheep amongst them brought a bad name to the army. Even those who performed their duties honestly were criticized for initiating policies, which were not appreciated or did not produce positive results
Frequent toppling of elected governments; treating the constitution as a piece of paper, which has been heavily mutilated or amended to suit individuals or a particular political party. Destroying democratic institutions, using unfair tactics to remain in power infiltration into all major civil departments are some of the reasons why the image of the army has gone down.
The reaction of the people working in civil departments to the preponderance of military officers heading their departments can be gauged from an anecdote, which I personally experienced. Some years back my telephone remained out of order for nearly a week. Despite registering my complaint and speaking to the SDO telephones of my area and then raising the level to the superintendent telephones my telephone remained dead. So, in sheer desperation I rang up the office of the Chairman PTCL. When the PA picked up the telephone I enquired from him the name of the chairman. He told me that it was Bajwa. Assuming that he must be a general I asked him to connect me to General Bajwa. He spontaneously answered, “Ye bach gia”. Needless to say not only was my telephone put in order but Mr Bajwa rang me up after a few hours to enquire if the telephone had been repaired. Nice of him to have done so.
Another cause for frustration with the army is the closure of roads during VIP movement. Some days back it took us two solid hours to reach the airport from the Defense Society in Karachi. The inordinate delay was, we were told, because of VVIP movement. Some travelers missed their flights and naturally blamed the army for their loss. Hopefully this matter too will be looked into by the new military set-up. Security officials could be directed to keep the closure of the roads to the absolute minimum, while maintaining the much-needed security during VIP movement.
The days of the army removing elected governments are over. It can now be expected that the army would restrict itself to the maintenance of law and order in the forthcoming elections and not connive with the former ruling party to ensure that they win the elections. Let the army truly and sincerely remain a-political. The statement of the president about not allowing the newly elected parliament to change his policies, if quoted correctly in an Urdu newspaper was not appreciated. Although it has come from a civilian resident, but the fact that he is a retired general the public will blame the army for not allowing the functioning of true democracy in the country.
Since military officers retire early in life it is necessary to provide some alternative employment when they shed their uniform. They are in that stage of life when they need to support the education of their grown up children, save money for their marriage expenses and generally prepare themselves to lead a comfortable retired life. The armed forces are indeed within their right to demand their 20% quota in various civilian departments. As long as the postings to civil departments are according to existing rules the civilians would not feel bitter
The politicians have welcomed the statement of General Kayani. The civil society considers it a good move. Retired officers opine that it is a step in the right direction. Hopefully the directions given to the officers will also be adhered to at the highest level.
What will now be expected from General Kayani is that he will enforce his directives strictly and sustain it through out his tenure as the Chief of the Pakistan Army.
The writer is a retired lieutenant general. This article appeared in The News (Pakistan)