Narratives and Counter Narratives: Who Are We Supposed To Believe?

President Mamnoon Hussain has joined the call for a counter narrative against extremism and terrorism. This statement puts the President on same footing as ex-COAS Gen Raheel Sharif who gave a similar recommendation at World Economic Forum in January. With such luminaries making the case for a counter narrative against extremism and terrorism, one would be sure that the state had finally reached a unified approach to combating the threat of militancy. Despite these lofty remarks, however, the message reaching the people remains divided.

Lt Gen Muhammad Asad Durrani

Ex-DG ISI says terrorism justified

President and ex-COAS have called for counter narrative against terrorism, but former DG ISI Lt Gen (r) Asad Durrani has a new piece in Dawn justifying terrorism as a ‘technique of war‘, and possibly just ‘part of human nature’.

Gen Mirza Aslam Beg

Ex-COAS says Taliban ideology is equal to Islam

Lt Gen (r) Asad Durrani’s pro-terrorism stance was quickly supported by no less thanĀ  ex-Chief of Army Staff Gen (r) Mirza Aslam Beg who wrote in The Nation that Pakistan’s national security was threatened by anyone who criticises Jamaatud Dawah and Taliban, both of which are black listed in the world as terrorist groups. In case there was any doubt, Gen Beg explained that Taliban can never be defeated because of their ideology which he says is equal to Islam.

Official press releases declare that whole nation is unified against terrorism and extremism, but the reality is not clear. We have always been taught to trust our Generals as beyond doubt. Now they are telling us that we should be for terrorism and that Taliban ideology is Islam. Others are telling us that terrorism is never justified and Taliban ideology is not Islam. Meanwhile whole nation is divided and confused who to believe? Pakistan will continue to suffer.

GHQ Should Set An Example

Gen Mirza Aslam Beg

The military is often referred to as the only competent institution in Pakistan. Leaving aside debate about whether this is a fair assessment, there is a reason that people look up to the military other than what we’re taught by Pakistan Studies and ISPR. People look up to the military because, for whatever its faults, it has displayed a professionalism and order where other institutions look messy and unpredictable. In this way, the Army sets an example for professional conduct. But part of professional conduct is accountability, and its here that the military has a unique opportunity to set an example if only they will take it.

Asghar Khan case has proven something of an embarrassment for the military that does not like to see its dirty laundry washed in public view. Already this week we have the like of Ahmed Quraishi clumsily trying to justify security agencies secret payments to political parties as innocently trying to “financially strengthen political parties by a decade of military rule”. Such amateur propaganda is amusing, but when officials push back against Supreme Court proceedings, it takes a different tone.

Gen Kayani criticised Mehrangate proceedings saying that the allegations could undermine national institutions and prove detrimental to the country. With due respect to the Army chief, I would like to offer an alternative analysis.

Talking to a group of senior journalists at PM’s House, Gen Kayani noted that “I took a conscious decision four-and-a-half years ago not to take part in politics and since then the army has stayed away from politics and I stand by my decision and will stick to it.” I take him at his word. But the Asghar Khan case is not about what is happening now, it is about what took place years ago. To this, the COAS “stressed the need to avoid fighting with history but to keep an eye on the future while staying in the present”.

I don’t think we should dwell on the past too much, either. But I do believe we have to learn from our past mistakes so that they are not repeated. Part of that is openly investigating past mistakes so that there can be a public record that dissolves conspiracy theories. Another reason is so that clear standards can be set for the present and future.

And there’s a third reason, too, that should not go unconsidered. By holding its own officers accountable for their mistakes, the military can set an example for other institutions and society as a whole. If the military is the most competent institution and it allows bad actors to get away with meddling in politics and manipulating elections, what is to stop anyone else from following suit?

When Gen Kayani insists that Army no longer meddles in politics, this should be celebrated as progress in our democracy. But if he covers up for past political meddling, it will be only natural that a doubt lingers in the minds of some. By holding military officers to account for acts that he has declared as unworthy of the Army, the respected Army chief will prove his standards not only in words but in actions also.

Today, Army is used constantly as an example of professionalism, order, and merit. While other institutions and society as a whole wrestle with issues of political and professional accountability, the Asghar Khan case gives the military an opportunity to set an example here, too.