Army chief and the historic speech
There were many pronouncements that would sound reassuring to those who want a clearer resolve on the anti-terrorism issue. The army chief was in sync with national opinion when he said, “We wish that all anti-state elements shun violence and join the national mainstream.” A clear statement of intent like this must have gone down very well with those cynics who accuse our military establishment of nurturing jihadi elements and claim that proxy wars are waged in our neighbourhood through such outfits. Speeches are an important part of perception management. If I were the speech writer I would have the General add this as well: “We have no business with the banned outfits and other jihadi elements, and I am greatly perturbed over reports that some questionable characters are staging rallies in support of the army and ISI. I have ordered a thorough inquiry to fix responsibility for such incidents as they tarnish our sincere efforts at projecting the army as a modern and progressive institution. We consider any association with radical groups detrimental to the army and Pakistan.” These lines would have been reassuring to all sceptics who, at the moment, see a widening gulf between words and deeds.
The army chief also stated that, “The army will continue to play its role for national security, development and prosperity of the country.” This is an ambition that every Pakistani holds in high esteem. However, I feel the sequence is wrong in terms of result and determinants. ‘Development and prosperity’ are the ideals of the country and ‘national security’ is one of the determinants. Not the other way around. This is not just a matter of phraseology but more a case of institutional thinking, which suffers from the bounded rationality of viewing public policy as an extension of security policy. Many states with much bigger military might and security concerns have opted for ‘development and prosperity’ in modern times. Japan and Germany are prime examples if anyone is in doubt.
General Sharif very rightly reaffirmed his belief in democracy, supremacy of the constitution and rule of law in the country. He would have made greater impact if he had added: “Therefore we support the government’s case against Musharraf who had subverted the constitution. However, we hope that justice will be done after due process of law.” The army chief also stressed upon following Quaid-e-Azam’s golden principles of unity, faith and discipline. Perhaps the army chief might have used the occasion to remind his addressees of what the Quaid had advised the forces when he addressed the officers of the Staff College, Quetta on June 14, 1948: “I want you to remember and if you have time enough you should study the Government of India Act, as adapted for use in Pakistan, which is our present constitution, that the executive authority flows from the head of the government of Pakistan, who is the governor general and, therefore, any command or orders that may come to you cannot come without the sanction of the executive head. This is the legal position.”
One particularly welcoming statement in General Sharif’s speech was his appreciation for the role of civil society and the media when he said, “We believe in press freedom and responsible journalism, and appreciate their sacrifices.” Oil would have been poured over the troubled waters if he had further stated, “I am greatly perturbed over the perception of one of our most celebrated journalists that he was attacked by some members of the security agencies. Let me assure you all that we are not in the business of harming our own citizens. I have issued directives that investigations should be carried out to the satisfaction of our honourable journalist so that justice is not only done but should also be seen to be done. I take the news of the shutting down of the most popular channel in the country very seriously and have directed immediate resumption of services so that the perception that security agencies are responsible is dispelled. We only protect the freedoms of our people and any perception other than that is highly deplorable and a cause of concern for us all.” The army chief referred to the issue of Kashmir in his speech as well. He would have further strengthened the positively evolving thinking in the top ranks of the security establishment by adding: “It is the job of the government of Pakistan to resolve any issues with the neighbouring countries and we will always support our government in a peaceful resolution of all pending issues.”
Of late, political leaders have not missed any opportunity of public appearance to defuse the alarming situation with a conciliatory tone. The army chief also did some fire extinguishing with his speech but the water used proved insufficient given the spread and intensity of the flames. One hopes that we will see the historic speech very soon as the fire needs to be extinguished and not turned into an inferno.