Dr. Haider Shah

Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance (Plato).

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Sovereignty puzzle in Pakistan, Daily Times, 16 July, 2016

Last year millions of Pakistanis saw on their TV screens merciless beating of a police officer, and ransacking of PTV building in broad daylight. The two most conspicuous icons of the state were publicly humiliated. More deplorable was the fact that the miscreants got away with their display of mocking the state.

And one year later, the open challenge is out on the roads again. This time banners making seditious calls to army appeared mysteriously all over the country in a highly organised manner. To add insult to injury, the perpetrators have begun doing press conferences as well. The Constitution of the country prescribes death penalty for any tampering with the Constitution, and Section 131 of the Pakistan Penal Code says: “Whoever abets the committing of mutiny by an officer, soldier, sailor or airman, in the Army, Navy or Air Force of Pakistan, or attempts to seduce any such officer, soldier, sailor, or airman from his allegiance of his duty, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 10 years, and shall also be liable to fine.” Despite these clear provisions of the law of the country it is shocking to see how some miscreants can so easily get away with mockery of the law.

The situation therefore gives rise to a very fundamental question. Who is the sovereign in Pakistan? A state is defined as a territory with three further constituents: people, government and sovereignty. When Pakistan came into being in 1947 the question of sovereignty became a thorny issue. Religion and greater powers for the provinces were the two main demands of the founders of Pakistan. Once Pakistan came into being the two became the source of all problems for our early lawmakers as well as they struggled to find an amicable solution to the competing demands of dividing powers between the central and provincial legislatures, and to find the right place for religion in the scheme of things. At that time, army, commanded by British generals, was in its teething age. It was in mid-1950s that army with the first native chief Ayub Khan also entered the fray, thus further complicating the sovereignty puzzle. The 1973 Constitution to a varying degree was successful in resolving the competing demands of the two original sets of problems. While sovereignty was declared to belong to Allah, its exercise was entrusted to the people of Pakistan through their chosen representatives. The thorny issue of federation was also amicably settled by federal and concurrent lists. The 18th amendment addressed the issue again and assuaged the concerns of smaller provinces.

While the challenges of sovereignty at the constitutional level have been settled the issue of civil-military relations has proved to be like throwing a spanner in the works of constitutional governance. Let us examine two occurrences of public importance in the recent past. The ISPR spokesperson in a televised PowerPoint presentation on the achievements of the Zarb-e-Azb said that army and government are on same page on the Afghan issue. We can easily identify two underlying norms and beliefs in this statement. One, army is something separate and distinct from the government and second, army is in the leadership role and government follows it. If we look at the Constitutional arrangement, army is a department of the ministry of defence (MOD), and all uniformed forces including their chiefs are subordinate officers of secretary, MOD. Either the ISPR spokesperson should avoid public presentations, or he needs proper tutoring in choice of words so that disregard for Constitution of the country is not seen to be floating on the surface.

The second example is the namaz-e-janaza (funeral prayer) of the great humanist Abdul Sattar Edhi. While president of the country, chairman of Senate, and chief ministers of various provinces stood on sidelines, the army chief who is a subordinate officer of one of the ministries of the government, stood in the middle. If in the real world that is the situation, it should better remain hidden from the public eye as the veneer of constitutionalism should not be so brazenly peeled off.

When the British parliament through its government decided to use army in Ireland the army generals acted accordingly, and when the government settled for an Irish solution army did not cry foul. Similarly, when the British government held a referendum in Scotland on the independence question, no one asked the army chief about his opinion. Recently, when the British people voted in favour of leaving the EU by a thin majority, again no press release from the British Army was released. No doubt, input of the security establishment on strategic and security issues is always obtained and considered important, but the final say is always of the political masters in democratic countries. One can clearly ascertain this in Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars with regard to development of the Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy.

It seems that Pakistan is passing through a crisis of multiple dimensions. Externally, it is at daggers drawn with its neighbours. Internally, it is fighting a war with the militants that it once itself created. And now the corpse of sovereignty of the state is being dragged in the streets of major cities of Pakistan, while the government helplessly watches the gory scene. Today the state in Pakistan is as much threatened by sycophants and ambitious messiahs as by militant extremists.

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OVER A COFFEE: Army chief and the historic speech, The Daily Times, May 03, 2014

Army chief and the historic speech

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

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.

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ISPR — there is no licence for ‘waqar’!, The Daily Times, April 12, 2014


War is a dirty business and soldiers resort to ruthless behaviour in the heat of action, but when the video footage of the execution of a wounded Taliban militant by a British soldier was made public by the media, the young soldier was tried and awarded a life sentence

A press release issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) a few days ago increased the political temperature of the country. Not surprisingly, the ensuing debate in the media did not help in bringing the mercury back to the desired level. 

Living with dignity is the natural born desire of every individual but there is no licence for ‘waqar’ (dignity). We have to work hard to earn waqar and then work even harder to retain it. I hold in high esteem the sacrifices of policemen in the war against extremist militancy but this does not mean that when I see a nine-month-old baby appearing in court as an accused in an attempted murder case, I will not criticise the police for this disgraceful display of unbridled power. Similarly, I have the deepest regard for the progressive views of many PPP leaders like Raza Rabbani, Taj Haider and Farhatullah Babar but this does not mean that we will not ask questions about poor governance when the party is in government. The PML-N also has many capable personalities within its fold but it does not mean that we cannot criticise its negotiations policy. Yes, the case of the army and judiciary is a bit different as even the constitution forbids bringing disrepute to the two organisations. However, every ‘right’ has a corresponding ‘obligation’. As long as the army adheres to the obligation of not dealing with the public, its right of immunity from insulting remarks also remains inviolable. 

The US army is highly respected in the US and many of its generals have been elected as presidents or have served as secretaries of state. However, when the story of Abu Ghraib prison was published in The New Yorker magazine, the US army did not issue press releases about waqar but instead carried out criminal proceedings against the culprits. Similarly, General McArthur was fired by President Truman and General McCrystal was dismissed by Obama on charges of insubordination. No press releases were issued for the preservation of the waqar of the US army. War is a dirty business and soldiers resort to ruthless behaviour in the heat of action, but when the video footage of the execution of a wounded Taliban militant by a British soldier was made public by the media, the young soldier was tried and awarded a life sentence. The British army did not plead for special treatment. Perhaps the Pakistan army can learn a lot from its mother institution.

Once the British monarchs would banish their opponents to the Tower of London. The author of Utopia, Sir Thomas Moore, when he refused to accept King Henry VIII as the spiritual head over the queen’s divorce issue, was tried for treason and his severed head was fixed upon a pike over London Bridge for a month. Today the British monarch is merely a symbolic head of the state. Pakistan is no exception and is exposed to the agents of change as well. Political parties, which used to adopt no holds barred wrestling style manoeuvres against each other, have learnt how to respect the living space of all political organisations. The judiciary has disconnected from the past and the media has also learnt how to perform its watchdog role more effectively. We assumed that, like everybody else, the army as an institution had also embraced the much-needed change and was evolving into a responsible and respectful security institution. The press release by the ISPR, unfortunately, blew all this up.

I cringe with discomfort when I listen to PPP leaders citing shahadat (martyrdom) slogans even when the issue under discussion is governance. This distastefulness is no less when I find retired servicemen turned defence analysts state that the army should not be criticised because of its sacrifices for the country. The armies of all countries render such commendable sacrifices, whether India or the UK, but they do not ask for immunity when Tehelka exposes corruption or the British government reduces the size of the military. A country and its army have a reciprocal relationship of sacrifices. We provide rewarding careers to young men and women in search of jobs by sacrificing one fourth of our national income. In return, military institutions are required to ensure our security and help in any emergency situation. This relationship should not be cited to justify immunity from accountability. When generals take off their uniforms and begin serving the public then they should also be ready to face public accountability. 

Biologists tell us that only the fittest survive in the world but, more importantly, it is not the strongest that are the fittest but rather those who can adapt quickly and successfully when the external environment has changed. Dinosaurs were the strongest and ruled the earth but when the climate changed they were made extinct as they were unable to adapt. This is a necessary topic, which the Pakistan army should include in the core syllabus of its training institutions. Like all other institutions, it has to learn that there is no divine right to respect. If retired generals serving in the business sector are rescued from the accountability process by taking the ludicrous step of re-employing them then it is very naïve to expect that no one will laugh. Similarly, when an accused general becomes a fugitive inside a military hospital and his lawyers are instructed to hurl abuses in a court of law then respect can hardly be ensured through the issuance of press releases. 

The Pakistani people are keen to respect their security institutions but the right is not a divine one. It has to be earned.