WHILE addressing a group of officers at GHQ on November 5, the Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani warned that much is desired for all state institutions to work within their constitutional limits. The political pundits observed that the statement carried veiled challenges to the judiciary as well as media creating uproar in political, legal and social circles. The statement provided an opportunity to the detractors to denounce ‘institutional bashing campaign’ with a pledge to forward their energies to forge harmony amongst the national institutions. Interpreting the contents of the statement, it appeared that it entails a warning to all the critics who unnecessarily target and defame the sacred institution with an aim to draw a wedge between the people and armed forces.
The COAS’s statement has given some respite to the anxiety of questioned generals, emboldening them for an opportunity to defend themselves publicly against the one-sided media onslaught. Reviving their images, the generals are now giving documentary evidence to clarify their position on private TV Channels and the print media as well.
Why General Kayani was compelled to give that statement? What were the reasons that led to the address? Many talk-shows and news analysis conducted on different private TV news Channels cited various reasons for this prompting. An in-depth scrutiny and introspective examination of the statement of COAS will unravel its latent manifestation that was shrouded under the veiled warning to Judiciary and media. The COAS seemed to be referring the severe criticism of the institution where nine former generals are facing allegations of meddling into political process or financial corruption in the courts. Some of the reasons put forth are: a)The famous Asghar Khan case, which had been pending since 1996, was finally decided by the Supreme Court and the government was directed to take action against former COAS General Mirza Aslam Beg and ex-chief of Military Intelligence and ISI Asad Durrani for their role in sponsoring the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) in the 1990 general elections, b) During last couple of years, the superior courts have been hearing several high-profile cases related to the security forces and intelligence agencies, especially Inter-Services Intelligence. Scores of ‘enforced disappearances’ cases from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, FATA and Balochistan are pending with different courts, c) the involvement of three retired Generals, Maj.Gen Khalid Zaheer, Lt. Gen Khalid Munir and Lt. Gen Afzal Muzzafar in the corruption case in National Logistic Cell (NLC) in 2008, d) the connection of retired generals in Pakistan Railways and Fauji Fertilizer Company - Lt. Gen Javed Ashraf Qazi, former Secretary Defence, Lt Gen. Naeem Khalid Lodhi, Lt Gen. Saeeduz Zafar, and Major General Hamid Hassan Butt in connection with leasing 150 acres of Pakistan Railways land in Lahore to a private party on much cheaper rates as compared to the open market, e) Pakistan’s military is facing open media trial on the inaction of Pakistan Armed forces against NATO forces on two accounts - US unilateral air raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad on the May 2, 2011 and NATO air strike on army border Salala check posts bordering Afghanistan Nov 26, in which 24 Pakistani troops were martyred, f) a smear media campaign against state institutions by anchorpersons like, Asma Jehangir, Hamid Mir and Najam Sethi creating inter and intra-institutional clashes. And g) On the external front, the United States is leaving no stone unturned in belittling the image of Pakistan Armed forces in the media. Starting from the Raymond Davis affair, in which a CIA contractor shot and killed two Pakistanis in Lahore, to the accusing of ISI as a “veritable arm” of Talibans, to pressurizing Pakistan Army for the operation against Haqqani group in North Waziristan.
Ostensibly, any such development that hits the cultural norms and discipline of the military is bound to arouse the concern of the high echelons. Such like developments have undermined public’s confidence in the military, creating rifts amongst the high command with low-level command of the military. The judiciary has been seen to criticize the policies and actions of the military/intelligence agencies, followed by an unprecedented ‘misinformation drive’ in the electronic and print media. Gen. Kayani stressed that “While individual mistakes might have been made by all of us in the Country, these should be best left to the due process of law. As we all are striving for the rule of law, the fundamental principle; that no one is guilty until proven, should not be forgotten. Let us not pre judge anyone, be it a civilian or a military person and extend it, unnecessarily, to undermine respective institutions.” General Kayani put forward two fundamental questions; 1) Are we promoting the rule of law and the Constitution? 2) Are we strengthening or weakening the institutions?
It is generally talked that the Army Chief’s speech in the GHQ was reflective of the opinion of his fellow generals and the Pakistan Army as an institution. The Army Chief is hundred per cent right that no individual has right to determine interest of the country. The armed forces of Pakistan play a key role in guarding the national frontiers and securing its borders with heavy responsibility rests on their shoulders. The nation looks forward to its defence forces for protection and security in the event of foreign aggression or threat of invasion, therefore, the morale and spirit of the soldiers should be kept high. The CJP Mr Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry has expressed confidence in the role of the defence forces against external aggression, the soldiers have always lived up to their traditions whenever called upon to defend their motherland. Discipline is the essence of Armed forces, where laws, edicts, rules framed, hold good for the general community and if applied rigidly, the effect is lasting. No army man is going to move forward without discipline and complete obedience is the first requisite of good discipline. Therefore, any effort which wittingly or unwittingly draws a wedge between the people and Armed Forces of Pakistan undermines the larger national interest. Equally important is the trust between the leaders and the led (low tier of command) of the Armed Forces. Any effort to create a distinction between the two, undermines the very basis of this concept and is not tolerated, be it Pakistan or any other country. The on-going media trial is totally uncalled for and will cast unhealthy repercussion on the morale and discipline of serving personnel.
The country is passing through a critical stage. The truth is, Pakistan is in serious trouble and any misadventure will make the country is in a position of strategic peril. The whole nation needs institutional cooperation in forging unity and harmony in their files. The co-conspirators are working at the behest of foreign powers, because the enemies know they can weaken Pakistan only by weakening the Pakistan Army and ISI. Why they are trying to convert a purely legal matter into Army/ISI bashing? Dragging the military into politics would be disastrous blunder for the country, especially when Pakistan Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence are still coping with militants in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, besides facing a perennial wave of suicide attacks and assaults on the security personnels inside settled area. Additionally, Asma Jehangir, Hamid Mir and Najam Sethi are the sharpest instruments in the campaign of damaging Army and ISI in particular and creating civil-military clash in general. All these anchorpersons are being paid hefty amounts for creating an ambiance of confrontation between the civil-military leadership leading to anarchy-like conditions in the country, through their Talk shows on TV. This environment can only advance the interests of India and the United States as Indo-US nexus considers Pakistan army/ISI a real hurdle in attaining their respective goals in the region. At this critical juncture of Pakistan chequered history, it is the duty of every patriotic and peace-loving citizen of Pakistan to stop these anti-Pakistan elements from disparaging the army and the ISI and to declare that such criticisms will do more harm than good to the Statehood. The media needs to act responsibly and there should be somebody who should come forward and say that the media should follow the ‘code of ethic’ as specified for the conduct of Journalism in the country. As the cases of nine retired military generals are sub judice, journalists should report only the facts and do not attempt to influence the proceedings of the Court, come what may. Let the court do its work.