THE statement of the army chief that it was for the nation to decide what was good for the country deserves attention in the backdrop of recent speculations regarding military intervention. In a recognised democracy, this averment would not be needed, for the armed forces' sole duty is the defence of the country. However, it is a measure of the army's uneasy ties with the political class that Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani touched upon this subject at the Yaum-i-Shuhada event on Saturday. What he said contained a mix of elements both laudable and debatable. Absent was any reassurance that the army had no plans of disrupting the democratic process. In fact, such a declaration was needed because the army has usurped political power four times. The military interventions not only served to retard the growth of democratic institutions, they did incalculable harm to the country's territorial integrity and social fabric, besides unleashing parochial forces and religious militancy, both of which are now Pakistan's scourge.
Unfortunately, the army's unnecessary concerns became evident in the speech when the general spoke of Pakistan's ideological foundations, and declared that 'we' could not sacrifice Pakistan's dignity for prosperity's sake. It is not clear what he meant by 'we'. One would like to hope that by 'we' the army chief did not mean the corps commanders. 'National interests' are a matter of opinion in Pakistan, governed as they often are by class and sectional interests which are palmed off as non-negotiable absolutes. Lacking democratic consensus they become a source of mischief and discord.
The general was undoubtedly correct when he said it was the people who would decide what was in the country's interests. But, to be politically acceptable, a reassertion of this universal truth must recognise the fact that it is the elected fora at the centre and in the provinces which are the embodiment of the will and sovereignty of the people. Which means that by their very nature it is these institutions whose policies and actions represent and define national interests. We like to believe that the army, under Gen Kayani, recognises the supremacy of parliament and the civilian leadership. It is a settled issue that should not brook any fresh meddling.