LACONIC it may have been, but the army chief’s recent statement on Balochistan came across as full of meaning and revealed a disturbing mindset. Before flying off to Moscow, Gen Pervez Kayani said the army would support any solution to the Balochistan crisis provided it was “within the constitution”. His statement was elaborated upon by an army official when he denied that the army was blocking any political initiative on Balochistan. The army chief’s remark came in the wake of Baloch nationalist Akhtar Mengal’s appearance in the Supreme Court and the talks he had in Islamabad with some leading politicians culminating in his ‘six points’. Whether or not Mr Mengal’s nostrum for solving Balochistan’s problems is in the interest of the province or the country is for the representatives of the people to decide; unelected institutions need not be officious. On the other hand, Gen Kayani’s could have been an off-the-cuff remark. But given the number of times the military has suspended or tampered with the constitution in the past, it is not surprising that not everyone took his words at face value. We hope that the generals have learnt their lesson and stay well within the limits of the constitution.
While space doesn’t permit a fuller review of the army’s forays into politics and how it made and unmade constitutions, an example or two can be noted. Ziaul Haq at least was not being a hypocrite when he proclaimed that the constitution was nothing but a piece of paper he could tear up. What he considered to be his right as a general had already been demonstrated by two army chiefs. A fourth was to follow in 1999. Coinciding with Gen Kayani’s remark, a defence ministry official denied before the SC the existence of a political cell in the ISI, a denial that flies in the face of Pakistan’s history. As irony would have it, the refutation came during the hearing of the Asghar Khan case in which a former ISI chief has himself placed before the court documents corroborating his assertion that the intelligence agency distributed money among its favourite politicians to create a multiparty alliance and manipulate the 1990 elections. Way back, another ex-ISI chief had also admitted to such tactics.
Army interventions have done enormous harm to Pakistan, militated against the evolution of democratic institutions, eroded the concept of civilian supremacy and corrupted the judiciary. Each time the army quit, the country was left in a greater mess and twice without a constitution (1969 and 1971). Today, the task before all Pakistanis is to consolidate the democratic process.