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Straight talk or double-talk?

Updated May 26, 2013


Chief of army staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.—File Photo
Chief of army staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.—File Photo

ELECTIONS over, it’s time to get back to the real world. Jihad lives, the militants are strong and no one seems to have a clue what to do about any of it.

Gen K has been a busy chief the past month, speaking Janus-like to his troops and to the people. To the troops he has said, at ease, soldier, Islam is Pakistan and Pakistan is Islam. To the people, and the politicians who purport to lead them, he has said, it’s our war, get over it and get with the script.

Listen separately to his message to his two audiences and it comes across as some much-needed plain-speak. The troops — raised as they are on a diet of Islam, quasi-jihad and grandiose notions of the meaning and purpose of Pakistan — need to be told that Pakistan is Islam and Islam is Pakistan because the other option is: Taliban are Islam and Islam is Taliban.

That other option has the unhappy potential of unravelling the Pakistan project as defined and guarded by the boys. So best to try and reclaim Islam for the army, lest the rank and file get funny ideas about shifting their Mecca from GHQ to NWA, Muridke or Kandahar.

Good idea, then, the message to his boys? Sure, why not.

The people and their representatives — raised as they have been on a diet of conspiracy and stupidity — need to be told that it’s our war cause you can’t win this war without the people and their representatives solidly behind you.

Actually, you can’t even really fight this war if the people and their representatives keep drifting off, goldfish-like, in pursuit of wacky theories and ideas — ideas like sauntering up to the Taliban, peace pipe in hand, and convincing them to, y’know, just learn to get along with everybody.

Thumbs up for Gen K’s insight and clarity, then? Sure, why not. Two thumbs up.

The trouble is, both those messages, for the boys and for the people/their representatives, necessarily have to be public. Half a million troops, a hundred and eighty million people — you can’t exactly talk to them in secret.

And because both messages are public, both the intended audiences get to hear both the messages. That tends to screw things up.

For side-by-side what individually looks like plain-speak ends up looking a whole lot more like doublespeak.

For how do you possibly convince the boys, your rank and file, that you’re on the right side of Islam when you’re still imploring the wider public to reject those rejecting this war as unnecessary and against Muslims and Islam?

If you can’t convince the many, how do you convince the few?

And how do you convince the people and their feckless representatives to abandon their conspiracy theories and ingrained notions of what’s good and what’s bad when you can’t even convince those under your command of the absolute logic of your argument, of the rightness of your war?

If you can’t convince the few, how do you convince the many?

Forget for a minute the incredibleness of trying to convince your foot soldiers and the public of the merits of a war you’ve been fighting for a decade. We are after all a special nation; incredibleness becomes us.

Now in the twilight of his career, Gen K has gone out on a bit of a limb. He seems to get that a national conversation on militancy is needed — a less emotional, more rational conversation, that is. And having failed at goading the civilians into leading that conversation, he’s tried to instigate it himself.

But, as with most things army, the more you look at it, the more you can’t help but wonder: is that the best you’ve got?

Granted the conversation starter we really need is the one we’re least likely to get: hey everyone, Gen K could say in this hypothetical, removed-from-the-real-world world, jihad was a bad idea, non-state actors a misdirection and it’s time to clean up our own mess ourselves.

Go Pakistan, no Taliban — now there’s a bumper sticker or T-shirt we’re not going to see, soon or ever.

But how about: go on, give us some more — to the army?

Years as the head of the not-so-clandestine clandestine service, years more as chief and now, with the last grains of sand trickling down the hourglass of his career, all we’re still getting is tepidness.

Hemming and hawing, ifs and buts, arguments within arguments, different audience, different message, jihad lives but militancy bad, save us but we must save ourselves — it’s a step forwards, sure, especially given what’s come before, but zoom out a bit and it’s still a whole lot of depressing.

Were a genuine appeal buried inside all that public messaging by the chief — guys, you the people, their leaders, help us help ourselves, here, take the reins, fix this, fix us — it would be a moment to rejoice, to dance a little jig on the tilted field of civ-mil relations.

But the chief is still playing the Pied Piper of GHQ, leading us little rats around in circles, too confused to think and vulnerable as ever to being picked off by the enemy the army purports to defeat.

Sure, the constraints are real, the fears genuine, the concerns legitimate — if the Pied Piper marches too far ahead of his flock, he, and his flock, could end up in a bloodier entanglement.

But between Moses leading his people out of the wilderness and Jonah running in the opposite direction, there is much room for mere mortals to fall.

And let’s just say Gen K has much more to do before getting to the Moses side of things.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm