ISLAMABAD: Finally breaking its silence on the issue of high treason trial of retired Gen Pervez Musharraf, the army on Monday came out in what appeared to be support of its former chief and warned critics against undermining military’s institutional morale.
“Pakistan Army upholds the sanctity of all institutions and will resolutely preserve its own dignity and institutional pride,” Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif said while speaking to Special Service Group (SSG) commandos at Ghazi Base near Tarbela.
The army chief’s extraordinarily hard-hitting statement released by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) did not directly link it to Musharraf’s trial, but some of the officers who had attended the Ghazi Base meeting, confirmed that discomfort within ranks over the issue formed the context of Gen Raheel’s comments.
While visiting the base, the home of SSG commandos, every other soldier that the army chief met expressed concern over the case, an officer disclosed and reminisced that Gen Musharraf belonged to the same group.
The ISPR statement noted that the army chief had made the remarks in response to “the concerns of soldiers on undue criticism of the institution (army) in recent days”.
Gen Raheel’s statement came a week after Musharraf was indicted by the Special Court on five counts of high treason, a charge that potentially carries death penalty.
It is quiet rare for the military to publicly express its ‘sentiments’ on a political matter and even its usual media statements on routine professional matters are sanitised to the extent that they are most of the times bereft of details. This has more so been the case under Gen Raheel.
But Monday’s media release was an exception.
The last time such a statement was made by an army chief was on Nov 5, 2012, when the then COAS Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani had warned detractors of military against undermining the institution and behaving as the “sole arbiters” of national interest. Observations made by the Supreme Court in the Asghar Khan case about funding of politicians in the past by the ISI had formed the background of Gen Kayani’s outburst.
Gen Raheel was reportedly upset about the manner in which the discourse on Musharraf trial had digressed into army bashing and public humiliation of the former army chief. Statements by Defence Minister Khwaja Asif and Railways Minister Khwaja Saad Rafique on the treason case in particular were seen by the army as demeaning.
The army had been privately conveying its reservations to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, but decided to go public after it was felt that he was not paying heed to the concern, an insider claimed.
In his comments at the Ghazi Base, the army chief regretted the timing of the campaign to ‘malign the military as an institution’ and he noted that “country is faced with multiple internal and external challenges…”.
Underscoring the importance of public support for the army, Gen Raheel said: “Drawing its strength from national support, with its characteristic coherence and resilience, Pakistan Army has contributed immensely towards national security and nation building and will continue to deliver on its mission.”