The general speaks

Updated 16 Dec 2014


The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.

FORTUNATE is the country that has professionally ‘thinking’ generals but unfortunate is the country that has politically ‘thinking’ generals. In Pakistan, our battles have largely been planned and fought by ‘unthinking’ generals, and our politics and policies have been largely shaped by politically thinking generals. The result is where we are.

Some observers might, with a bit of irony, suggest this is the ‘genius’ of Punjab at work which ‘outsiders’, including Pakistanis, cannot fathom. Non-Punjabis, without a trace of irony, might assert that however large a proportion of Pakistan the Punjab may be, it can never ever equal Pakistan; and if politics and policymaking proceed on the assumption that Pakistan is effectively Greater Punjab, that would be a blow to the possibility of developing a genuine Pakistani nationhood that no adversary of Pakistan could strike.

This is how we lost East Pakistan — which was the majority, more Pakistani, more educated and more progressive than West Pakistan, including Punjab. This is how much of Balochistan has become almost irretrievably alienated. To this wound salt is added by the portrayal of the situation in Balochistan as a case of Indian interference, and not an issue of the denial of entitlements, rights and justice to the Baloch people. This is how Fata, much of KP, interior Sindh, huge swathes of Karachi and even southern Punjab are also excluded today from the practice and working of the Quaid’s concept of Pakistan. If he had foreseen today’s Pakistan would he have sacrificed himself for a cause destined to be betrayed?

Also read:Meeting COAS, John Kerry terms Pak Army a 'truly binding force': DG ISPR

The statement that the military is the ‘only binding force’ in Pakistan has resonance domestically only in Punjab, and externally in the US. Despite all its pretended disapproval of Gen Sisi of Egypt, the US supports him and the Egyptian military as ‘the only force’ that can bind Egypt to US strategies in the region. Pakistani generals have not been an exception. US regional strategies require strategic compliance and conformity from regional military ‘binding forces’. The same, unfortunately, may be in store for Afghanistan. Those regional regimes that do not conform are targeted by US strategic planners for regime change.

The antidote to a corrupt political leadership is not the political privileging of the military.

In none of the minority provinces and areas of Pakistan does the idea of the military being the sole national binding force have any resonance. Moreover, as stated, in no circumstance can political sentiment in Punjab substitute for the political sentiment of Pakistan. Unless, of course, one is indifferent to the progressive erosion of the foundations of the country!

This irresponsibility defined the attitudes of mainstream politicians, bureaucrats, business elites, religious custodians, the media, and not least, the military of West Pakistan towards the Quaid’s united Pakistan. Did the tragic consequences teach us anything? The answer is provided by the fate of the Hamoodur Rahman Commission report. It is also provided by the similar fate of the Abbottabad Commission report 40 years later. Amidst all the howling of political jackals not a single sustained demand for the release of the report! This is the measure of our leaders’ sincerity.

According to a Dawn report (Dec 5) Gen Raheel Sharif dwelt in Karachi on a broader concept of national security which covered “politics, human rights, economics, water security, terrorism and insurgency”. The general referred to “unresolved issues” like Kashmir and Palestine which threatened regional security. Accordingly, there had to be mechanisms for conflict resolution, not just conflict and border management. He reiterated his predecessor’s statement that the main enemy of Pakistan resided within its borders as a result of political polarisation and the inability of governments to protect the people.

All this was familiar and unexceptionable. Then he came to the core of his statement. The battle was no longer between the state and non-state actors but with “supra-individuals” who “exploit national and international space for their objectives. They “have the capability to manipulate networks, organisations, state institutions to create waves of instability and discord at the centre of state institutions”. While ‘explosions’ were a normal tool of war the bringing about of ‘implosions’ were the “defeat mechanisms” of these supra-individuals.

Who are these ‘supra-individuals’? Are they terrorist organisations? The statement seemed to clearly suggest the battle was no longer against them. Are they persons? Which persons? Imran Khan ‘bestrides’ the political scene in Pakistan like a ‘colossus’. Is he being targeted? Has the umpire turned down his appeal? Nothing is clear. This ambiguity in an important political statement from a professionally thinking general is itself politically interesting, if somewhat disconcerting. One of the general’s predecessors under the same prime minister lost his job because of an innocuous reference to the need for a national security council.

A paradigm shift has indeed occurred. What does it portend? Normally a broader concept of national security is intended to make the case for civilian supremacy over national security and other national policy formation, especially in a supposedly democratic dispensation. In this case, it seems a broader concept of national security policy is being made use of to legitimise the political dominance of the national security establishment. If so, this would be at the expense of the democratic, inclusive and participatory political aspirations of the people, which is the only basis on which a genuine Pakistani nationalism can emerge.

Corrupt political leadership which refuses to allow accountable and efficient institutional development is indeed poisonous for the country. But the antidote to this poison is not the political privileging of the military which is supposed to be designed and trained not to have any political ambitions. The cure lies in awakening, organising and mobilising the people in several national movements.

Good ‘supra-individuals’ may catalyse a comprehensive movement which ultimately transcends them if it is to mature and become institutionalised. But how to ensure pretenders are for real? Can a serving military chief become a good ‘supra-individual’? Many have tried. However, Ataturks are not born every day. The quest for saviours is a gamble against experience and wisdom. Pakistan’s fate should be more than a lottery.

The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.

Published in Dawn December 16th , 2014