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A circle of disillusionment


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Supporters of political party Pakistan Muslim League rally in favor of Pakistan army holding a picture of army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in Karachi, Pakistan on Friday, May 13, 2011. Pakistan's intelligence chief, Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, admitted "negligence" on the part of authorities in failing to find bin Laden during a closed session in Parliament on Friday. – AP Photo

Has the Pakistan army come full circle? The criticism directed towards it since May 2, when American troops entered the country to raid Osama Bin Laden's hideout, forces one to ask this question.

Be it the American anger and doubts or the reaction from within Pakistan, it is evident that the army will face the brunt of the May 2 fall out.

What else would have compelled the Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani to rush to three garrisons to hold 'frank question and answer sessions' and indirectly point the finger at the media and the political government for the criticism that has been directed against the state institutions since the raid.

That a weak and powerless prime minister was roped in to give his vote of confidence to the military further expresses how dire the situation was. Yusuf Raza Gilani is the man who usually cited the army's support to lend credence to his assertions that his government would complete its term.

No wonder then that when on Wednesday afternoon PMLN leader Nawaz Sharif criticised the military's agencies, it was strangely reminiscent of the period just a few years earlier when the then COAS, General Pervez Musharraf, earned the military considerable flak.

If there is an analogy that can be used it is the story of Oscar Wilde's novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. An individual who makes a Faustian bargain that allows him to lead a hedonistic life while it is his portrait that ages and disfigures over time, providing a mirror to his acts.

In the case of Pakistan, the acts are of individuals but it is the image of the institution that is tarnished.

In recent years, this was first witnessed during Musharraf's tenure. His political decisions beginning from the referendum to the 2002 elections produced the first signs of ageing and disfigurement. By 2006, the process of disfigurement accelerated and by the next year, it was in freefall.

And initially when Kayani took over from Musharraf in November 2009, he focused on the image.

Step by step after that, the 'sins' of Musharraf were washed away; a repair job as complex as the restoration of the grand masters was undertaken by the new chief of staff.

Painstakingly it began when his first decision after taking over was to visit the troops deployed in FATA. Away from the frontlines, he got rid of signs of wear and tear by recalling army men from political jobs, warning soldiers to staying away from politicians and a formal announcement also to stay away from the elections of 2008. Repair work was helped along with the crises the politicians created such as the long march on Islamabad in 2009 when Kayani's behind the scene efforts were seen as a conscious decision to not plunge into politics.

But as Oscar Wilde noted in his novel, the only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it, another Dorian Gray succumbed – in July 2010. The soldier's soldier, as Kayani was called, yielded to political considerations and accepted an extension of his term.

A second term is rarely ever kind to politicians, who usually are allowed one (think of Ronald Reagan who faced the Iran Contra scandal in his second one and Bill Clinton who dealt with the Lewinsky saga). For a soldier at the top the price is paid by the army.

Each decision of his then is seen to stem from an agenda, an agenda that is linked to the extension. Everything sticks — to the image of the army.

There were the cable leaks in December of last year, revealing his political wheeling and dealing and the reports that agencies were behind the hysteria whipped up over the arrest of Raymond Davis, who was freed once the CIA-ISI reached some sort of an understanding.

A wart became visible when the army chief criticised a drone attack after having ignored them from years; press reports suggested that the motives were driven by politics and not concerns for law or human lives.

But it was May 2 that dealt the worst blow.

There are rumours and conjectures and conspiracy theories about what the army high command knew or didn't about bin Laden's presence and the US raid.

The issue is not that there is any truth to the rumours or not; the issue is that not a soul inside the country or outside is willing to trust what the army has said about the raid. The conspiracy theories point to the skepticism that exists which is no less than the disbelief that meets a politician's assertion that he is not corrupt.

Critics sneer that Opposition leader Nisar Ali Khan is only indulging in political point scoring when he lashes out at the military or the agencies in his speeches in the parliament; but the important thing is that Khan feels that hitting out at the army will earn him brownie points with the people. Whether or not he means what he says is irrelevant.

A junction that we have reached but three years after the military swept through Swat in a blaze of positive media coverage, not just in Pakistan but worldwide.

From 2007 to 2009 and now 2011. The present is far too similar to Musharrafian past.

Evidently, we are destined to witness successive acts keep repeating the same story — on tarnishing, repairing and then another bout of disfigurement.

There is no denouncement and no end. Just a circle of disillusionment.

Comments (21) Closed

Sameer, Melbourne May 16, 2011 08:17pm
It is intereting to finally see some questions being asked about Army & ISI and their role in democracy. Although layman is still dreaming about ISI being their savior, journalist seems to have found a voice (and b@lls) to quesion ISI's strategy to use terrorists as assets. Australian aborigines invented a tool called boomrang, ISI I guess has more faith in kalashnikovs. Jago Awam... We need democracy controlling Army, not the other way round.
Musthaq Ahmed May 16, 2011 08:51pm
Let us put things in perspective. Pakistan is surrogate to GCC which is a military bloc.This is the essence of its foreign policy and this is also the essence of its Afghan policy. Political parties ,elections, constitution, banking are subordinate to this single fact. Oscar Wilde has nothing to do with it.
humayun nayab May 16, 2011 10:34pm
Our army should get their act right or forget Pakistan. This should be stated on the poster rather Pakistan or leave. They have never done their Job ever they fail whenever put to test.. They perform only where we never wanted them to perform. These people are having a rally in support of our agencies....basically paid by agencies as well. everything is possible to remain in power.....this is our politics..whether its army or politicians...same thing. two sides of the same coin.
Jawwad May 16, 2011 10:53pm
No one is getting the brownies this time. Only the cake.
Abid May 16, 2011 10:54pm
Very shamful for Pakistan. The army and present government are just playing with people emotions. They will letting American kill innocent Pakistanis. With the largest army and modern weapons if we can not stop invasion then how can we defend? We should declare ourself 51 state of US where they can come and kill anyone. Army and present government all are corrupt and I have no hope for the country now.
Indus Darya May 16, 2011 11:55pm
Pakistan is an islamic monstrosity and a failed state. Its creation was an enormous mistake. Economically and morally bankrupt its shameless ruling elites led by the military can only thrive by begging aid from the US. Shameful.
butseriouslyok May 17, 2011 12:24am
And where does this end? Is there a strategy or just experiments? Pakistan is not just its army and intelligence services...has anybody thought about millions of poor children who are being deprived of opportunities that are opening up to the rest of the third-world? Are we depriving ourselves today so we can own Kashmir in the future? Can India do any more harm then we are doing to ourselves? Why? We had two major disasters in last few years...earthquake and the floods...and on top of that extremism, constant load-shedding, humiliation, isolation...all this for strategic-depth...we want Afghanistan to stay under the thumb of Taliban while criticizing India for doing the same in Kashmir? All this madness must end. We must take of the suicide belt right now.
Larry, USA May 17, 2011 12:31am
Pakistani army is like a Salvation army. This army extends its hands with empty bowl. This is a laughing stock of the nation.
pekhawaray May 17, 2011 12:41am
i like the way you write. it is very different from other journalists. there is something to it that is unique.
A Shah May 17, 2011 02:26am
I'm sorry to say but our ISI is a micky mouse organisation. Why is it our enemies prosper and we just begging the world and keep killing each other. I refuse to call myself a Pakistani until this joke of an inteligence agency has been disbanded.
ali May 17, 2011 04:50am
100% agree with this article.but it's surprizing that nawaz sharif is criticizing army establishment.whatever their vested interest lies in it,i don't know.even then i appreciate this criticism.somehow he is representing civilian's great.but there should be no compromise he should keep it up,bcoz it is not the duty of some article writers of dawn,but of the political forces.
Ibn e Ashfaque May 17, 2011 05:16am
The "reason for being" for most organisations is that they serve some need in the external environment of the organisation. In the case of the army it is security. When an organisation focuses itself internally on the needs of its leaders and away from the reason for its being, it is in danger of becoming irrelevant. Pakistanis today are looking for an institution that gives them security.
abdullah shaikh May 17, 2011 07:15am
Personalities have very limited room to play with their role assigned by their institution. In present case viscous ambitious circle beyond jurisdiction, lust of enjoying unshared power without any fear of accountability, may be Immaturity or over acting weakness is ruining the amusement or expectations of audience.
Hussain May 17, 2011 08:34am
ISI and Army should focus on revival of Pakistan's economy in order to get rid of American aid and eliminate American involvement in Pakistan. This can be done by avoiding getting into petty issues like militancy and horse trading. Pakistan needs complete reshuffle of buraucracy to replace backward and unprofessional mindset existing within our establishment and governmental setup. Government should take lesson from progress of other countries of the region line India, China, GCC and even Bangladesh.
Great Fact May 17, 2011 11:15am
Pak army is just like bunch of jockers. Its Neuclear capacity is just like diwali's crackers. Missles given the name of Ghori & Ghazni (attacked india) has no class against Brahmos & Surya Which care surpass china & hit the russia too. Beware Surya is coming.
Vik May 17, 2011 12:39pm
Mate the only great fact that we have been made aware of is that education, especially in English, is not available as widely as it should be. Perhaps that's where some of us should focus rather than trying to publish some irrelevant comments just because we can...
malik May 17, 2011 01:01pm
agree, very true.
SC May 17, 2011 03:19pm
Every country has an Army but Pakistan Army is one that has a country. Till this is reversed I am afraid the people of Pakistan must continue to suffer economically and image wise. The world will not take Pakistan seriously and trust it to be an honourable nation. I hope the people will one day rise and say enough is enough.
Gaurav Kaushik May 17, 2011 04:48pm
I am glad that this author is able to say what he wanted to say and others are able to comment like wise without anyone coming after them for stopping their voice. This (media freeddom) along with the revival of the judiciary in last few years have been the leading lights of the democarcy. In some ways, the demise of OBL and the defiant attitude towards US perhaps will make Pakistan to do some reforms and survive without US aid. Nawaz Sharif has rightly pointed out not to make India the Raison d'être. It will help cut down the expenses on army which can reduce dependency on US. Also, the taxation base should be increased. The pressure has to be built up on govt for that.Lastly the people who are engaged in turning young minds in Madrasas should be stopped or such a Madrassa should be closed altogether as you can not live in peace surrounded by fanatical minds. Intellectual currency of the country need to improve. Pakistanis elite have to be critical and self examining at all times and not just this moment.
Naveed May 17, 2011 04:53pm
Yes, a very nice article and well written too. I don't agree with it's central premise though. The army has been consistent in it's aims institutionally. It's public face has changed in Ayub, Yahya, Zia, Aslam Beg, Musharraf and now Kiyani but the difference has been one of style not substance. It's security doctrine and vision for Pakistan is unchanged. That's the problem.
Tahir Naseer May 17, 2011 11:15pm
Why do we always criticize the Army and keep on electing those who are incapable of running a country? rmy as well as the nation has sacrificed a lot. Its time to re-think and elect those who really can do something good and come up with a good economic, foreign, education and health policies instead of criticizing.