THE army fully supports any political process, as long as it is in line with the Constitution, said Gen Ashfaq Kayani before leaving for Russia while referring to Balochistan.

This statement is surprising and equally damaging for the elected government as it tantamount to interfering in the politics of the country.

The army chief should have been careful at a time when the country’s political atmosphere is dangerously fragile.

He should have talked about military cooperation with Russia and exchange of high level military delegations instead of talking about the Constitution on which army’s track record is very poor.

Any visit by military head to any friendly country provides opportunity to interact and create atmosphere of goodwill and better understanding. To expect miracles with just one visit is asking for too much. We must not forget that our relationship started derailing when Liaquat Ali Khan preferred to visit the US instead of the USSR, although that Russian invitation came much earlier than America’s.

It entered into worst era when on May 1, 1960, a US spy plane U-2 flew from Badaber base, Peshawar, and was shot down by the Russians. But due credit must be given to Russia in forgetting the past and moving forward, of course, with reservations.

President Vladimir Putin has a favourable approach towards Pakistan and is on record to have offered expansion of Pakistan’s Steel Mills. Russia has also shown interest in developing the Thar coal project. Putin had also condemned attack on Salala check post as it interfered with the sovereignty of an independent state.

It is not correct to suggest that it is a big shock to the Americans as President Pervez Musharraf and Kayani had visited Russia in the past. The US is too busy in elections and has little time on such minor development.

In any case our sour relations spread over a decade cannot be put on the track only by Gen Kayani’s visit. It can be, however, a good beginning.

Our media created hype before Putin’s cancelled visit and now undue hype is being created on Gen Kayani’s visit. After 9/11, Islamabad and Moscow came closer when the US was given a free hand to deal with the Taliban. Pakistan enjoys unique position in South Asia. Whether it is the US or Russia, both have interest in South Asia and Pakistan is the gateway. Therefore the US and Russia have to have cordial relations with Pakistan to gain access to Central Asia States.

Pakistan has to be very careful in its policies as it is going to have serious impact after the elections in the US and Pakistan.

Lastly, the Pakistan Army should avoid making political statements and advising to follow the Constitution. This should be left to the parliamentarians and the Supreme Court. All institutions must work with in the prescribed limits of their mandates.

Interference or public announcements/statements that affect the functioning/working of other institutions should be avoided at all costs.

MUKHTAR AHMED BUTT Karachi

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