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We ‘idiots’ won’t shut up


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“The army chief does not express personal opinion. Whatever he says is the collective view of his institution.”

These were General Jahangir Karamat’s words a few hours after he ceased being Pakistan’s chief of army staff; his tenure prematurely over after his controversial call for the setting up of a National Security Council.

In his second term in office, a ‘heavily mandated’ Nawaz Sharif wasn’t willing to brook any ‘nonsense’. He asked for his army chief’s resignation. A BBC colleague suggested we try and get the general’s view.

We called Army House from London expecting a rebuff. But the operator put us through to Gen Karamat in the shock and confusion that must have followed the chief’s decision. The general denied he was sacked: “I resigned because I didn’t want this controversy to damage the country”.

I put it to him: “Was the NSC statement your personal opinion or did it represent the collective wisdom of the army?” He responded with his “collective view” statement.

We also interviewed Sharif’s top aide Mushahid Husain. With unmistakable triumphalism, he said the decision showed who was boss.

It wasn’t long before it emerged that many generals, and most notably the CGS (chief of general staff) Lt-Gen Ali Kuli Khan (Khattak) who was in Peshawar for the day, later protested to the chief that he had decided to go quietly and not allowed them to sort out the government.

Sharif handpicked Lt-Gen Pervez Musharraf because he was advised his choice didn’t have a big constituency in the army, given his ethnic origins. Therefore, he would remain grateful at being elevated and follow orders without question.

It wasn’t long before the all-powerful prime minister found out how wrong he was. After a disastrous Kargil misadventure and continued defiance, when he tried to sack the army chief, he was overthrown, jailed and exiled.

Whether it was an ‘individual’s decision’ or the collective will of the institution manifesting itself, Pakistan was going to be set back another 10 years as, following in the footsteps of Ayub and Zia, Musharraf declared himself the monarch.

Frankly, as the Supreme Court proceedings in the Asghar Khan case and its ruling demonstrated, even when the army wasn’t directly, blatantly in power, it or its key individuals were still controlling most of the levers of power, even to the extent of manipulating elections.

In fact, just before the PPP government was sent packing in 1990, I was working for the Herald and wrote a story on how politicised even Gen Beg’s spouse was. Addressing a Rawalpindi Garrison Women’s Club meeting, she let loose on PPP’s ‘atrocities on the poor Mohajirs in Sindh’.

The PPP had already had to climb a mountain to form a government as another ‘individual’, the then ISI chief, had created an alliance to block its progress in the 1988 elections.

Anyway, after I wrote the Herald story on Mrs Beg, the then corps commander in Karachi requested a meeting. Gen Asif Nawaz Janjua was a bellicose officer who was supposed to be feared. As one prone to living dangerously, I agreed.

Ushered into his office and introductions over, the aides left the room. The general didn’t offer me a seat. I pulled a chair and lowered myself into it anyway. He reached into a drawer, pulled out a copy of the Herald with each of my stories marked by a coloured flag.

“Yaar, what’s this?” He barked, opening the page to the Mrs Beg story. “The chief called me from ‘Pindi. He was very upset.” I responded: “Is it untrue? If the chief wants he can issue a denial. But I have a number of witnesses who heard the speech.”

The general almost exploded: “I am sure she said it. But national interest bhi koyee cheez hotee hai (is also something). Do you have to report everything?” My current sense of realism, pragmatism … Ok, Ok … cowardice was still several years away. No family, no material possessions, nothing to lose.

“General, I thought this was going to be a grown-up conversation, a meeting to share our respective perspectives. Not a lecture on national interest. Had I known, I wouldn’t have bothered to come.” I started to get up.

The corps commanders, or at least Gen Asif Nawaz, had desks the size of football fields.

The big, burly officer got up and started to storm round his colossal desk. I rose to my full five-foot-nothing frame and braced myself. As he neared, I saw a half-raised right hand. Then I realised he was offering me his hand as he said: “Good. Now we understand each other perfectly.”

There was no mention of my journalism anymore and none either of national interest. He ordered tea, biscuits and a friendly chat followed. All my quirky views were heard without a frown. Things have moved on over the past two decades.

Now, Gen Kayani voluntarily says he has no monopoly over defining national interest. He says there is a need for all to follow the constitution. He acknowledges mistakes have been made in the past but calls for the rule of law to deal with those at this ‘defining moment’ in our nation’s history.

The army chief’s statement and the chief justice’s apparent retort to that have been described as ominous signs of this and that. I firmly believe that the past is another country. It will haunt us but we’ll never return to it.

I don’t feel the need to qualify criticism of the military by paying a perfunctory tribute to the several thousand soldiers who have laid down their lives valiantly battling the forces of darkness. Where I stand ideologically, they are my heroes anyway.

As for whether some generals indulged in corrupt practices or are clean as a whistle, we’ll wait for the due process of law to tell us. But we won’t abandon, or abdicate, our right to ask questions because a former head of ISI says: “Shut up, idiots.”


The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

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Abbas Nasir is a former editor of Dawn.

He tweets @abbasnasir59.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (21) Closed

rafe Nov 10, 2012 09:03am
real voice of every pakistani !!
Parvez Nov 10, 2012 10:05am
Nice and balanced writing.
nazeermahar Nov 10, 2012 06:59am
Probably, we need to develop a critical mass of political support to de-institutionalize military's role in politics. Without achieving that point and devising a right strategy military would continue to call shots. Turkish model may serve an example for us to consider.
Dr. Ikramul HAQ Nov 10, 2012 06:19am
Excellent piece Abbas Nasir Sahib, I am proud to be once your colleague in DAWN.
Zaheer Jafri Nov 10, 2012 11:20am
Wonderful...keep exposing these Generals because of whome our beautiful country s in a very sorry state of affairs..
g m patra Nov 10, 2012 01:27pm
Great Article. Democracy has never been older than approx. 10 years in Pakistan as it hads been ruled by the GUN in-between. Even in those 10 years the GUN has manipulated it, the democracy. Getting 70 or more % of the budget and showing no result in either securing the country or maintaing law and order has been hurtful and will continue to do so. People of Pakistan must notice who belongs to the richest class there. They have to make some sacrifices to fix the country by devloping a critical mass of political support .... as suggested.
Ahmed Nov 10, 2012 04:56am
Excellent article. Given that Musharraf was allowed to run away from Pakistan and will no doubt live out the rest of his life in glorious exile with bank accounts full of money stolen from Pakistan, future Pakistani generals can be expected to try their luck at overthrowing the civilian government in future. Now General Baig and Durrani seem to be running loose despite the court verdict and the government not willing once again to take action. Unless action is taken against these convicted criminals, Pakistan will remain open to future military takeovers.
umer Nov 10, 2012 06:05am
Bravo! Mr Nasir.
Shahjahan Bhatti Nov 10, 2012 05:57am
Sixty years are enough to decide who is in a poor country like ours.
Shamsher Awan Nov 10, 2012 12:04pm
I could not understand that somehow Generals of KPK are more pro Dictatorship than anyone else. Someone must tell them that Tribal Sardari System does not exist in this world anymore and they should stop interfering in Politics.
G.A. Nov 10, 2012 07:39pm
Historically, Generals in Pakistan have misunderstood the term 'General' Elections.
Hassan Nov 10, 2012 07:40pm
I do not defend ex generals but to be honest, this Army which is target no 1 of media, so called up right lawyer and civil community now and if disintegrated.This country is disintegrated too.
Mohan Kochicheril Nov 10, 2012 10:48pm
Good Luck! The lion who tasted the blood is going to be content with eating grass.
Malick Nov 10, 2012 05:52pm
I do not praise words like " shut up & idiot" but some time immuture media deserve even more than these. Media should train its new commers how to behave. This immuture media is not more dutiful to Pakistan than these general.Pakistan is capable to produce 2500 media spokers within an hour when 25 years are required to produce a general and they are all dedicated to country active OR deactive. Media is not considered dedicated service, media people changes their services at salary level and more faster than memon MARVI changes political parties. A general rest room period may be more than a new media person. Media goes out of its limit needs a LOGAM, Please do not shit at military. Media spare no one, it keep on shitting on president , govt, judiciary, military and politicians Why not a clean reporting?
Jeet Nov 10, 2012 11:46am
By not shutting up , you are strengthening democracy in Pakistan.Indirectly, you are strengthening the politicians.But are the politicians in Pakistan, really better than the generals,most of whom have spent years(most of their youth) serving the nation in harsh terrain.....
arslan Nov 10, 2012 02:24pm
very good article
Walayat Malik Nov 10, 2012 02:24pm
It gives me hope that democracy is here to stay from now on by reading Mr. Nasir's this sentence: "I firmly believe that the past is another country. It will haunt us but we
Moni Nov 10, 2012 01:34pm
It is right to state that we must wait and let the Law of the Land take its course. However, its not the time that we start settling our old individual score by taking advantage of the situation. It is also pertinent that media must also highlight what the media men said to the ex- ministers. We need to be transparent and unbiased.
askari Nov 10, 2012 05:41pm
Beautifully put across. I wish all the opinion makers have the same attitude. Keep it up please.
ashar khokhar Nov 10, 2012 02:41pm
It is not enough to de-poloticise army, it is half of the job. The most important job is to make them live according the the national income of Pakistan. All the perks and privileges have to go, the subsidised plots, food, travel, pension and medical facilities. The majority of Pakistanis are still looking to have all the earlier mentioned basic needs.
Farooq Nov 10, 2012 08:38pm
nice column, past is past not so or at least i think so, recently i came across as nice gentlemen in services. And the view they had Mushraff was great and how come media should critise us(Forces) publicily bla bla. What Generals thinks come downs the chain of command and reaches the soldiers as well you are dam write it is institution who are resposible to the mess Pakistan is now facing.