Criticism of political government is half the truth
Once again the debate about the civil military relations is raging in the media. The cue has been taken from the ISPR press release which stated that in the last Corps Commanders meeting the COAS: “While appreciating progress of ongoing operation and intelligence based operations their achievements and effects, COAS, acknowledged full support of the nation for ongoing operations to eliminate terrorism and extremism. He however, underlined the need for matching complimentary governance initiatives for long term gains of operation and enduring peace across the country. Progress of national action plan’s implementation, finalisation of fata reforms, and concluding all ongoing JIT is at priority, were highlighted as issues, which could undermine the effects of operations.”
The country’s history has taught the politicians and the political analysts to be wary of such statements by the establishment. They could not miss that while the COAS appreciated the army’s success, he underlined the need for matching governance initiatives. Some of the parliamentarians objected to the ISPR’s press release as it was uncalled for to send a critical message on a day after the meeting at the Prime Minister house in which the nation’s security issues were discussed.
It is quite evident that the army must have expressed similar feelings in the meeting regarding ‘lack of matching governance initiatives’ by the civilian government. Such interdepartmental frank discussions cannot be found at fault in any dispensation. But to publicly criticise the parent government is not in good taste; particularly, when in the Pakistan context it can stir the feeling of destabilisation of an elected government.
There is no doubt that Pakistan Army is in the forefront of war against terrorism and many soldiers have lost their life in the line of duty. The nation has high regards for them and supports the military operation. But the real problem is that the army establishment has to act as one of the important Departments of the government and not as a parallel government. It is in this context that the Prime Minister house had to point out that the NAP goals implementation had to be pursued by all national institutions “while remaining within the ambit of the constitution”.
According to the newspaper reports the areas where the government is lacking in the implementation of NAP goals are: fata reforms, the return of the Afghan refugees, issues related to the Karachi operation, slow progress on Baluchistan reconciliation program, controlling terror financing by taking action against the hawala dealers and restricting the work of the banned Jihadi organisations.
Indeed on all these counts the progress has been quite slow considering that the country is almost in a state of civil war. But it should also be borne in mind that the much-maligned civilian government has provided the working conditions in which the military operation was made possible — it passed the 21st Amendment giving almost all the powers to the military which are provided in a state of emergency. The military courts were allowed to be established although the same facilities could have been given to the ATC courts as suggested in the Liaquat Hussain case by the Supreme Court; it gave the military establishment powers to arrest terrorists and to hold them for 90 days for investigations; and gave the police powers to the Rangers who are actually an extension of the military establishment. And above all it provides the necessary funds for the military operation against the terrorists from the exchequer. For all practical purposes the country is in a state of emergency which has been made possible by the civilian setup.
The fata reforms are a long pending issue for the last many decades. The government should move on it urgently keeping the wishes of the people of these tribal areas. Most of the political parties who have roots in that area have been demanding the merger of FATA in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. This should have been done long ago but most previous governments – military and civilian — wanted to resolve the Durand Line issue with Afghanistan first. All Afghan governments have opposed converting the Durand line into a formal border between the two countries. Even the Taliban government established with the support of Pakistan did not agree to formalise the border between the two countries.
This issue is closely linked with Pakistan- Afghanistan relations which are not managed by the civilian government but by the establishment. Had it been left to the civilian governments perhaps they could have normalised relations with all northern neighbours long ago. The media critics who blame the civilians for failing to have a well thought out foreign policy tend to forget that it was mostly handled by the establishment and not by the civilian setups. Not because the civilians were incapable of devising a workable policy but because they have not been allowed to do so by the security establishment.
It is amusing to hear the overrated experts on prime-time television telling us that the political governments are not geared up to run the foreign policy and the establishment has think tanks and a system of debate which helps in making the foreign policy. If the boys were so good all along than one wonders why we erred in 1965 by sending 7000 insurgents to Kashmir thinking that India will take it lying down and not attack on the working boundary; why military launched an operation against the people of Bangladesh in 1971; why General Zia started 10 years war against Afghanistan in 1979 and allowed intense weaponisation of the country, and that drug trade to finance the insurgency beyond all northern border; if they did do their homework well then how did General Musharraf attacked Kargil underestimating India’s massive response; if they are so good then why did they fail to stop the Jihadis from launching the Mumbai carnage; why to the embarrassment of the nation they allowed Osama bin Laden to hide in the garrison town; ; why they launched the Taliban government in Afghanistan only to realise much later that it would work closely with Al Qaeda and provide its territory and resources to the Islamist terrorists from world over. The list of failures of the foreign policy managed by the boys is long.
However that does not absolve the political governments from their omissions and commissions. The media should criticise them so that they are forced to improve, but not in a way that paves the way and encourages the establishment to once again take over. Something to which we are familiar given the wretched history of democracy of the country.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org