By General Mirza Aslam Beg
Pakistan is passing through very interesting times of civil-military relations, which demand sagacious and bold decisions by the political and military leadership, to correct the course. We have a checkered history of civil-military relations, retarding the growth of the political culture, as the foundation for a robust democratic order. A brief mention of the past failings and the present opportunities, therefore, is necessary to arrive at some meaningful conclusions.
General Ayub Khan took-over in 1958 and opened the way for American ingress into our internal affairs. Ten years later when the Americans found him “too-big for his boots”, a political movement started against him, thus activating the ‘Nexus for regime change.’ The junior military leadership under General Ayub; the political parties; the judiciary using the instrument of ‘law of necessity,’ facilitated take-over by General Yahya Khan, who proved instrumental for the break-up of Pakistan. When the job was done, Mr. Z.A. Bhutto took-over as the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
Mr. Bhutto was a dynamic leader. He held 1974 Conference of the Organization of Islamic Conference, giving a new sense of unity to the Muslim World. He opened the way to China and declared to the world to acquire nuclear weapon capability against India, which was unacceptable to the Americans. Thus the Nexus got activated again, and the political movement started on the issue of rigging in the elections and turned into Nizam-e-Mustafa movement. Mr. Bhutto was over-thrown and General Ziaul Haq took over in 1977.
General Ziaul ruled for eleven long years, with an iron hand. He joined the American war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and in the process helped create the Jehadi Resistance Movement, joined by “sixty-thousand volunteers, from seventy countries of the world.” Another forty-thousand came from Pakistan alone. He protected and promoted the atomic programme, initiated by Mr. Bhutto. When the Soviets retreated from Afghanistan, General Zia lost his importance for the Americans. He was considered a nuclear proliferator and a strong factor of unity for the Afghan Mujahideen, whom the Americans had decided to keep out of power from the political set-up at Kabul. Hence, General Zia was eliminated through the C-130 air crash, which Benazir Bhutto considered as “an act of God”.
Within three hours of General Zia’s death, constitution was restored and power was transferred to the people, to whom it belonged. This momentous decision has no parallel in the contemporary history, was taken by the Three Service Chiefs: General Aslam Beg, Admiral Saeed Ahmed Khan and Air Chief Marshal Hakimullah. We were assisted by General Hamid Gul, DGISI and Brig Aziz Khan, the Judge Advocate General of Pakistan Army. A tradition was set. The opportune time has now arrived, to revive this tradition.
From 1988 to 1998, the two young elected political leaders of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif wasted most of their time on mud-slinging at each other. The Army Chiefs – General Asif Nawaz, General Abdul Waheed and Jahangir Karamat did not intervene despite, provocations and temptations. It were the two presidents, the known supporters of Pakistan Muslim League and Pakistan Peoples Party, who played their hands at 58-2(B) causing pre-mature regime changes. Americans were too busy during this period taking care of their interests in the Gulf region.
In 1998, when Nawaz Sharif, despite American forbiddings, exploded the nuclear devices, in response to the Indian, he
became an “undesirable and untrustworthy leader.” He therefore had to be removed. The ‘Nexus’ got activated again and a political movement started, under the banner of the Grand Democratic Alliance. Nawaz Sharif smelled the conspiracy being hatched against him and removed General Musharraf from command, but failed. General Musharraf took-over on 12 October 1998. He joined the American war on Afghanistan and earned the title of “Most Loyal non-NATO ally.” His rule spans over a period of ten years and his deeds are fresh in our memory but the most important development during this period was the “movement for the independence of the judiciary” led by the judges, lawyers, the media and the civil society, which forced Musharraf out, and a new political set-up was established after the 18th February 2008 elections.
The process of dismantling of the Nexus, now has started, first with the bold stand taken by the Chief Justice of Pakistan in March 2007, and subsequently, the very momentous decision by the Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kiani, for “not to engage or involve the Army in the election process of 18th February 2008” made all the difference. It changed the course of democracy in Pakistan. It also defeated the American – Musharraf plan for winning the 2008 elections in the manner, they had won in 2002. And from this point onwards, a great opportunity offers itself to the civil-military leadership to carve-out a new destiny for Pakistan.
The judiciary is independent and has discarded the mantle of Law of Necessity. The Army has found its proper place in its equation with the civil authority. The political opposition is not interested for regime change, despite the provocations. The lawyers and the media movement, has created a new awareness for change amongst the broad masses. The stage therefore is set for a bold decision to correct the course. Three steps are needed to set the fundamental direction right:
- Step One: Defuse the on-going controversy between the judiciary and the government. Independence of judiciary is sacrosanct, as much as is the sovereignty of the parliament. There are enlightened people on both sides of the fence and they will find the answer. Justice Jawad Khawaja’s recent comment is very re-assuring indeed: “We don’t claim any right beyond the will of the people.” A better understanding is developing between the two prime institutions.
- Step Two: Give a meaning to the decision of the three services chiefs of 17th August 1988, by establishing the post of Chief of Defense Staff (CDS) as recommended by General Muhammad Sharif Committee in 1975. Mr. Bhutto ignored this recommendation and suffered. Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and Mr. Nawaz Sharif both ignored my pleadings, to create the post of CDS. Nawaz Sharif ultimately had to bear the brunt. Why one may suffer any more?
- Step Three: Having created the post of Chief of Defence Staff, it would be proper to appoint General Kiani as the first CDS, for a three years tenure. His credentials are well established. And a new Chief of Army Staff may be appointed in his place.
With these steps taken, better harmony would prevail between civil-military relations and understanding would develop to safeguard the independence of judiciary and the sovereignty of the parliament. And from military point of view also, the appointment of CDS is as important, if we care to learn from history. The ’65 and ’71 wars were started without due coordination with the other two services and we suffered. The Kargil operation was a bad example. Now is the time to take this well-considered decision, as the bed-rock of harmonious civil-military relations.
General Mirza Aslam Beg is former Pakistan Army Chief. After retirement he founded FRIENDS, a Think Tank in Rawalpindi of which he is the Chairman. He is a regular writer for Opinion Maker and some other English Dailies. His views are always given due respect for their clarity, foresight and logical deductions.