By Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal
Pakistan is passing through interesting times. In an environment of deceit, incompetence and mistrust; different institutions are busy in competitive race for the turf. While they zealously guard their acquired space, often they appear actively engaged in encroaching upon the adjacent spaces as well. And they are in an indecent haste to forward their claims and counter claims. This activity has a tendency of degenerating into distance thunders and misunderstandings. It appears that the parliament, judiciary and the army are articulating their latent fears and threats to their respective institution’s integrity and continuity. In fact, structural weaknesses inherent in our national institutions are popping up off and on to haunt these institutions, and as a corollary, the entire nation.
Recent speeches of the Chief Justice of Pakistan and Army Chief were independent and non-interlinked events. The function where the CJP spoke ended an hour before the Army Chief delivered his speech. Statement by the CJP was not in response to Army Chief’s comments. The two texts reached their media recipients in the reverse order. This generated an impression as if the CJP had responded to the Army Chief’s comments. Prevalent environment supported such likelihood. Out of sheer misunderstanding and professional negligence, arrogant media created a public frenzy; parliamentarians, veterans, politicians, opinion makers etc jumped in quickly to sound the dooms day alarm.
These two speeches emphasized the supremacy of the constitution and the rule of law as well as strengthening of State institutions. Both the statements were well meaning, with no intent of malice. Statements and writings can always be interpreted or misinterpreted in different ways. But before venturing into an analytical activity, responsible media has to do sanity, reality and authentication tests, and place the matter in proper context and correct chronology; it failed to do so.
An endless debate is going on as to which institution is supreme; representatives of each entity are taking parochial stance. Holistic narrative is missing. Patchy discourse is creating an impression of some kind of simmering confrontation, looking for an opportunity to burst open, frequently radiating an impression of imminent collapse of the system.
It is indeed encouraging that so far, all state institutions have acted with restraint and in a responsible way; all seem to know their boundaries and their rhetoric does not translate into erratic or rash actions. All institutions realize that it is the State of Pakistan which is and should be supreme.
The three main institutions mentioned in the constitution are Parliament, Judiciary and the Executive. Duties and responsibilities of each have been articulated in the constitution. The only loose cannon is the Electronic Media. It has not been able to put up matching maturity and integrity to the freedom which it enjoys. Accuracy is the first casualty on the altar of eagerness to be the first to pass on an item to viewers. Knowing this weakness of the media, individuals and institutions tend to use it to own advantage without realizing that the next day someone else would use it against them. Informed viewers rate our electronic media just a shade higher than the rumour churning entities.
Military is one of the state institutions which are trusted, respected and adored by the public. Main stream political parties view it as a political rival because of its past political role. These political parties have a history of love-hate relationship with the military. Mutinies by Generals Zia and Musharraf did not reflect the public or military aspirations. However, a section of politicians sided with both the Generals and gave their regimes undue longevity. Ironically, on both these occasions, the democratically elected Presidents continued to hold the office after military takeover, thus giving a quasi legitimacy to both the Generals. Likewise, superior judiciary sanctified these two ugly acts. And Generals’ Kangaroo parliaments endorsed fundamental distortions of the constitution.
Once again, as per the revelations of the Air Marshal Asghar Khan’s case, the beneficiaries of the ISI/MI distributed fortune were the politicians. It is rather satirical that the whistle blower was not a politician but a former Service Chief; and the mastermind of the activity was a democratically elected President. In the same breath, the then Army Chief, DG ISI and DG MI should not have become a tool in the hands of a conspiring president; Army had ample leverage over the Ex-bureaucrat as he owed his position to Army. It is too naïve to assume that they were coerced into such activity. Yet, while the generals confessed their wrong doing, not even a single non-military actor of the saga has come clean on the issue. Political cell in the ISI was created on the instructions of an elected prime minister, who had the dubious distinction of becoming the first Civilian Martial Law Administrator; and despite his rhetoric for the people and democracy, he preferred to keep the emergency imposed throughout his tenure.
Supreme Court was prudent in its decision by not blaming the institutions in the Asghar Khan case. Yet, it is understandable that defaulters of that high stature acted on behalf of military as an institution, and their acts of omission or commission are bound to bring a bad name to the institution; hurting the self esteem of a soldier. Revival of this historic baggage, coupled with the shady activities of NLC, DHA etc, make a sure recipe of lowering the morale of troops. Military’s image is certainly on a decline. It couldn’t have come at a worse time; it is overshadowing the huge sacrifices that the military is making while combating the menace of terrorism.
Though Army Chief has taken concrete and long lasting steps to restore the image of armed forces; military will have to watch its steps for quite long to regain the lost credibility. Military has a strong accountability system and a self corrective and quick healing mechanism. Hopefully, the mistakes of the past will not be repeated. If the forthcoming elections are conducted in a free and fair manner, much of the previous wrong would deem to have been recuperated. Armed forces should not associate themselves with any activity related to forthcoming elections; even the maintenance of law and order should be done by the civil armed forces.
Other institutions also need to do an internal reality check. Parliament represents the will and aspirations of the people. It certainly has landmark achievements to its credit’s, like the 18th Amendment and the NFC award; however handling of issues like fake degrees and dual nationality are certainly its low moral points. Though Superior judiciary has done commendable job by refusing to take pressures while handling high profile political and corruption cases, it must also realize that a common man’s miseries in getting justice have not been mitigated. General Sir John Hackett once quipped: ‘When a country looks at its fighting forces it is looking in a mirror, if the mirror is a true one, the face it sees will be its own.’
In today’s world security has a much broader interpretation; institutions and individuals need to learn the art of self restraint and synergic orchestration.