By Dr. Haider Mehdi

November 5th, 2012, was an important day for the Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff as he placed his conceptual manuscript and cognizant vision of a future reformist Pakistan in front of his fellow army officers and the nation. More than anything else, it was a frank and bold reflection of a soldier on the state of affairs in which the present day Pakistan is reeling and relapsing, but also revealing and reinvigorating, reshaping, renovating and reinventing itself. It was a pertinent visionary thought shared with fellow officers and the nation at an appropriate moment of historical significance. The time of choosing the said address is historically significant because, at this point in time, the standards of institutional conduct for a viable Pakistan and its future existence needs to be laid down, deliberated, debated and agreed upon. Pakistan’s armed forces, as an important institution in the country, has a constitutional and legitimate right for lawful input in the policy and decision- making process of the country. In my considered opinion, that was exactly what General Kayani did on November 5th.

Incidentally, it so happened that the Chief Justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court also made a speech around the same time. The Pakistani media, most specifically the majority of anchor-persons on TV talk shows, went into a frenzy of imaginative scenarios of an impending institutional conflict between the army and the judiciary being simultaneously articulated by the COAS and the Chief Justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court. They are still harping on the same view in order to improve their ratings. On the other hand, the incumbent PPP administration is having a field day in capitalizing on the opportunity in an effort to create a chasm between the army’s and judiciary’ top leadership.  At the same time, the PPP leaders seem to perceive this moment as a golden chance to gain public sympathy vis-à-vis the COAS’s November 5th speech and some of the Supreme Court’s recent judgments by pronouncing them as political activism of both the institutions directed against the PPP.

The fact of the matter is that both the TV anchorpersons and the PPP leadership are wrong in their assumed scenarios: The army and the judiciary, as state institutions, are not in a conflict situation and neither is the Chief Justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court in direct or indirect, figurative or symbolic confrontation with the COAS. And neither the speech nor the verdicts are specifically against the PPP. Indeed, it is not the classic case, as being assumed and narrated, of “shik-va-o-javab-e-shikvah” (complaint and counter-complaint), but they are timely constitutional proclamations in the process of refinement of the country’s political culture.   Let us take it on face value: a simple coincidence of two chiefs of two national institutions making important policy speeches at about the same time. There is nothing more to it than that.

The vital element in the COAS’s November 5th speech is to understand the cognitive and professional mindset of a dedicated soldier who has served in that capacity for his entire life. Now in the top leadership position, the General gave his address as an ideological, strategic and intellectual reflection on the present state of affairs in the country. Professional soldiers are trained to a purposeful consciousness to adopt an animated life existence focused on acumen and achievement in the precise strategic management of an organization. They see an organization’s life-cycle in an exact form, a clearly defined structure, a rigidly followed discipline, a chain of command within strictly demarcated limitations, an efficient management system par excellence and a thoroughly deliberated process of decision-making with no ambiguities or obscure judgments whatsoever. For a soldier the stakes are high: it is a matter of life and death – a nation’s defense or defeat, a difference between existence or non-existence, prevailing or perishing, a cause of dignity, personal integrity and full-filling one’s obligation in keeping a nation safe. A soldier’s mindset is a labyrinth of psychological factors, learned behavior and acquired skills.  Soldiers live and breathe in this state of mind in their daily existence.

Imagine for a moment, if you will, the intellectual-professional anguish of a soldier who commands the most powerful and highly organized institution of the state (the army) and has to go on surviving and coping with a dysfunctional, inefficient, corrupt, disorganized, political dispensation at the helm of national affairs. The incumbent PPP political establishment is not only incompetent in managing national affairs and has failed in delivering basic socio-economic welfare to the common citizens of Pakistan, but above and beyond these fundamental failures, it has demonstrated open hostility, contempt and animosity towards other national institutions, notably the judiciary and the army. Presently, the PPP anti-army campaign is at its peak. The COAS has to deal with it and manage its direct and indirect consequences both internally at the rank and file level of the army and its national and international implications. Not a small task; in fact, a monumental psychological-managerial challenge is in the hands of the COAS. The contrast between the two styles of strategic management (that of the army and of the political establishment) is of diametrical dimensions.

Consider, the Pakistan Army’s massive engagements in several national political fronts and their enormous consequential psychological-functional-strategic pressures on the COAS: the war on terror; the CIA-Zardari regime collaborated anti-army, anti ISI campaigns; the US “do more” mantra;  the Abbotabad debacle; the “Memo-Gate” affair; the killing of 25 Pakistani soldiers in the American warplane raid on the Pak-Afghan border; the American-Indian-Israeli alleged attempts to destabilize Balochistan and the rest of Pakistan; the Raymond Davis affair; CIA operatives all over the country (and the Zardari government’s indifference to it); the safety issues of the nation’s nuclear assets; and so on and so forth. Added to this bundle of problems are the most recent judicial decisions and political demands for the trials of several retired army generals including a former Chief of Army Staff and a former Director General of the ISI. Irrespective of guilt or innocence in the “Generals” trials affair, the incumbent COAS has to deal with morale aspects of the entire army on an institutional level.

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Political humorists in Pakistan these days have code-named General Kayani as “General Bakri” (a common lingo reference to a gutless person) – reflecting a large public perception on General Kayani’s failure and indifference to the political mess in Pakistan. They say General Kayani’s non-intervention in the nation’s political affairs (such as another martial law or some other kind of militarily managed government) is wholly acceptable, but the Army Chief should have intervened at least to stop the looting of this nation’s assets by the ruling “junta” and the vested-interests groups. They say the General had the power to do so in the best interest of the nation, but failed to act.

However, the COAS has preferred to remain within the army’s constitutionally-confined domain. Viewed from a different perspective, General Kayani has established his democratic credentials. Has he not?

I suggest that the entire nation view the COAS’s November 5th address in the context of General Kayani’s democratic dossier and consider the said speech a conceptual manuscript of a professional soldier’s mindset of a politically reformed Pakistan.

Indeed, there is a formidable message of political and democratic civility in the November 5th speech!

Do you get it or not?