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Not following the beaten path

Not following the beaten path
Field Marshal General Ayub Khan (1958-69) vested all powers into him through his centralist 1962 constitution putting end to Pakistan’s democratic dreams soon after independence. General Yahya Khan (1969-71) couldn’t do much, not that he was a democrat either, as the ‘East Bengal estrangement’ by then had reached an irreparable  point which led to dismemberment of Pakistan and creation of Bangladesh.

General Zia-ul-Haq (1977-88) reinforced the military hegemony by executing first ever democratically elected prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and abrogated the 1972 constitution only to make him all powerful through the autocratic eighth amendment. General Pervez Musharraf (1999-2007) sent Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) party chief and serving prime minister, Nawaz Sharif to exile.

Musharraf then bestowed on himself the privileges of becoming the president, chief of army staff (COAS) and chief executive officer (CEO) of the country. Like his predecessors he too mangled the constitution by incorporating seventeenth amendment jeopardizing country’s democratic evolution. Legitimizing their coups by ‘doctrine of necessity’ all these Generals undermined the democratic essence and incessantly intervened in domestic and Constitutional affairs.

In a country where generals have repeatedly hampered the evolution of democratic process throughout 66 years of its existence, an army chief who is about to retire after serving for six years without showing any signs of destabilising government is certainly invigorating for Islamabad.

On 29 November 2007, Rawalpindi-born General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani took over the reign of World’s one of the most powerful armies. Though Pakistan army still continues to dominate decision making process in some matters, it would be fair to credit General Kayani of his role ensuring peaceful first ever transfer of power from one elected government to another. Having served for six years (with three years extension given by former Prime Minister Yosuf Raza Gilani), Kayani last week gracefully announced that he will retire on the designated date in November.

Unlike almost all his predecessors his tenure, fortunately, didn’t see any visible instance of interference in the functioning of democratic government.

Kayani has earlier served as director general of Pakistan’s intelligence unit – Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and director of Directorate-General of Military Operations (DGMO).

Professor Mathew Joseph C, Jamia Millia Islamia said, ‘Though it wouldn’t be wise to call him a pro-democratic army chief, calling him a successful General will not be an exaggeration.’ He added that after Musharraf’s exit, circumstances in Pakistan had been such that he (Kayani) played along with democracy. It was in the facade of democracy that he got an extension and he was not a disappointment for civilian administration.

Not only did Pakistani people, historically, elected first ever consecutive democratic government in May this year, the Pakistan army maintained that its duty is to ‘assist’ the government whenever required.

General Kayani’s speech advising his yet-to-be-named successor to continue supporting the democratic process at recently concluded passing out parade speaks of his preference for a democratic set-up.

Already being referred as a pro-democracy general by Pakistani media, Kayani said, ‘It is important that the military leadership in future also continues to play its unreserved role for strengthening of democratic system in the country. Today we can say that decisions regarding the destiny of the people of this country are being taken by their (political) leadership. This success is an appropriate and strong reply to those who had turned their rumour-mongering about the future of this great country into a business.’

Alluding to interruptions in democracy because of military coups, General Kayani said the country had left behind the ‘painful history’ of protracted experiments. The elections in 2008 and 2013, he maintained, had ‘laid the foundation’ for a democratic and prosperous Pakistan and it was for the ‘current and incoming’ leaders to ensure that the ‘building is properly constructed’.

On 8 April 2010 Majlis-e-Shoora (Pakistan parliament) unanimously under former president Asif Ali Zardari had passed eighteenth amendment which stripped the president of its power to dissolve the national assembly unilaterally as promulgated by the former martial law administrator General Pervez Musharaf. The amendment also vested more powers in the prime minister and parliament. It was a remarkable achievement as the decision was advocated by all institutions in Pakistan, including the powerful army.

During General Kayani’s tenure the only time when rumors about a possible military coup gathered heat was in the aftermath of Osama Bin Laden’s neutralization in military cantonment town of Abbottabad followed by the infamous Memogate scandal. In the scandal then Pakistan ambassador to United States Hussain Haqqani was alleged to have sent a memo to Pentagon, on the behest of Asif Ali Zardari, seeking assistance from US against a possibility of a military ‘coup’ in Pakistan. However, even as the authenticity of the memo was later challenged and judicial inquiry ordered the country swiftly tread through the momentary threats to democracy. Insiders believe that Kayani’s role turned out to be praiseworthy in handling the controversy. After all rumours of ‘coup’ were frequently been leaked from amongst the Generals. During General Kayani’s tenure the army did distance itself from some crucial domestic issues. As an editorial in Dawn mentions, ‘Since Gen Musharraf’s rule, the army has certainly pulled out of many domestic spheres and made little or no attempt to interfere in many spheres under control of the civilians, for example, the economy or changes to the Constitution.’ One of the most significant steps was taken by General Kayani in January 2008 when he issued a directive ordering military officers not to maintain contacts with politicians.

Even though Pakistan army’s role vis-a-vis Taliban has always been dubious, General Kayani’s performance on being offensive on Taliban after 2008 is considered convincing. Mathew Joseph C said, ‘One thing is sure that General Kayani is not an Islamist. He belongs to a generation which has been taught in United States and certainly Americans wouldn’t go easily with anyone of their dislike as far as Pakistan military chief is concerned.’  It was perhaps because of this reason that Pakistan military establishments saw several attacks in the past five years. In most alarming one, six militants had attacked one of the most protected nuclear air bases, an Aeronautical Complex at Kamra, 45 miles north-west of the capital Islamabad in 2012. In 2011 another major attack on Pakistan’s military took place when militants struck a naval base in Karachi, killing ten people and destroying two American surveillance planes.

Next Pakistan COAS and CJCSC, options?


Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had lost his job in 1999 because he superseded senior Generals to choose General Pervez Mushrraf as the chief of army staff. Mushraff outdid Nawaz in the military coup. With General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani retiring on 29 November and post of Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) lying vacant after retirement of General Khalid Shameem Wynne 6 October, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s most daunting task would be to scrutinize his options and choose for the best.

Most talked about candidate, as per seniority is Lieutinent General Haroon Aslam, chief of logistics staff. Asif Mahmood wrote in Dawn that, if seniority principle is adhered to, General Haroon Aslam would be appointed to the office of COAS while Admiral Asif Sandilla, who is the Chief of Naval Staff and the senior most official in the armed forces, will be the CJCSC. However, if the Pakistan Navy chief does not get the post of the CJCSC, then Haroon Aslam is likely to take over and Lt Gen Rashad Mahmood would become the COAS. Other senior Generals are: Lt Gen Rashid Mehmood, Chief of General Staff, Lt Gen Raheel Sharif, Lt Gen Tariq Khan, Commander of 1 Strike Corps at Mangla and then ISI chief Lt Gen Zaheer-ul Islam.

To conclude it is imperative for Nawaz Sharif to take these decisions very carefully. Once bitten twice shy, he wouldn’t want to repeat his mistakes and therefore taking time in picking the right man. That a whiff of better civil-military relations which has been created by General Kayani doesn’t recede should be made sure by any incumbent.

After all common people in Pakistan have already suffered enough for sins they were never part of. And only a better institutional co-ordination is the solution to bring peace to the state-nation of
Pakistan.
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