Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Uniform Dilemma

Dr. Umar Khan
Dr. Khan heads a Lahore based Think Tank. 21-6-07
The Uniform dilemma

The future of Gen Musharraf’s uniform has become the most debated and divisive question. People across the social and political strata are commenting on it, keeping themselves busy making predictions of all sorts. Our ex prime minister Jamali innocently called the uniform a form of a dress or attire and found it strange why people made an issue out of Musharraf’s uniform. Even more interestingly Gen Musharraf himself went on TV and promised the nation to quit his uniform and then reneged on his open promise, which he now claims, did not come easy to him. Now talking to foreign media he declared his uniform like his skin, sort of an integral part of his personality and existence probably suggesting that like his predecessor Gen. Zia, he will never remove it, at least voluntarily.

What makes uniform so important that people do not want to remove it despite embarrassments? Why self-respecting people find ways to renege on their promises of removing uniform made to millions? Opt to keep it despite very obvious risks to the nation? There must be something extremely attractive and valuable that it creates a kind of dependence usually seen with narcotics or drugs. Let us explore the advantages and privileges’ wearing of uniform guarantees the ruling generals making them hinge on to it at any and all costs.

Let us face it, there is some thing more than an attractive dress that tempts ruling generals to stick to their uniforms after all it is not a benign school uniform. This uniform guarantees availability of power, raw brute power, and lots of it. This power when used for political purposes usually ensures success easily, at least within the country. This enormous power lies in the command structure of our army, which traces its roots to the Royal British Indian Army. This colonial army was purposefully created to help the colonial powers rule natives. Our army is still proud of its colonial heritage and openly prides in fighting colonial battles like Mysore and Mecca. This command structure lays tremendous importance on discipline, which is translated as absolute obedience to the immediate senior and not to written law. This system ultimately transfers all the power to a single man, the COAS whose uniform is being discussed. His uniform makes the over half million strong, heavily armed, army subservient to him instead of any law, assembly or nation. Now that is too much power for any individual to have and relinquish voluntarily.

Gen Musharraf owes much of his privileges and status to the compliance of the half million men to him individually which he owes to his uniform. Expecting him to jeopardize his position by voluntarily giving up his position might be too much to ask. He knows first hand the temptations this enormous power brings. He had himself succumbed to these temptations, which brought him immense laurels and hardly any repentance. No wonder he can’t find a single general he can trust with such enormous unchecked power. Gen Musharraf has some company in the list of untrusting Chiefs as no ruling general after Ayub Khan trusted any of his subordinates with this kind of power.

So it comes out that wearing of uniform means unrestrained availability of enormous brute force that can be used for political and other ends. This situation might have advantages for an individual but grave consequences for the nation. Unfortunately it also means many other things, the foremost being use of force and gun for political purposes. It certainly lends enormous convenience and a certain amount of predictability as not many people can face a man with a loaded gun with confidence. It basically means doing politics and dealing with people while visibly holding a loaded gun in the hand adding violence to politics which ultimately trickles down to all corners of society.

The simple realization of the relation of uniform and the loaded gun raises many troubling questions. Can there be a legitimate fair business deal while one party is holding a loaded gun? Can the judges give impartial judgments with pointing guns at their heads? Can there be a constitutional amendment while the parliament is kept at gunpoint. Does this explain the creative coining of terms by our judiciary like “doctrine of necessity”? And then does this explain certain apparently elected assemblies begging the ruling General not to relinquish his uniform? Does this not explain the decay in society where rule of brute force takes precedence over rule of law?

Once this is realized it raises many serious but pertinent questions the foremost being why this counter productive practice has been tolerated for so long? It also makes all the constitutional amendments passed under uniformed Presidents questionable suggesting of armed coercion. Just like the inadmissibility of evidence taken during duress, judgments of the courts given during uniformed rulers also lose its sanctity. No wonder son of a military dictator ridiculed the judges for giving posthumous judgment against his father and a retired CJ confessed that generals can fire the judges.

This practice of conducting politics while wielding a loaded gun has being going on for too long. It has seriously harmed Pakistan mostly through,
Harming the respect for written law substituting it with brute force. This single fact brought untold violence in our society and established it as a legitimate means of solving issues. Rule of law was replaced by rule of force.
Hurting the internal cohesion of the country by weakening its democratic institutions. This has already broken the country once and appears to be working again.
Pakistan became a perfect breeding ground for extremist and intolerant elements. In today’s world Pakistan is suspected whenever anything goes wrong anywhere.
Devastating the image of Pakistan as a lawless country. It is considered a near failed state, its democratic claims are not taken serious, and everyone associated with Pakistan is considered a suspect.

A pretty sad commentary indeed. Defaming of the army and the judiciary is against our constitution and if that is undesirable and intolerable, how can defaming the country be acceptable. This uniformed politics has defamed us a lot, maybe more than extremism.

Our society has tolerated this harmful anomaly for too long and paid a very stiff price for this weakness, which needs immediate correction. Advantages and privileges associated with armed interventions must be curtailed and risks increased. The military should be made subservient to the nation and constitution instead of the chief alone. The command structure might be reviewed and the pride in its colonial heritage discouraged.

Importance of the constitution and the need of not breaking the oath must be inculcated vigorously. History teaches us that simple trainings do not work sufficiently so grave consequences must be credibly associated with breaking of the oath. Punishing a few prominent oath breakers might help along with rewriting our history with oath breakers placed where they deserve. Renaming a few colleges and parks might be needed. And then the most important thing let it be known that any attempt at breaking of oath won’t work. For this the civil society will have to be stimulated to ensure unconstitutional steps will not be tolerated in future. Then we must review the dubious constitutional amendments and judgments of the superior courts made under duress while facing loaded guns.

The Pakistani civil society owes it to its future generations to vacate the politics and society of guns and violence. The past cannot be changed but the future can certainly be shaped. The nation rather than individuals should determine the tenure of uniformed posts. These decisions should be based on law rather than whims or individual conveniences. There is no third or half way, the civil society has to prevail over usurpers if we want to survive as a respectable nation in the new century. If we have to do it then it might be prudent to do it at the earliest and control the further damages violent politics might cause.

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