Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Civil Military Communications

Gen. Musharaf thinks that he needs to be in uniform to be able to communicate effectively with the commanders of the Pakistan Army. This can enable him to act as a bridge between the army and the politicians and without uniform he would not be able to communicate with the Generals but unfortunately the politicians have made his uniform a big issue and they are ready to risk the fledgling democracy for it. Although the opposition has some very sound arguments about their stand, Musharaf's stated reasons also carry substantial weight throwing light on the realities of Pakistani socio political scene. This identification and expression of the strange reality speaks highly about Gen Musharaf's pragmatism and truthfulness, as he is ready to express the truth publicly no matter how unpleasant it may be. It is these realities that Gen. Musharaf highlighted but not appreciated by the politicians that need to be understood for the smooth functioning of the system.

Gen Musharaf is clear that he would not be able to communicate with the Generals if he is not the COAS. This is despite the fact that he has been their colleague and brother in uniform for a long time. Along with this, he has been a senior and mentor of most of them to the extent that he personally was involved in promoting and posting all the General Staff to these important posts. Senior promotions in army are always sensitive and human judgment plays an important role, as the Chief has to select a few from a large pool of nearly equally qualified people. Interestingly despite this background, he still feels that he would not be enjoying the trust and respect if he retires as the Chief of Staff. Elected Presidency of the country would not win him respect and confidence of this highly influential group. This reality as Gen Musharaf sees it, leaves us with one very disturbing question; if the Generals cannot trust and communicate with the president who had been their colleague, mentor and Chief, how can they trust and communicate with a President who is a civilian and a politician? Can they ever trust a non-uniformed person? If the answer lies in the negative then probably we would have to devise a system not known to the world or maybe change the ground realities.

Many knowledgeable people think that it is the unfortunate reality. History tells us that whether it was Ayub Khan or Yahya or Aslam Beg or Jehangir Karamat, all of them lost trust and much of their dignity upon retiring. Elected Presidencies and the posts of civilian Commander in Chiefs were insufficient to make them acceptable and establish their authorities. This tends to suggest that the Generals feel that only someone in uniform is trustworthy and no one else. If this is true as Gen Musharaf makes us believe and history suggests, then this may be the root cause of most of our problems. It is this lack of communication and trust between the military and the civilians that is the major cause of the political instability in our country making everyone suffer.

If this is the problem then we should stop thinking about civilian or even retired generals as Presidents. Accepting and condoning this reality would leave us with no option but to devise a system in which the COAS is automatically pronounced President with exorbitant and final powers. This particular scenario would be very unfortunate and unacceptable in today’s world. Despite all its weaknesses, the nation is not ready to be this pliable and make a civil servant its boss. Reality and pragmatism does not necessarily mean condoning unnatural and unfair practices and not trying to correct them. If the nation wants to get out of this vicious circle of power games, this particular issue needs to be addressed first. To address this issue we need to understand the genesis and root cause of this mistrust and lack of communications. Let us try.

Pakistan Army is the direct descendant of the British Indian Army of the East India Company and proud of its heritage. Its many units still pride themselves of their achievements fighting the locals during the British days; fighting against Turks or Tipu Sultan for instance. This was a colonial army with British officers and native soldiers. To accommodate the local elite a new cadre Junior Commissioned Officers was introduced something unheard of in most of the civilized world. Because it was a colonial army, the British indoctrinated and inculcated contempt and distrust for the “natives” along with a pride and fraternity among the uniformed brethren. The Indian Army would represent the British and not the locals, so they were never encouraged to view them as their masters like in UK or other civilized countries. After gaining independence, the attitudes of the officer class stayed the same to the extent that many Punjabi speakers started speaking Urdu in heavy English accent copying the British.

Pakistan and India both inherited this British colonial legacy after partition. Pakistan due to its weak political and other civil institutions could not convert the remnants of the British Indian Army into a national army whereas the Indians could. Their higher literacy levels certainly helped and they avoided the very undesirable political breaks but even this Indian victory was not without resistance. In Pakistan we lost this war the moment we disobeyed our Quaids advice and let the military make gradual inroads in our political scene. This taste for political control of the country naturally caused clash of interests between the generals and the civilians reinforcing their contemptuous attitudes. This along with the lack of education and social graces of our polity further strengthened the belief in their incompetence and many other ills. This military and civil rivalry varied in extent and form but always stayed.

Particular social graces are important to the officer class as they were inculcated very carefully by the British and were the main differentiating point between the officers and natives. These mostly consist of four points, 1. Use of English with a particular accent and slangs. 2. A typical way of dressing and grooming. 3. A sort of discipline in which the junior generally shows allegiance to the senior and 4. British table manners and use of cutlery. These social graces are useful but come at a financial cost. It is a luxury that our civilians and politicians could not afford. They did not enjoy a life long stable and lucrative employment nor a very influential group to save them from the excesses of the state; the biggest tyrant in many third world countries. On the contrary, politicians were repeatedly humiliated and penalized increasing their sense of insecurity reducing their already insufficient social graces resulting in further increase of distrust and contempt for them in the eyes of the generals.

This contempt for the civilians shows itself in some very interesting ways. Sometimes the COAS calls the elected representatives of the 140 million people uncivilized not realizing that the word civilized is derived from the word civil like civilians. If anyone in this situation lacks civility it is certainly not the civilians. “Those bloody civilians” is a highly used dreaded term every young cadet learns the day he enters the military academy. CNE or Civilians Not Entitled also reinforces that the lowly civilians cannot enjoy the perks like the superiors. “These corrupt politicians” is as commonly used as the term “ Our brave army”. All these factors along with the rivalry of power results in the deep cleavage between them.

Slight amount of distrust and ridicule for the civilians is found in nearly all the armies and it is a benign two way phenomenon not to be taken seriously as long as there is rule of law and everyone is aware of the limits. The problem arises when one party carrying arms refuses to obey the written law and crosses the boundaries at one pretext or another. This situation arises with lack of trust and inhibitions, most important aspect of character. The attitudes seem to be so stubborn that retirement of a senior army officer is considered dangerous by the serving generals suspecting exposure to the evils of the civilians.

Gen Musharaf has done a favor to the nation by highlighting this sad truth. Its acceptance and compromise does not serve the interests of the nation even in the name of facing reality. If this is reality, it is unfortunate and must change. Accommodating and adjusting to this reality would simply mean legalizing the rule of the Generals, something unacceptable in today’s world. This nation cannot and should not beg for its rights as no one doles out rights, and fight for them. Uniformed civil servants not obeying their masters, the civilians, should not be tolerated. This nation may decide to take the bull by the horn and finally establish its authority. The sooner the better, as delay will keep on increasing the cost of this struggle. For getting out of this terrible impasse, the nation needs to take the following steps.

Rule of law and sanctity of constitution must be established. Calling constitution a piece of paper by its supposed defenders must stop. Any individual or group abrogating the constitution should be treated according to its recommendations; for high treason. Supporters should be treated as any collaborators are in the civilized world. History including judicial may be corrected and the past abrogators may be tried and convicted post humus. Power without discipline is like a fast car without a steering, very dangerous. Considering this truth, special courses may be introduced in the military academies teaching the need of obeying the civil authorities and the harms military interventions bring to the nation. They may be reminded that it is the civilians who are paying their salaries. Derogatory slogans for the civilians must be banned, and any uniformed person contemplating interference in politics penalized severely. Introduction of political commissars in each and every battalion may make the process a bit easier.

In this struggle, the civil setup and the politicians must play their role effectively. They must realize that their main concern should not be their opponents, but preservation of the system and country and for this end build the prestige of the parliament and the constitution. Tendency of taking short cuts through the political favors of the generals should be made counterproductive by increasing the political price of such an effort.

The judiciary also has a role to play and should strive to correct its past mistakes. Unknown legal phenomenon like “doctrine of necessity” must be finally discarded and laid to rest. All the decisions influenced by force may be reopened and corrected. Complacence, conformity and condoning of attack on constitution by the judiciary on any pretext including saving the system, must stop.

This rivalry and chaos has put Pakistan in trouble times and again whether it was East Pakistan or Kargill or the Jehadis. It may be one of the main reasons of our poverty, illiteracy and backwardness in Pakistan. Due to its longevity and dangerous repercussions, this problem needs to be tackled head on as all methods of pragmatism and accommodation by the judiciary and the polity have repeatedly failed. It is now clear that the present attitude of the generals would not accept any civilian as its boss and would pay any price to keep its absolute hold on the country. In today’s world this attitude and state of affairs in not acceptable as it was in the days of the cold war. We avoided the most dangerous possible repercussion of this attitude by a whisker after 9/11 but may not be so lucky for very long as this attitude is a recipe for disaster.

Trying to hide from this problem has made the nation suffer a lot. Pakistan lost it’s larger half and chunks of Kashmir, like Kargil and Siachen. Poverty, disease and illiteracy increased in this nation blessed with natural resources and highly talented people. Basic facilities like education and healthcare shrunk as the benefits for these generals increased to the extent that their standards of living may be compared to the richest in the world. The policies and refusal to obey their masters put Pakistan in very difficult embarrassing and dangerous positions repeatedly. The nation was forced in many needless, destructive conflicts at the same time. This policy of interference at the price of blood of our young, made enemies of all our neighbors. China is upset about our Jehadis in Sinkiang, Iran for our support of Taliban, whole of Central Asia for our Jehadi support along with Bangladesh for interference in their elections. Many political observers could guess the inevitability of something like 9-11 due to our senseless policies and the wrath of the world it might entice. We would have been nearly decimated but for our absolute about turn of policy quite disgracefully.

This contempt for the civilians usually starts getting out of our borders and lands Pakistan in trouble. We somehow survived the last possible catastrophe, but this particular reality would very effectively invite further disasters. We have nearly been labeled a rogue state everywhere and may be in line for the punishment at an appropriate time. We cannot afford not to address this problem now or to postpone it. World’s patience with such states is decreasing and The Good Lord may not give us another opportunity.

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