Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Confessions of a General

Dr. Umar Khan
Dr. Khan heads a Lahore based Think Tank.

Retired General Ehtesham Zameer in an interview confessed to his wrong doings when he was a serving general. Few things in life are more difficult for some of us than admitting a mistake and General Ehtesham certainly demonstrated amazing courage. He later made a halfhearted attempt to distance himself from the interview, which is understandable because he had treaded on the toes of some very important and powerful personalities. Despite the wrongs he committed he deserves our gratitude for telling the truth.

He appeared massively embarrassed because he was the one who negotiated, coerced and did all the dirty work in the 2002 elections and at the time of formation of pro Musharraf government. He admitted to manipulating the last elections at the behest of President Musharraf. The ISI together with the NAB was instrumental in pressing the lawmakers to join the pro-Musharraf camp. Zamir felt ashamed of his role and conduct. He stopped short of saying that there was zero interference in the 2008 polls. He further added, “Who should I have told except myself? Could I have asked Musharraf about this? I was a serving officer and I did what I was told to do. I never felt this need during the service to question anyone senior to me”. He did not do it on his own but on the directives issued by the government. In short he helped rig the elections and then coerced people in forming a government contrary to publics wishes. The main victim was always the country and its people who were denied their rights. They were resultantly left with a bunch of serious and complicated problems unleashed by these illegal actions. Now they are trying to tackle violence, shortages, lack of law and order etc.

Actually there was nothing new or strange in his interview that well informed Pakistanis weren’t aware of. His name Zameer had become a symbol and the MNAs recruited by him for Musharraf’s party were sarcastically called “Zameer ki awaz pey”. This tells a lot about the substance in many of our circulating rumor mill. Whenever information is suppressed unnaturally it finds its own wheels. Lacunae don’t exist and they get filled at the earliest and filling the information gap with rumors is a very dangerous trend which must be discarded.

General Ehtesham is not alone as many senior servicemen involved in previous martial laws and humiliations of the constitution have also confessed to their sins against the state en mass. All of them cited similar reasons for breaking of their oath and that is duty and discipline of the institution. One finds it strange that dreadful things like breaking of oath or desecration of constitution can be done on noble pretexts like duty and discipline. How can breaking your oath or seriously harming your country can be classified as discipline or duty? How can banks be looted in the name of discipline and duty as reported in Hamood ur Rehman report? Right or wrong this has been done repeatedly and fortunately now people are realizing their follies and the harm they have caused. Interestingly Nuremberg trials effectively made the duty or “I was following orders” argument redundant by making the individuals following illegal orders personally responsible for his acts.

Writing objectively about the past taking an honest and detached view is a commendable practice of western culture. The famous confessions written by Rousseau and Tolstoy not only make a wonderful reading but also throw light on the growth stages these great men had to endure. Unfortunately we the Pakistanis do not seem to show this kind of honesty or courage. We either do not write our memoirs or are unable to gather enough courage to state the facts honestly basically to protect our image and petty privileges. In the process we miss the opportunity to straighten the records denying our country and the future generations the truth they want and need so badly succed as a nation and prosper.

Qudrat ullah Shahab, Justice AnwarulHaq and GIK were witness to much of the tragic events in the short life of this unfortunate nation. Shahab did write his memoirs in a remarkable manner making it an interesting reading more of fiction than history. Most people including his admirers feel he fell short, much short, in honestly mentioning the facts. Many of the historical facts he did mention always cleared him rather too cleanly and no serious student of history is ready to believe them as true. Justice Anwar did acknowledge many facts in front of people in the mosques about Zia and Bhutto’s death penalty, which he refuted when confronted by the media protecting the privileges of retired CJ. GIK when suggested by some to write his memoirs gave the most interesting but pitilessly wrong answer. He said that when Allah SW kept my secrets, why should I disclose them. While crafting this answer he conveniently ignored the stress laid on human rights or haqooqulibad in Islam. All these important people took the secrets with them to the grave doing another injustice of a greater magnitude to the people of Pakistan in the process.

Were these wrong doings simply an act of innocent longing to perform the duty and maintain discipline or was there more to it? Cynics argue that these people did benefit generously for their role in harming the constitution and the country. The lavish life style of the collaborators of illegal rulers is sufficient evidence suggesting that these illegal acts did carry more than substantial benefits with them. Now that they realize that they played a negative role with the country and its 160 million hapless inhabitants collecting the enormous privileges in the process might be very difficult to justify. I am not advocating making confessions difficult, but feel that honest people who got into such situations unintentionally might find it more rewarding to surrender some of the extra privileges they might have amassed due to their illegal actions. This would also silence the cynics who suspect people repenting loud and long are actually bragging and others who claim that these people are criticizing because “I kicked them”.

It is nice to see generals confessing and straightening the records and it shows how far we have come as a nation. It will certainly help us straighten the records for our future generations because those who can’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it. We cannot afford more of oath and constitution desecrations as these have already harmed the nation a lot. Whatever is done is done and the past cannot be undone still we must avoid repeating the mistakes. The delay in calling of the new elected assemblies raises suspicions that new General Zameers might be working overtime to manipulate the current mandate given by the people and we must not tolerate it. We must not allow anyone to cheat with the people and the country again.

As a nation we must encourage this trend showing forgiveness and restraint realizing an open confession is good for the soul, but bad for the reputation. Ultimately it might take a form of the truth and reconciliation movement, which helped South Africa bury its tragic past in a very dignified manner. This remorse is fine but substantiating it with concrete tangible acts would make it even better. We owe it to our progeny.

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