Dr. Umar Khan
Dr. Khan belongs to a Lahore based Think Tank
“Too much of anything could destroy you, Simon thought. Too much darkness could kill, but too much light could blind.” Cassandra Clare, City of Lost Souls
Too much of anything is bad and vices are sometimes virtues carried to excess. It was due to this inherent risk that out Prophet SAW guided us for moderation (miana rawi) and we are obliged to follow it. Our media is always appreciating our army lavishly for everything it does like fight against terrorism, helping the nation in time of need, defending our borders, fighting corruption etc. but never criticizing it. In addition, TV dramas and feature movies are made to glorify our defense forces. These endeavors sometimes go too far and we see people calling for the army and its chief to interfere in unrelated matters too as a savior. We might be going too far in venerating our army and showing gratitude to the level of getting counterproductive.
Nation states need institutions that have high morale and are esteemed in the society so our constitution bars people from defaming or ridiculing military and judiciary. This clause was specially added in the 1973 constitution when our armed forces were having morale and image problems after the terrible loss of 1971 and this was how the authors of constitution tried to build its institution heavily financed and manned by its children.
In addition to freedom from attacks constitution guarantees, military has a very vibrant public relation department headed by no less than a Lt Gen and an undisclosed budget. This ISPR, aided with the enormous power of military reaching most aspects of society has done a great job and ultimately it has elevated the image of army reaching unrealistic levels. No wonder people are calling for the military chief for all their problem solving building a kind of personality cult. This trend must be corrected because it has become out of proportion and can have detrimental effects for many reasons.
The foremost reason for curtailing/controlling this unchecked trend of building military grandiosity is that it is inaccurate. Truth can never be reached by hearing one sided arguments as it is the other side that really creates the 3 dimensional picture. Making opinion by reading military’s achievements while effectively silencing criticism by constitutional force has the potential of being highly unbalanced, somewhat like democracy without opposition. Only a select few have the ability to see clearly keeping both sides in view and knowing the need of building its positive image. Just like we admired our soldiers for killing terrorists in army school but never questioned how they got in fully armed where ordinary civilians can’t?
An out of proportion image of an institution having supernatural powers creates unrealistic and unfair expectations in the minds of simple Pakistanis deeply stuck in host of problems. For the last many decades our opinion makers of suspect intellect have regularly inculcated an adverse habit of waiting for messiahs. This has harmed peoples sense of their own civic responsibilities and their self-image that they can control their destiny. No wonder why apathy is so prevalent in our society and everyone talks but hardly anyone acts. These illusions are not for the naiveté only as many military personal also develop them and get falsely convinced of their extraordinary strengths that they don’t possess. At times it gets translated into misconception that anyone belonging to military is superior to the ordinary Pakistanis; hence coining of the dreaded term “bloody civilians”. It has the potential of creating a cleavage in the society and contempt for others, like colonial masters and the subjugated.
These unrealistic expectations ultimately culminate in call for the military to take over the civil governments as the civilians don’t enjoy the immunity against slander and malicious attacks. This has happened repeatedly in Pakistan. Unfortunately, many times the military chiefs also get carried away and out of good intentions, sure of their supernatural abilities, jump in and harm the nation. Interviews of ex-military rulers testify to this. Gen Musharraf repeatedly tells people asking him to take over as one of the reasons he was “compelled” to send the democratic government packing in 1999. These unrealistic expectations have the potential to seriously harm the nation as Pakistan just can’t afford another military adventure.
Pakistan has been harmed enormously by military adventurism and we will never be able to sufficiently quantify them. Nearly all ills we face today have roots attached to the previous military rules. To begin with, dismemberment of Pakistan, extremism, terrorism and corruption of society are direct consequences. Pakistan of pre Zia era was unbelievably peaceful and popular, politicians were simple and non-corrupt. Politicians of pre Martial days appear like saints when compared to current crop. Each stint of martial law deteriorated our polity until we reached where we are today where the whole society is thoroughly corrupted. We must apologize to great people like Suharwardi, Gormani and many others for wrongly humiliating them and civil society’s inability to rein in its generals.
These generals once in power realize their shortcomings and lack of powerbase making them dependent on world powers known for their lack of scruples and callousness. This over dependence has repeatedly landed us in foreign wars where we play the cannon fodder losing lives, money while accumulating blames. The same world powers now uttered the most insulting remarks for the Pakistani nation when Kerry called army as the “greatest binding force”. In other words, his statement can be implied as Pakistan is a nation kept intact by brute force. Certainly not a very flattering commentary but unfortunately still we find many people cherishing this insult.
Everything in excess is opposed to nature and wrong, and this applies to Pakistan army’s image building also. Yes, I am talking of the army I love, I finance and I man with my finest sons. Our army is a part of our society and is as good or as bad as other institutions of Pakistan. Its unopposed and relentless image building at expense of national exchequer and society, must be controlled and put in right direction. We must devise a strategy to have a balance by differentiating between constructive criticism and defamation or ridicule. Then we must include the subject of dangers and evils of martial law and military intervention in politics, at all levels in military education and the need for the armed men to stick to their constitutional duties. If we fail to do this, we have the danger of once again falling in the pit we fell many times earlier. We will always find people inviting army in politics for whatever reason and none of them is worth a response but its compliance must be strictly guarded against.
Otherwise wait for more takeovers, blatant or subtle, and the future generations to pay the price.