Military and Military dictators

Muhammad Asif

OUR politicians, while criticising military dictators, tend to ignore the difference between the military and military dictators, due to lack of understanding that one can have only after serving in the army for some length of time. Once a businessman friend of mine very innocently asked me why martial law was considered detrimental to the national interests of a country. I told him that all the civilised and developed nations of the world had democratic system in their countries; it were only primitive and under-developed societies, which still had dictatorship. Without caring to understand the connotations civilized, primitive, etc he remarked that there were so many other undesirable practices, like corruption and disgraceful conduct of a few politicians, which were equally greater causes of embarrassment for us as a nation. I told him that armed forces are the valuable assets of a nation, assigned the mission of guarding its sovereignty and honour, how a country can survive if the nation, instead of supporting, starts opposing the armed forces, because of military rule. Without attempting to explain the implications of military discipline and working of army as an institution, suffices to say that besides military dictators, civilian rulers enjoyed the support of state machinery, including the armed forces, for as long as their hold on power did not loosen. To rule a country, military dictators rely on civil administration and establishment more than the civilian rulers do, while nearly 99% of army personnel remain deployed on their usual professional duties.
In 1974, military operation was launched in Balochistan to control the insurgency by the Baloch nationalists, who resorted to armed struggle due to the removal of their democratically elected provincial government by the Federal Government of the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. After successful culmination of the operation, in which the army had suffered heavy casualties, the Prime Minister announced amnesty for the insurgents. The confirmed killers and criminals, most wanted by the army, also benefited from the amnesty. The army did not either object to launching of operation or showed any resentment on the grant of amnesty to the insurgents. Similarly during second tenure of Nawaz Sharif, as the Prime Minister from 1997 to 1999, army was deployed on numerous duties in aid to civil administration on the orders of Prime Minister. These duties ranged from unearthing ghost schools to the establishment of military courts to try terrorists.
If the army, as an institution, did not feel very comfortable with Pakistan People’s Party and vice versa, there were some reasons for that. In addition to launching a planned campaign to malign army, before the Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s visit to India for signing of Simila Accord, removal of the last Commander-in-Chief of the army, Lieutenant General Gul Hassan, in an objectionable manner, coupled with his unlawful detention in the Governor House Lahore, were perhaps some of the actions of the first Pakistan People’s Party Government, which might be lingering on in the collective memory of the army as an institution.
Nawaz Sharif is known to have never been very comfortable with any of the national institutions, including, Presidency, Judiciary, Army, etc. During his first tenure as the Prime Minster, he tried undesirable methods to win the support of General Asif Nawaz. During his second tenure he was quite lucky to have General Jhangir Karamat as his Chief of the Army Staff. General Karamat’s premature removal from service, was seen in the army as a pre-planned move to ensure appointment of “own man” as the next Chief of the Army Staff. When General Musharraf was considered difficult to deal with, again tested methods (which had been successfully used to divide Judiciary in 1997 to remove Justice Sajjad Ali Shah), were tried to isolate Chief of the Army Staff, by attempting to divide the army generals on ethnic lines. Unceremonious removal of General Karamat and undesirable tactics tried to get rid of General Pervez Musharraf, could not be overlooked by the army.
In an attempt to prove themselves more democratic than others, leadership of all political parties (including those who proudly claimed to be the true heir of General Zia Ul Haq’s political legacy) are often found engaged in criticising the army as an institution. Gaining political mileage at the cost of army, can be counterproductive to our national interests. In addition to deepening the mistrust between the political and military forces, such politicking may drain nation’s support to the army during these testing and trying times for us as a nation.
The army cannot remain indifferent to the events affecting the security of Pakistan. Political issues and affairs of the countries are discussed in senior commanders’ conferences, only; in the context of internal or external security matters, irrespective of who is ruling the country. Certain senior army officers are known to have opposed military takeover, in 1977 and 1999, in in-house debates, but once the decisions had been taken in favour of takeover, they had to accept it. Before the withdrawal of Pakistani troops from Kargil, I had the opportunity to listen to General Pervez Musharraf’s address to the army officers posted at GHQ. There were some senior officers who questioned the rationale behind launching Kargil Operation and army’s failure to correctly calculate possible Indian reaction, but they never expressed their very serious reservations about this operation till their retirement from service. However, once they were no more bound by the military discipline after retirement, they openly criticized General Musharraf for Kargil Operation and other blunders committed by him, when he was still in power.
— The writer is retired Brig, is professional educationist based in Rawalpindi.

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