Gen Mirza Aslam Beg
Sunday, July 31, 2011 – It is the responsibility of the Parliament, the Supreme Court, the Civil Society and the Armed Forces of Pakistan to correct the course, remaining within the limits of the Constitution and norms of democracy. There are two such examples of the recent past, where these institutions, respecting the popular will, served the cause of democracy.
One: The General elections of 18th February 2008 were planned by General Musharraf to achieve results similar to the elections of 2002. The popular will was against it and wanted to get rid of the military regime. Respecting the ‘will of the people’, the military high command refused to be a party to Musharraf’s Plan. Thus, the people were free to vote and democracy ushered in Pakistan.
Two: On the night of 15/16 March 2009 – the day of the Long March for the restoration of the judiciary, the COAS and the Prime Minister, sat together, and responded to the popular will and accepted their demand. The Chief Justice and the judges were restored to their positions and peace returned. This was a victory for democracy.
In both the cases, the COAS acted under Oath to “Uphold the Constitution of Pakistan, which embodies the Will of the People.” And yet, there are men who stand tall amongst the civil officials, like, Sohail Ahmad, Zafar Qureshi, Hussain Asghar and others, who have taken no such oath, but upheld the Constitution of Pakistan, on call of duty. A situation now exists, where the armed forces and the judiciary once again are on call, “to respond to the will of the people”, but the otherinstitutions, such as, the Parliament, the political parties, the civil society and the media, though making lot of noises, haven’t yet come out in the open, as they did on 15th March 2009. When they do, the Prime Minister and the Armed Forces would stand with them. But calling upon the armed forces, to intervene now, means calling for military take-over. This was the danger I had warned in my article, titled “Our Wuthering Sovereignty”, published in national dailies on 15 May 2011:
“The Pakistani nation has had such high expectations from the democratic government to deliver a sovereign parliament, an independent judiciary and an above board accountability, which are the pillars of national sovereignty, but unfortunately these very institutions have been so methodically suppressed to render them ineffective. In fact, our national sovereignty has been debased and humiliated.”
Subsequently, I wrote, in ‘Waiting for the Command Decision’ published in national dailies on 19th June 2011: “GHQ Declaration of 10th June, 2011, has passed-on the responsibility of ‘correcting the course’, to the government, which itself is responsible for creating this calamity. This declaration won’t help establish the civilian supremacy over the military. Rather it shirks responsibility and is a repeat of General Jehangir Karamat’s action of 1997, who failed to respond to the call of the Supreme Court that led to the assault on the Supreme Court and the political turmoil, that ended-up with Musharraf’s take over. This declaration, therefore falls short of achieving the main objective that is, establishing the supremacy of the civil authority over the military.”
Civilian supremacy over the military can be established only by a sovereign parliament and an independent judiciary. The armed forces, therefore must support the Parliament’s resolution, demanding cessation of drone attacks, which the Americans flouted and the parliament was helpless. The political parties also have the shared responsibility to help the military, establish the supremacy of the civilian rule and support the government, to build a sovereign parliament, an independent judiciary and the institutions to deliver above board accountability. However, the most disturbing aspect of the present regime is the appalling state of affairs.
No body knows, who is responsible for what. No foreign policy, to determine our relations with USA, India and Afghanistan. The fiscal policy is so wayward, as to precipitate resignation of the Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan. The state organs, such as the railways, the national airlines and the steel mills are bankrupt and on the verge of collapse. Yet there are no clear-cut policies or plans to arrest this dangerous drift. The Parliament and the Politicians also show no urgency to arrest this drift, while the courts of justice are blatantly defied and humiliated; the process of accountability remains suspended and the Armed Forces are watching this dangerous drift, waiting for the worst to happen, similar to the Egyptian turmoil, which ultimately resulted into military take-over and a bigger chaos, so aptly described by an observer: “It is a revolution withoutcadres, with no party, no leaders, no precise ideology. The army has gone from ‘hero to hate’ mode. We are in a terrible mess now.”
Our present drift may also lead to a “terrible mess”, if the parliament, the politicians and the civil society continue to watch the drift. It was in this scenario that I urged the Armed Forces to intervene, in support of the Supreme Court, to establish the rule of law. As a result, some heads in the top leadership may roll, but the parliament will continue to function, sanity will prevail and the government will complete its tenure. This is the way forward. The next elections therefore, would be crucial and must be fair and free. Should these elections be held under this very government, or under a care-taker government, is the moot point, to be discussed and decided. Fair and free elections would arrest this dangerous drift and usher the country into a new era of parliamentary democracy
After a long time we have a democratic order in Pakistan, which is no more threatened by the nexus – America, Army and Adaalat. It is a comforting sign of birth of a new order, as ordained by Allah: “The Good and the Evil cannot be equated, although, at times, the Evil may prevail, but ultimately Good will surmount.” (Al-Quran)
—The writer is former Chief of Army Staff.