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The general’s speech
Taj M Khattak
Wednesday, May 08, 2013
From Print Edition
The contents of General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s recent speech on the occasion of Youm-e-Shuhada (Martyrs’ Day) aside, it was a sad reminder that this is now a regular event on the military calendar. We should be prepared to mourn more soldiers year after year, if we don’t get an upper hand in this conflict soon, which is getting nastier by the day with no end in sight. It is never far from the mind of a soldier’s family that one day he might be brought back wrapped in the national flag, or worse, he may not come back at all. But his sacrifice is overshadowed when he falls in circumstances that don’t have the nation’s support.
One of the most difficult things for a concerned commander is to look into the eyes of a young widow and her small dazed children. General Kayani, by all accounts, is known to be a concerned commander, so it must have been very difficult for him to face another group of families which have lost their loved ones during the past year. The military, in its best and noblest traditions, will undoubtedly always support these unfortunate families, yet it will be difficult for them to forget that their lives changed forever under Kayani’s watch.
It is not a comforting thought that the number of martyrs is increasing steadily but one is really blown off emotionally by their families’ unflagging spirit. There is hope for the future as long as there are citizens like the grieving Baloch mother who lost her son to militants and chanted ‘Pakistan zindabad’ when called upon stage at the GHQ auditorium or the daughter of journalist Nasrullah Khan Afridi, who couldn’t speak due to grief, but had the resolve to pay tribute to her late father.
In General Kayani’s resonating speech, his views on the ownership of the war were instructive but he left us guessing if the Afghan Taliban still enjoyed a niche in our strategic formulations. One is also at a loss to understand that if a national consensus on this has remained elusive when the military and the previous government were on the same page, what prospects does it have now when out of the two political parties vying for power, one opposes action against those fighting the Pakistan Army and the other is considered soft on extremism? With the army owning the war and the future government displaying a lack of clarity, we can only expect more fractious times ahead.
If a full measure of this threat had been taken in Swat and a forceful pitch for ownership of the war made soon after that operation, it might have been a more effective strategy. The political environment then was also favourable to cajole politicians across the spectrum towards a national consensus as their hurriedly enacted Nizam-e-Adl Regulations had misfired badly.
Today, the enemy is no longer in some remote mountain; it has come to cities like Peshawar and Karachi. Not that anyone in the right frame of mind would wish to see violence in parts of the country where there is relative calm, but clearly, politics and terrorism work hand in glove in Pakistan for everyone to see. The military knows better that regaining initiative and space from an enemy has a cost in blood.
General Kayani pointed towards ‘a need for [the] government to be truly representative of public good over personal interests.’ For Zardari, these words are water under the bridge and one can be certain that the new contenders for power now inebriated at the sight of huge crowds attending their rallies, never heard them either. There will soon be support for democracy from the judiciary and less than kind insinuations about the military establishment in the same breath. Whether or not such observations help democracy, they certainly insulate unashamed plunderers, who then go about their nefarious business with a vengeance.
General Kayani also used the two words ‘saza’ and ‘jaza’ (punishment and reward) in the context of a game of hide and seek between dictatorship and democracy and, as widely perceived, in support of Musharraf. If that was indeed so, then might one remind General Kayani with all due respect that sometimes there comes a moment in battle when one has to let go of the hand of a dear and wounded colleague, when it becomes impossible to carry him without affecting the task at hand. If Kayani has tasked himself to separate soldiering from politics for all times, then the moment to leave Musharraf to his stars may have arrived.
The GHQ speech was in sync with his Kakul address, where Kayani stressed that: “Islam should always remain as a uniting factor. I assure you that despite stern opposition, [the] Pakistan Army will remain committed to the pledge of making Pakistan an ideal Islamic welfare state as envisioned by Quaid-e-Azam and Allama Iqbal. We will leave no stone unturned in transforming Pakistan into an ideal Islamic welfare state. In essence, Islam is the foundation of Pakistan and in no situation can this foundation be ousted from the country.”
True, the motto ‘iman, taqwa, jihad-fi-sabilila’ (faith, piety and fighting in the way of Allah) has been the locus of our soldiers’ religious moorings all their life. This cannot change just because the US these days is not thrilled with the word jihad after having exploited it against the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan. The British Tommy lays down his life for king and country – the sequence may be important as the monarch heads the Church of England. There is, therefore, nothing wrong if the Pakistani soldier fights and dies in the way of Allah. If anything, the motto which was allowed to fade across cantonments in the country in the last decade now needs to be refreshed.
General Kayani has mostly been a reticent man during his nearly six years in office, a norm he could have best maintained during his remaining time as the COAS. But it seems nothing has changed in this cat and mouse game over decades, where the military cannot resist the impulse to go public on matters political. On their part, if the elected representatives had cared to pay the slightest attention to their obligations, there wouldn’t be that lingering public anxiety on important issues.
Defeating the internal threat to the country is the constitutional responsibility of the military and comes next only to the external threat. An ISPR press release after General Kayani’s visit to Kharian Garrison soon after taking over as army chief in 2008, had this to say, “It was the harmonisation of the socio-political, administrative and military strategies that would usher in an environment of peace and stability in the long-term. Ultimately, it is the will of the people and their support that is decisive. It is critical that the Pakistan Army’s efforts are backed by the nation.”
If General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani – with two three-year tenures under his belt – is still looking for that crucial element of public support, he must be worried about the legacy he is about to leave behind in a few months time, his gentle persona notwithstanding.
The writer is a retired vice admiral. Email: email@example.com
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