Tuesday May 17, 2022

Impact of civil-military dialogue

December 22, 2017

The 'In-camera' interaction between army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa and the Whole Committee of Senate can go a long way in strengthening democratic institutions. It was long overdue and brought about an end to all kinds of speculations, rumours regarding the possibility of installation of a long-term interim setup and postponement of elections.

The passage of the bill on delimitation of constituencies, which would now be signed by the President of Pakistan, in a day or two, has now cleared all ifs and buts regarding on-time elections i.e. July 2018.

All this has paved the way for smooth elections of Senate in March. Though politics is the game of uncertainty and nothing is very predictable in Pakistani politics, it is now the responsibility of all political parties as well as the media to concentrate on the next elections.

Those, who, in the past, have remained very critical of the role of the establishment, not always for the wrong reasons, had the opportunity to ask some of the unanswered questions. He looked well prepared and ready for all kinds of questions as he did on Faizabad dharna.

It is time for a way forward as the army chief even disagreed with the concept of removing the governments through dharna protest. He knew the kind of challenges Pakistan is facing today, both on security front as well as on political and economic fronts.

He was there to answer questions regarding any misconception about army's position on foreign affairs, relationship with India, Afghanistan, US, Iran and Saudi Arab. He also answered questions on internal matters including army's alleged role in certain internal issues. While there are reports of fresh wave of dharna, both of political nature and on other issues, it is time for leading political parties not to miss the opportunity for smooth elections and transfer of power, second in succession since 2008.

Key opposition party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader, Imran Khan should not get ready for July 2018 elections and stop demanding early polls as it would not be possible now after both Houses of the Parliament passed the bill on delimitation.

Dr Tahirul Qadri of Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), instead of following the dharna path should seek justice from the Supreme Court in the matter of Model Town, massacre instead of making it a political stunt.

The biggest responsibility for bringing political sanity and stability is now on former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, to defuse the rising tension. Instead of talking about any movement against the judiciary in the name of seeking justice, he should not look for getting himself cleared from National Accountability Bureau (NAB) court. His announcement that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif will be party's candidate for premiership is the right step in the right direction in the current circumstances. He has a right to say that injustice has been done with him, but should also remember that “democracy is the best revenge” and he can still hope for the best for the party in the next elections.

The dialogue between civil and military leadership initiated in the form of army chief's interaction with senators was a healthy beginning. Since it was 'In-camera session’, I am not sure whether any question regarding allegations of the establishment role in political engineering or dry-cleaning in Karachi was asked or not. I have learnt that no such question was asked, either from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) senators or the PML-N or the PPP.

While the PML-N senators did raise questions regarding perception about Faizabad dharna, they looked satisfied with the answers. All in all it was a very constructive session and now the burden is on the politicians and the Parliament, and the government to formulate policies.

Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani's concerns regarding 'In-camera leak’ and that too publicly by some of the senators themselves had a lot of weightage and his fear that the next time any head of the institutions might avoid coming for any briefing or interaction was also a timely warning. It is important for all to understand the true spirit behind 'In-camera or off-the-record’ meetings and conversations that its secrecy should be maintained, which in this case not done.

The four-and-a-half hours visit of the army chief to Senate and open and frank discussion with the civilian leadership could be the first step in bridging the gap of mistrust. It again remind me of the decision taken way back by the military leadership in 1993, that army would not impose a martial law and the then chief General (retd) Waheed Kakar had rejected the proposal during the conflict between former president Ghulam Ishaq Khan and the then PM Nawaz Sharif after Supreme Court had restored his government. In Oct 1999, the former chief General (retd) Pervez Musharraf had refused to accept the decision of the PM regarding his early retirement and appointment of a new chief. This led to long military rule (1999 to 2008).

But, Gen Musharraf's successors, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Gen Raheel Sharif and the incumbent chief, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, gave respect to the Parliament and as a result the second successive elections are now due in July 2018.

What have been reported and I have heard from some senators, the chief was open for all kind of questions and gave short and long answers even to some tough questions. While there are still some grey areas, and if questions were not put to the army chief, it was not his fault but that of senators, the over all impact of the session went very well and must be follow, at least twice a year, if not more.

People can have different views of present democracy, but one thing is certain that they are people's representative and elected by the people. Therefore, they should also expect sharp criticism and must be ready to face accountability. Election is only one way of accountability, but rulers are the first to face accountability forums and the courts.

For instance, in the wake of the dialogue between the army chief and senators, he has assured the House, that the government should formulate foreign and national security policies and the army would fully implement them. Thus, the onus is now on the Parliament and the government.

With elections round the corner, this Parliament can still set some parameters, to be followed by the future Parliament as well. In case the civilian leadership faces any pressure or difficulty in framing the policy, they are now open to discussion. But, sensitive matters required sensible thinking and debate.

In the past, the civilian leadership often expressed their apprehension about interference of the establishment in making the foreign policy. All fears and apprehensions were also not uncalled for as even in the last PPP government, a controversy had emerged over Kerry-Luger Bill. The army, as an institution, has the right to express its concerns and reservations, but the way it was put up through a press release was perhaps not the right way. Army chief's visit to the Dastoor Gallery in the Senate clearly reflected his resolve that the democratic system must continue and it is time to bury the past mistakes.  

The writer is senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang.

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO