Only in Pakistan would a speech by the army chief, reiterating his commitment to democracy and asking all institutions to abide by their constitutional boundaries, be seen as major news. That said, most lay observers would welcome what General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said at the GHQ on Martyrs Day, especially his comments that indicated that the military would not interfere in the democratic process by taking sides following the prime minister’s conviction for contempt of court. General Kayani referred to constitutional limits placed on all institutions of state and suggested that these be respected — the implication further being that the military intended to abide by its constitutional role, at least this time. The military’s proper role at this time should be to stay above the fray and allow the political process to play itself out, no matter how messy it may get — since that is how things should work in a democracy.
As reassuring as the army chief’s speech may have been, one can argue that it has more than its fair share of irony. The reason for that is simple and undeniable: for much of the country’s existence, it has been ruled by the military, which seized power by overthrowing elected civilian governments. Even in the case of the current PPP-led government, its predicament was made worse by the whole memogate affair, which perhaps would not have ballooned out of proportion as it eventually will, had Pakistan been a normally functioning democracy with the military playing its proper constitutionally-mandated role. It is worth reminding readers that both Generals Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf never stopped singing praises of democracy and vowing that they will restore it. We all know what transpired out of these words and how the nation suffered from years of debilitating military rule.
Furthermore, since one is on this most important of subjects, i.e., civil-military relations in Pakistan’s fragmented and complex polity, perhaps it would not be out of place to suggest that if the military has now realised the virtues of the Constitution and the boundaries it sets on all institutions, then all policy matters, including foreign and security policy should be in the hands of the elected government of the day.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 2nd, 2012.