It was a post-funeral customary feast in the village when a bureaucrat cousin took a swipe at the military for some perceived act of omission and commission. Another cousin who lived in the village sprang to defend the military, saying that military morale is affected by such accusations; and all present supported him. However, for some time now, there is an alarming and increasing trend — especially on social media — where the military and its leadership is subjected to endless, mainly motivated and baseless criticism.
The stories churning out against this or that military personality affect morale of the institution at large, as military is not only the generals. The vast majority in the field is soldiers and junior officers. And it is difficult to criticise the general officer cadre without wider negative implications for the trust, confidence and morale of the rank and file. The masterminds of such inimical conspiracies know it. And those circulating such juicy stories need to know it. One hopes the media cells of political opposition and other social and political activists — yearning for moments of fame — see to this. And that the stakeholders realise that this endless propaganda is playing to the tune of our enemies.
In over four decades of life in uniform, one has witnessed the military being criticised mostly for [initially] the extra-constitutional and [subsequently] the constitutionally-enabled takeovers. In my piece “The Gordian Knot of Civil-Military Relations in Pakistan” published in this space on December 31, 2019, I wrote that in our constitutional history, generals were both usurpers and law-givers. And without condoning takeovers, the military in each case acted in supreme national interest, responding to the prevalent public sentiment, and mostly at the urging of the political opposition.
If one distils the present debate, it involves the basic premise of civilian supremacy of the military and perceived corruption within the military senior ranks. First thing first. One can see through the frustration of our political class for interference by the military in the so-called "guided democracy". But then who creates the space to be occupied by the military? The battle for civilian supremacy of our military cannot and will not be decided over media platforms. It will be decided in the streets of Karachi and elsewhere, once deliverance is visible, credible, irreversible and lasting by those in power yesterday, today and tomorrow.
The military will stay out of power and respect civilian supremacy if the political class — at least some visible segments of it — mirrors the nationalistic outlook of the military. When the power grab does not divide the country as in 1971; when we do not compromise national interests over parochial self-interests; and when we do not take foreign dictation to run our affairs; and when we throw our lot with Pakistan — lock, stock and barrel — and don’t take and then hide dual nationalities; and when we do not do somebody else's bidding while in the corridors of power.
As for corruption. One can buy the argument that there may be some elements within the military (like all other organs of the state) that have resorted to overreach. But then there are processes and procedures to deal with them. Look at how the US dealt with Gen McCrystal and later Gen Petraeus — the luminaries of US Armed Forces in recent history, not to mention the scores of other erring senior military officers taken to task. However, these individual acts of omission and commission do not reflect upon the wider military. Our armed forces also have effective internal accountability that is ongoing, merciless, efficient and just. Blanket criticism is sinister and with an angle, aimed at discrediting the military leadership in the eyes of the public and its own rank and file.
All rich individuals are not essentially corrupt. Do not we believe in the divine dictum about rizq that is His calling and bestowment? Those on the high pedestal of opinion and judgment need to realise that every sensational breaking news inimical to our military chips away our national cohesion — brick by brick. If we close our eyes to the countless analyses about the military being our 'centre of gravity' and it being foundational to our national edifice, we have gone too far in bughz-e-Moawiya. Look at the storm President Trump has kicked in his unguarded comment about military 'losers' in our model democracy — the US. Our detractors go farther.
Do not those involved realise what such unrestrained criticism of our own military means for the morale of countless soldiers and officers deployed round the clock to protect us not only from the enemy on the borders — from the icy Siachen to the beaches of Balochistan – but also from the effects of floods, rains, earthquakes, et al. Generals head this military machine and ensure it runs at the optimum.
One understands that elements behind such anti-military malaise are few and far between. That their handlers are elsewhere, and that the ripples they create are at best storms in our national tea cup in urban Pakistan only and over sold-out TV channels. That the rural Pakistan, the middle class Pakistan, the silent majority of our cities love their armed forces with all their hearts. That the valiant military not only defends their geographic and ideological frontiers, delivers in crises, responds to calamities, endures criticism in stoic silence, but it also guides and supports the elected rulers for the political stability and systemic continuation — all in good faith. Had not the military backing enabled the Zardari-led democratic government to complete its constitutional term? Isn't the military on the same page with PM Imran Khan? Inter and intra-institutional cleavages serve only the enemy’s interests.
As far as the military is concerned – for the enduring question of civilian supremacy – the military has to concede, comply and continue to cooperate. And, it has to punish those associated with it for any corruption or its appearance thereof. Else it needs to forcefully defend those falsely accused. And that a national debate about its role to be constitutionalised or otherwise, be undertaken.
We owe it to our future generations to hand over a healthy Pakistan that is not fractured, divided or bickering. And it is possible and doable if we know where the anti-Pakistan noise comes from and deal with it.
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