The change in command

Politicians are not the only one that are corrupt, there is corruption in several branches of the government

Lt Gen (retd) Talat Masood October 26, 2022
The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and a former federal secretary. He has also served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board


All eyes are set on December 1 when the new Chief of Army Staff will take over the command from General Qamar Jawad Bajwa. In a normal democratic country, the change of army command is a routine affair and receives limited publicity. But for reasons well known it has great significance for Pakistan. And not surprising has been a subject of discussion in media, by the opposition leadership and the party in power.

Imran Khan went a little further by expressing his concerns in public as to who would be the next Chief. Defence Minister Khawaja Asif tried to assure the nation it would be based on merit from amongst the senior lieutenants general. Can we hope a time will come when the choice of the Chief will not be politicised and low-key, as is the case in mature democracies. This is possible provided there is a fundamental transformation in the thinking of top military and political leadership that firming up democracy is strengthening the country. And military in realm of governance, trespassing constitutional boundaries is clearly not in national interest.

If there was any reason to doubt it, we only have to look at the progress that countries like India and Bangladesh have made in economic growth and international standing. This is despite major weaknesses, such as widespread discrimination against Muslims and minorities during the present Modi’s regime and practically a one-party rule in Bangladesh. There is another line of argument that one hears often. The political leadership is corrupt and incompetent and hence cannot be trusted. This is selfserving logic, although not that it is generally true. But politicians are not the only one that are corrupt, there is corruption in several branches of the government.

There is corruption in the private sector and it is no secret that fingers were being pointed even at the National Accountability Bureau. The reason for this wide network of corruption is weak governance and diffused responsibility. It is not surprising that NAB failed to prosecute any bigwigs for committing corruption. The idea of keeping the military and judiciary out of the scope of NAB is understandable as they have their own system of accountability. This places greater responsibility on these institutions to ensure corruption is reduced and eventually eliminated especially in lower courts. As regards military, greater level of openness and accountability is desirable in organisations that deal with procurement, construction activity, etcetera.

This will contribute to reinforcing the confidence of the public of their propriety and improve their image. The irony is military leadership’s involvement in politics, in economic and foreign policy decisionmaking that fall outside their constitutional responsibility has not helped any developing country either. We have the example of Indonesia; it suffered during the rule of military generals, even if they wore the garb of civilian rulers. But ever since it has taken the democratic path with army leadership in the back seat, the country is moving forward and earned respectability in the international community. It is also a sad coincidence that majority of Muslim countries are undemocratic and ruled by monarchs and dictators.

Their economies are in a shambles with the exception of those that are blessed with oil or other valuable natural resources. In that case too their regimes remain heavily dependent on major powers — be it the US, France or Russia — for regime protection and exploitation of their natural resources. A sharp contrast of democracy versus dictatorship is when we look at South and North Korea. It is a stark difference in the quality of life between the two Koreas. I have had the good fortune of visiting South Korea several times and witnessed their climb from humble beginnings to greater heights, as opposed to North Korea, a closed state having a ruthless dictatorship in free fall.

Reverting back to Pakistan how do we change or what would trigger the change? Op-eds, public discussion accompanied by media campaign along with judiciary taking the lead would certainly raise awareness and put pressure for adherence to constitutionalism but may still not be enough. It has to come from within the armed forces leadership to realise the immense benefits of transformation. Fortunately, this realisation is already there as Gen Bajwa has frequently spoken about the army taking a neutral position in national politics. Its implementation, however, has not been that effective but the process has certainly been initiated and is a good beginning.

It will be for the next COAS and his team of generals to expedite the fulfillment of this mission. Having served in the army for forty years and watched it closely for the last thirty-three, I am convinced more than ever that we have one of the finest militaries. They have guarded the frontiers with blood and sweat and continue to do so to protect us from internal and external enemies. It is a matter of pride that their professional competence is recognised while serving with the UN, international organisations and on deputation to friendly countries. We need to learn from the experience of other countries that were dominated by the military and transited to democracy.

The Turkish experience of change to civilian control was very violent. The Chinese and Vietnamese clean break from army to Communist takeover was preceded by a prolonged civil war and bloodshed in which thousands lost their lives. But change in Indonesia to democracy came about relatively with less turbulence. I was fortunate to witness very closely the transformation in China and Turkey. The change in Pakistan is likely to be accompanied by hiccups but hopefully relatively less turbulent. In this the role of political parties will be significant.

If they continue to use the army leadership to leverage power and not work toward winning the confidence and support of the masses then with the best of intentions the new military leadership will be content in maintaining the status quo leading eventually to political upheaval and chaos — the early signs of which we are witnessing.


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