The comments made by Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani after he visited the site of the devastating avalanche at the Gayari sector are a rarity and rather pertinent to the needs and interests of Pakistan. General Kayani needs to be saluted for suggesting that Siachen, with its virtually inhabitable terrain be vacated by troops from both sides and progress towards peace be made with India. Such a proposal, coming from the army chief, is virtually revolutionary in terms of its content. The army has traditionally been regarded as a body dominated by hawks, unwilling to consider friendly ties with India. Against this backdrop, General Kayani’s call for peace and a resolution of all issues is no small matter.
Just as important was his suggestion that the defence budget should be cut and more ought to be spent on development. His acknowledgement that the strength of a country lay in its people indicates a vital change in outlook towards relations with India. For decades people have pointed this out at various forums and spoken at length about the benefits this would reap. The realisation that our nation will progress, not through military might alone, but also through developing the tremendous potential of our people, is a significant one. Many nations have discovered that the will and strength of their people count more than the power of arms. We must capitalise on this notion immediately.
A window of opportunity has been provided by the army chief’s comments. We must now take advantage of the comments made by Kayani. The cooperation of the military in building a system where more resources can be allocated for development and taken away from defence would be invaluable. The power of the army has long been seen as an obstacle to reallocating resources and also to building peace with India. It now seems that an impediment may have been removed and the path for greater institutional cooperation may have been laid. Let us not allow this opportunity to go to waste.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 20th, 2012.