In the days when General Musharraf (aka the Commando) was ruling the roost and flexing his muscles, warning the political leaders of the country, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, that he would, variously, ‘kick’ them, and ‘punch’ (or words to that effect) them, I wrote a piece advising him to see the animated film The Lion King.
It contained many lessons I said, particularly for Pakistani ‘leaders’ who thought they were all-powerful just because they were army dictators, or thought they had the people behind them, or because they thought they were in an unassailable position constitutionally. The principal lesson taught by King Mufasa to his son Simba was that there was a limit to everyone’s power. In The Lion King’s words “I am only brave when I have to be”.
Not that the Commando listened, as he strutted about on the national stage, finally strutting off it in most inglorious fashion. I mean even his most ardent supporter and recipient of much government largesse, the very loud Barrister Saif, who even called people names on live TV if they bad-mouthed the Commando, has not been seen or heard from in months and years!
Anyhow, that is how it ends for all those who consider themselves omnipotent and above it all. Look right next door at India and see the travails of its former Chief of Army Staff General V K Singh. From loudly embarrassing the government because of its refusal to change his date of birth so that he could serve another year, to now just the other day appearing before the Metropolitan Magistrate of Delhi (listening, My Lords of the Supreme Court of Pakistan before whom prime ministers quiver, but even lowly major generals are loath to appear?!) for bail before arrest.
The point to note is that he was accompanied in this appearance for bail by four serving officers: Lt Gen S K Singh, Vice Chief of Army Staff; Lt Gen B S Thakur, Director General of Military Intelligence (Great God! The DG MI himself!?); Maj Gen S L Narshiman, Additional Director General of Public Information (sister of our much-vaunted ISPR); and Lt Col Hitten Sawhney.
When the senior army officers plead that the “intricate details of the functioning of the army” merited a “more complex procedure” the Delhi High Court refused to stay the trial (Magistrate’s) court’s summons, saying that the generals could raise the objection after appearing before the magistrate. The next date of hearing is August 8. (Ironically the date on which our PM has to tell the SC whether he will write the letter or not, or else!). The case continues and has to do with General Singh accusing Lt-Gen (retd) Tejinder Singh of attempting to bribe him; and for the army spreading misinformation in an army press release.
Golly! And our generals get away with openly criticising the government of compromising the country’s sovereignty, even malfeasance, in matters like the Kerry Lugar Bill in press releases by the ISPR, and by loud condemnation of the many and varied ‘spokesmen’ and ‘spokeswomen’ appearing on the Ghairatmand TV channels! Golly!
Which, by the way, is small potatoes for our Rommels and Guderians for they even threatened the government of “very serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences for the country” when the prime minister suggested that the COAS and the DG ISI might have acted against the Constitution at the time of the most ludicrous and laughable ‘Mamogate’!
But while we can do anything at all being a unique people with very unique institutions, let us look again at the Indian situation, and the fallout of General V K Singh’s locking horns with the government by openly targeting Defence Minister A K Antony. While General Singh goes about seeking bail before arrest from Metropolitan Magistrates, Mr Antony is now the senior minister in India’s cabinet. We Pakistanis must note that this was made possible by the Indian government standing firmly behind its defence minister, and all Indian political stakeholders standing firm behind the civilian authority.
One has to agree with General Talat Masood who wrote on these pages on July 25 that the army needed to change its perceptions because only then could the country change direction. But the generals have no reason to change when all is hunky-dory for them: it is the government that must take the first firm steps towards reining in the army high command and forcing it to change direction.
I might add that whilst it is true that the brass hat’s own ineptness in the various debacles that have happened in the last four years (e g, brazen attacks on their own installations/OBL/Mehran and so on), has stripped away some of the Teflon coating on their much decorated uniforms, more firm action is needed to curb their latent Bonapartism.
Which, incidentally, is leading the country into extremely dangerous waters with the whole world literally ganging up on us by labelling us the most troublesome country in the whole world, the home base of terror. I have an ugly feeling that we are soon going to find to our cost the wages of persistently doing the wrong thing at exactly the wrong time.
Like right now. While this is a time for coming together as one and civilising the national discourse in all matters, international and national, we see old enmities coming to the fore. Is this the time to (as just one example) open long-buried cases against the Sharif family and people who work for them?
No, friends, this is the time to come together as one so that we can effectively cleanse our country of its ills for ourselves and our children, and for the world. And to tell the world, particularly our neighbours, that we understand the beautiful concept of being a ‘humsaya’ (those who share the shade of the tree: tr. ‘neighbour’); that if our neighbour is in trouble, we are in trouble too.
Might I end with expressing relief that the Supreme Court has disposed of the case concerning the price of samosas in Punjab?
Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th, 2012.