A warning shot has been fired. Rumblings of inter-institutional acrimony are in the air once again and all parties need to step back and take a deep breath to avert the possible exhuming of a buried hatchet. The statement of Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif about the army “resolutely preserving its own dignity” has added fuel to a dying fire — and the purveyors of doom will now come out en masse, religiously pedaling theories of conspiracy and machination. This is not yet the case — and the army chief’s statement, while disquieting, should not be read without background. There was no context provided in the statement, but the message was pretty clear — his words pertained to General (retd) Pervez Musharraf.
But let the record be cleared: it was not so much about his trial in court as much as it was about the public trial currently being held in the media by certain senior leaders of the political class. To read it as a threat against trying General (retd) Musharraf is to overlook certain realities: aside from different courts hearing various cases against him, a special court has also been formed to try the former dictator for his severe constitutional breaches — and he has now even been indicted in a historic process. He has not been allowed to skip town and not exempted from court appearances until recently. Let there be no doubt: if the army were against this due process, it would never have taken off.
Democracy may be flourishing in Pakistan, but the institutional strength of the army remains intact. That is a reality. Public intervention is no longer an acceptable reality and even the slightest hint of back-room pressure is picked up by the media and highlighted to the point of retreat. This is not the Pakistan of the 1990s. However, the process is far from complete — and “red lines” still exist, even with the army seeming to be on board this process.
The exception being taken here by General Sharif is of a different sort. It pertains to the public aspect of these trials — gratuitous and unnecessary statements by senior leaders of the PML-N in their public attempts to humiliate a former army chief. One can argue all they want about why a former army chief should be above public condemnation and even humiliation. That’s fair in an ideal situation. But the reality is that these senior leaders are stress-testing a system that is still in its infancy and thereby threatening its gains. The reality is that General Sharif is reacting to burgeoning discontent within his institution at all levels, and the two ministers are goading an institution that has been behaving itself contrary to how it has reacted in the past. They’re asking, pleading for a reaction. And that’s not good politics. Even Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has taken note of this, with reports suggesting that the two were told off this past weekend at a meeting for taking potshots at an under-trial army chief at a stage where everything is headed in the right direction and civil-military relations are good.
And that brings us to another point: the media’s oft-sensational speculation on relations between Rawalpindi and Islamabad. These are the same people who said General (retd) Musharraf would never face court. That he would never face charges. That he would never be indicted. That he would fly out before anything would happen. They have been proven wrong. Yet, they continue to beat a dead horse, continue to speculate on unsubstantiated and often imaginary issues and “differences”. And that’s not good journalism; that’s irresponsible journalism, desperate for sellable controversy and spicy headlines. The premier and the army chief would do well to sit together and clear out the air and put to rest any apprehensions. There is no need for hostile public statements and warning shots. This is a battle that cannot and must not be restarted. This project must continue.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 9th, 2014.
Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.
Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.
For more information, please see our Comments FAQ