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Sunday, July 15, 2007

History Repeats Itself

Between Operation Searchlight in East Pakistan and the recently concluded Operation Silence in Islamabad lies a span of over three decades – thirty six years to be precise. The period seems more than adequate for any meaningful learning in public administration. The facts on the ground however, present a very grim picture, highlighting grave learning disabilities among our public institutions. And decades of military rule and engagement of military in political affairs has made the matter unnecessarily complicated. It does not require the brains of Einstein or the logic of Aristotle to understand a simple truth - there is no room for a militaristic approach to public administration in the modern world. While it is still possible to pursue the model, yet the consequences are fairly predictable and unfruitful.

While one could construe a million “reasons” of military involvement in Pakistan and conveniently blame the “failing” political system for each episode, yet the military for its own good sake needs to understand the gravity of the matter and see the negative implications. Persistent military rule adversely affects the operational efficiency and effectiveness of the institution and involvement in the messy political affairs such as the aforementioned operations maligns its name and widens the divide between the people and the armed forces. They must see now that it’s high time for disengagement – not for the time being, but for good!

A Militaristic Approach to Public Administration and Public Issues

Take a look at the common devices employed in “problem solving” by militaries around the world – camouflage, siege, cutting off supply lines, brute force, ambush, shock, surprise, attack, assault, bombardment. And what are the typical outcomes of a military operation? Demolition, destruction, casualties, body bags, collateral damage, surrender, occupation and defeat! How many more decades and bloody episodes would it take us to understand that such an approach to political and social conflicts would only lead to more disasters and deepen the political crisis in Pakistan. These devices have been employed before and have miserably failed – from East Pakistan to Baluchistan and from NWFP to Karachi. Brute force and naked expression of power just doesn’t work in dealing with your own people. And it wouldn’t!

The disintegration of Pakistan in 1971 was a vital opportunity for our political system and military establishment to realize this fact and acquire a new “learnt behaviour” in dealing with political conflicts. Unfortunately, due to lack of accountability despite colossal national loss and humiliation, the learning opportunity was lost and has since made us repeatedly pay for our national indifference and military adventurism. How tolerant can one get? And how forgetful too?

Stick to the Knitting

The primary function of the armed forces is to defeat the enemy. They are trained to kill! They have no business in the affairs of the people. Military is obviously “incompetent” to even comprehend the complex web of public issues leave alone dealing with them. It’s not that they are dumb – it’s just that they are not trained for that, and are not supposed to manage the sociopolitical, sociocultural and socioeconomic facets of society. They are excellent at defending the frontiers and thwarting “external” threats; and that is precisely what they should focus on.

Military Adventurism and the Constitutional Obligations

Articles 243-45 of the Constitution of Pakistan describe the basic charter of the Armed Forces. According to the Constitution, “The Federal Government shall have control and command of the Armed Forces” and “the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces shall vest in the President”. The primary function of the Armed Forces is outlined in the Constitution as: “The Armed Forces shall, under the directions of the Federal Government, defend Pakistan against external aggression or threat of war, and, subject to law, act in aid of civil power when called upon to do so”.

Under the laws of the land, officers of the armed forces are called “public servants”. And the Constitution of Pakistan describes the Federal Government, Parliament, Provincial Government or a Provincial Assembly as “the State”. The president of Pakistan is “the Head of State” and represents “the unity of the Republic”.

It is simply beyond “normal” logic1 to comprehend the morality and legitimacy of a public servant unilaterally declaring himself to be “the State” and assuming all the powers of the roles and institutions defined in the Constitution to represent the State. It is further perplexing to understand how “one man” under the pretext of a “national crisis” assumes the above mentioned position in the best of “national interests” and for the “security” of 160 million people. How on earth, in the 21st Century, can one man, single-handedly “guard” the national interests without the support of the vital organs and functions of the state is beyond comprehension.

Oath of the Armed Forces

Finally, I would like to reproduce the oath taken by officers of the armed forces under the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, with a hope to remind them of their constitutional obligation.


[Article 244]

(In the name of Allah, the most Beneficient, the most Merciful.)

I, -----------------------, do solemnly swear that I will bear true faith and allegiance to Pakistan and uphold the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan which embodies the will of the people, that I will not engage myself in any political activities whatsoever and that I will honestly and faithfully serve Pakistan in the Pakistan Army (or Navy or Air Force) as required by and under the law.

[May Allah Almighty help and guide me (A'meen)]

1 Article 6 of the Constitution explicitly states in this regard that "Any person who abrogates or attempts or conspires to abrogate, subverts or attempts or conspires to subvert the Constitution by use of force or show of force or by other unconstitutional means shall be guilty of high treason". It further states that "Any person aiding or abetting the acts mentioned in clause (1) shall likewise be guilty of high treason.

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"There are decades when nothing happens, but there are weeks when decades happen"