Pakistani General’s Ultimate Responsibility

The trails of Pakistan's former military leader General Pervez Musharraf for high treason has divided Pakistanis, with many calling for trial of his collaborators as well. (Photo by World Economic Forum)
The trails of Pakistan’s former military leader General Pervez Musharraf for high treason has divided Pakistanis, with many calling for trial of his collaborators as well. (Photo by World Economic Forum)

No army in the world can stand by and tolerate continuing bad or criminal governance or both. The application of the doctrine of necessity does become necessary sometimes in unambiguous circumstances of ‘clear and present danger’ to the existence of the state. It goes wrong when those that apply it forget that their role is limited to support technocrat governance for a short period and not become part of it.

 

Because armies are not equipped for governance, beyond a certain period they overstay their welcome and because of the ambitions of a few become an occupation force by default, with adverse results for their image among the public.

 

When soldiers become part of the wrong they came to correct, they force-multiply the wrongs into a catastrophe – like (Pakistan’s former military ruler General Pervez) Musharraf eventually did. All soldiers take an oath to defend the constitution “even to the peril of their lives”. If the cause is just and their motivation pure, why should they fear their fate if they are forced by circumstances to violate that oath?

 

Unless they used their acquired powers under martial law to enrich themselves, their friends, associates and relations, soldiers can always face up to the consequences of their actions. The tragedy is that because of the avarice and greed of a few individuals the entire army gets to suffer. The army should not protect such criminals. Can we ignore the lifestyle of the few corrupt individuals when our boys are giving the supreme sacrifice in lonely valleys and mountaintops in Swat and FATA?

 

The Bangladesh army’s action in 2006 (with the concurrence of the Bangladesh Supreme Court), was greeted with universal acclaim. To quote my article of July 17, 2008, ‘A refined Pakistani model’, “The Bangladesh model in early 2007 did not make the mistake of sending uniformed officers and men into civilian jobs. Unfortunately, almost every military chief who takes over civilian power discovers his own immortality in governance as ‘the saviour of the nation’ and his intentions become suspect. Disappointing for me personally, Lt-Gen Moeen (the then Bangladesh COAS) is no exception. With loss of credibility, the Bangladesh model failed in its primary aim: to cleanse the body politic of the corrupt.”

 

Because accountability did not succeed, Bangladesh is now back to square one in 2014 with a vengeance. No court in the world can convict (General) Moeen (Uddin Ahmad) and his close aides for violating their oath under the ‘clear and present danger’ that Bangladesh at that time faced. Even though he took one year’s extension as COAS, Moeen set a tremendous precedent by handing over power to the elected representatives in early 2009 after conducting free and fair elections, and then retiring a few months later.

 

Musharraf’s only defense being one on moral grounds for the supreme interest of the nation, unfortunately both the October 12 (1999 when he overthrew the elected government of Nawaz Sharif) and November 3 (2007 when he declared emergency in Pakistan) actions were very much selfish initiatives. Barring the medical imbroglio, whether by design or default, Gen Musharraf must not try to escape accountability. In the final analysis, the decision that Musharraf took as COAS was his and his alone. The buck stops firmly on his deck.

 

As a soldier, General Musharraf must respond to the higher calling of the uniform he wore and the nation he served. That he is not accepting accountability undercuts his credibility as a military professional; he must take ultimate responsibility for his actions. The only caveat is that his trial and conviction must be by a military court.

 

Those asking about accountability of those in uniform wallowing in wealth made by dubious means are justified. While (General Ashfaq Pervez) Kayani did an excellent job transforming the army and its image, for reasons best known to him he did not initiate accountability among those serving. When NAB (National Accountability Bureau, Pakistan’s anti-corruption agency) became serious about pursuing cases against some generals responsible for the NLC (National Logistic Cell) and Railways scams referred to NAB by the Supreme Court, Kayani only reacted to keep enquiries against those generals within the ambit of the military because of the media and public attention.

 

Before formally taking over as adjutant general Javed Zia (now ambassador to Libya) requested the outgoing AG to clarify what seemed to be some discrepancies in the deal concerning the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) Islamabad. He was told that this was with the permission of the COAS. When Kayani denied this, it gave Javed Zia the opportunity to make as much as four to five dozen amendments to the agreement with the help of a respected law firm, not only stemming further the haemorrhaging of money but recovering that which would have been otherwise lost.

 

Influential people have a penchant for circumventing opposition by the simple expedient of waiting out the incumbency of those who do not play their game. It would be most interesting to enquire what happened after Javed Zia handed over charge to a hand-picked successor.

 

At this moment at least, Generals Rashed Mahmood and Raheel Sharif are not subjects of any controversy, particularly pertaining to real estate. However, because of the ‘allotment of plots’ (the prized residential lands doled out to Pakistani military and civilian officers at throwaway prices) scheme, and the resultant buying/selling, a perception of commercialism has crept into the army. Crass materialism weakens the courage of conviction and moral obligation to one’s conscience to act above and beyond the call of responsibility.

 

One can send others to their deaths for a higher cause but how many of us can gamble losing the comforts of living around (and even being in the centre of) golf courses? Some officers do get involved in ‘business’; this is not in keeping with the pristine nature of soldiering as a profession. This has to be ruthlessly stamped out. And what better than to stop the rot by targeting those serving, against whom there are well-founded rumours of transactional nature with the unscrupulous.

 

Who can guarantee that the Pakistan Army will not face such a crisis of ‘clear and present danger in the future? Madame de Stael said of Napoleon’s coup de etat: “As soon as the moral power of the national representation was destroyed, a legislative body, whatever it might be, meant no more to the military than a crowd of five hundred men, less vigorous and disciplined than a battalion of the same number.”

 

Something on the lines of Chaudhry Shujaat’s “two trucks and a jeep”! Where is the moral authority of the army when a handful of unscrupulous greedy individuals have taken advantage to line their own pockets? Why should the entire army suffer because of the greed and avarice of a handful of corrupt individuals? No individual person is sacred, the army as an institution is!

 

For the sake of the country, the army must heal itself.

 

The writer is a Pakistan-based defense and political analyst. He can be reached at ikram.sehgal@wpplsms.com

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