Gulf News , December 5, 2007
On November 28, 2007, General Pervez Musharraf stepped down as Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff, handing over a ceremonial baton to his successor, General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani.
For several days now, beginning well before the change of command, Pakistani and international media have speculated about Kiyani’s personality and perceived opinions.
No such personality analysis took place when the United States swore in General George W. Casey, Jr as the 36th Chief of Staff of the US Army on April 10. Nor was there much speculation when on September 30, when the Indian army got its new chief, General Deepak Kapoor.
The US military is considered the world’s most powerful and the Indian army is ranked as the world’s second largest fighting force. But their outgoing chiefs received quiet farewells and their new commanders assumed command without commentary by political analysts and international affairs pundits.
Indeed, it is quite likely that most Americans and Indians probably do not even know the names of the incoming generals, or for that matter of their predecessors.
Soldiering is a noble profession and its practitioners around the world distinguish themselves on battlefields, away from controversy and the limelight usually attached to politicians.
In Pakistan, the army has been dragged into politics and that has hurt both Pakistan and its army. Field Marshal Ayoub Khan first introduced the notion that the army must save Pakistan from its own people with the help of ambitious civilians who were incapable of securing popular support but were good at palace intrigue.
Initially, he called for saving Pakistan from its politicians. Gradually, politically ambitious generals such as Yahya Khan, Zia ul Haq and Pervez Musharraf added to the list of categories of Pakistanis from whom the army had an obligation to save the country.
Soldiers have been called upon at different times to save Pakistan from “corrupt civil servants” to “secular and irreligious journalists and professors” and now “irresponsible Supreme Court Judges”.
Under Zia, secularism was the enemy and the soldiers’ guns were turned in the direction of anyone who was perceived as unorthodox in their religious beliefs. Under Musharraf, Islamist extremism cultivated by Zia has been described as the enemy and, once again, the army has been called upon to deal with the problem.
Not a substitute
The truth is that training as a soldier and promotion to the rank of general does not train an individual to run every aspect of life of a nation. As Kiyani settles in, he should shun civilians who tell him how the army is the only stabilizing institution in Pakistan.
The army is important, no doubt, but it is not a substitute for political parties, the judiciary, academia, civil society and the media. The army must protect national interest but it should be willing to recognise that civilians have an equal right to ponder what is, or is not, in the national interest.
Just as the solution to having a bad surgeon is not to invite an engineer to perform surgery, a nation must replace bad politicians with good ones if and when they are available.
Making politicians out of generals only breeds division within society and undermines the professionalism of the army while preventing the other institutions from becoming stronger through experience and over time.
Just as Ayoub Khan, Yahya Khan, Zia and Musharraf soiled the army’s professional stature by involving it in politics; many other Pakistani army chiefs understood the need for respecting the different spheres of civilian and the military.
Since Ayoub Khan, politicised military officers have bred contempt among their fellow officers for the country’s civilians. There may be reasonable grounds for criticism of the country’s traditional political class. But the solution to the problems of alleged political corruption and incompetence is not a military coup d’etat.
After every military intervention, Pakistan’s leadership crisis has deepened. Each military government has started out with perception of popular support and declarations of goods intentions. Each one has left office facing public resentment and little institutional change.
In the process, Pakistan political parties have been weakened and the judiciary emasculated. The reason for the army’s political intervention is not that other institutions are weak. It is the army’s intervention that has prevented any institution from gaining any strength.
It is time for Pakistan’s military officers to stop thinking of Pakistan’s own people as the enemy.