Institutional infighting to be avoided

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s remarks about a ‘state within a state’ caused quite a sensation in political circles. It looked as if the premier’s indirect reference to the military and the ISI was a challenge to the establishment. General Kayani’s statement the very next day about the army being cognizant of its ‘constitutional obligations and responsibilities’ was welcomed by the prime minister. Mr Gilani also made it clear that there is no clash between the government and the military. Some analysts have called it a ‘retreat’ by the federal government even though it was only logical that the prime minister would accept and welcome the army chief’s positive statement at face value. But it is important to read between the lines. Prime Minister Gilani said his ‘state within a state’ remarks pertained to the attitude of the defence secretary. This seems to be a bit of a red herring. Tensions may have been defused but there are some questions that were left unanswered.

Things in the Supreme Court (SC) seem to be heating up in the memo petition hearing. The federation has termed the ‘memo’ a pack of lies while it has also raised the issue of ISI chief General Pasha’s meeting with Mansoor Ijaz in London without informing the prime minister. Theoretically, the ISI chief is answerable to the prime minister. Why he did not see fit to report to the chief executive before running off to meet a man of dubious credentials is something that the ISI chief must answer. When we expect the civilian government to function within its constitutional parameters, the same principle also applies to all other state institutions. The army chief and the ISI chief are subservient to the executive under Pakistan’s constitution. Unless they think themselves to be above every rule and law, the ISI chief’s breach of protocol is unjustified. In his address to the officers of the Staff College Quetta on June 14, 1948, Mr Jinnah said: “During my talks with one or two very high-ranking officers I discovered that they did not know the implications of the oath taken by the troops of Pakistan...I would like to take the opportunity of refreshing your memory...any command or orders that may come to you cannot come without the sanction of the executive head...” Today, the executive head is the prime minister as per our constitution. Thus, it is important that all institutions should work within their parameters and remember their oath and responsibilities.

On another note, General Kayani’s statement the other day referred to national security and how no compromise would be made on this issue. In Pakistan, ‘national security’ has always been defined by the military even though in any modern democratic state, it is defined by the government in consultation with its subservient military. The military in Pakistan considers itself a state within a state and uses the jihadist networks to defend its national security paradigm. It would not be wrong to remind the military that its definition of national security led to the loss of half the country in 1971, it led to a disaster called Kargil, and the same ‘national security’ is now responsible for the kill and dump policy being pursued by our military in Balochistan. It is time to allow the democratic government to define what constitutes national security instead of making one blunder after another. The prime minister might have softened his tone to avoid a confrontation with the all-powerful military but those who tried to stoke real or imagined differences between the institutions should exercise restraint in pursuing their undemocratic agendas. The last thing this country needs at this critical juncture is institutional infighting.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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