General Mirza Aslam Beg, Former Chief of Army Staff, Pakistan
On 17th August 1988, I didn’t consult any of my Corps Commanders or Principal Staff Officers (PSOs) and called-upon the Naval and Air Chiefs, discussed the matter briefly, and within three hours of General Ziaul Haq’s death, restored the Constitution and handed over power to Mr. Ghulam Ishaq Khan, It was an unprecedented decision in favour of democracy and rule of law. Similarly General Kiani, took the ‘command decision’ of keeping the army out of the election process of 18th February 2008, defeated Musharraf’s sinister design of repeat of 2002 elections and put democracy on the right course.
In May 1990, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan gave me a ‘non-paper’, listing serious lapses on part of the Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto. I made the mistake of discussing this matter with the Corps Commanders and the PSOs. The ‘consensus decision’ was conveyed to the President, that “remaining within the constitutional limits, the President may take action as deemed necessary.” Benazir Bhutto’s government was soon dismissed and a care-taker government was formed to hold elections in 90 days, thus setting the bad precedence of ‘Presidential Coup’, during the period 1990-1998. In the retrospective, I regret having consulted the senior military commanders on such a vital issue. My ‘command decision’ would have been very different.
Similarly, General Kiani’s recent decision to consult the Corps Commanders and the PSOs, on the present critical national issues, and the declaration of 10th June 2011, carries all the weaknesses of a ‘consensus decision’ as it has failed to address the main issues, which matter to the people of Pakistan and the country, as highlighted in my recent article, titled “Our Wuthering Sovereignty” published on 15th May 2011. I said: “The Pakistani nation has had such high expectations from the democratic government to deliver a sovereign parliament, an independent judiciary and an above board accountability, which are the pillars of national sovereignty, but unfortunately these institutions have been so methodically suppressed to render them ineffective. In fact, our national sovereignty has been debased and humiliated by one and all who mattered in Pakistan.”
The GHQ Declaration of 10th June, 2011, has passed-on the entire responsibility of correcting the course, to the government, which itself is responsible for creating this calamity. This declaration won’t help establish the civilian supremacy over the military. Rather it shirks responsibility, to support the state institutions to perform. In fact, it is a repeat of General Jehangir Karamat’s action of 1997, who failed to respond to the call of the Supreme Court, that led to the assault on the Supreme Court and the political turmoil, thus paving the way for Musharraf’s take over. And if past declarations of this kind are any guide, this declaration also falls short of achieving the main objective, that is, establishing the supremacy of the civil authority over the military. Let us re-count a few episodes, preceding Gen Zia’s coup of 1977:
- In 1976, Prime Minister Bhutto was visiting Multan. The then Corps Commander Lt Gen Ziaul Haq called-on him and pledged loyalty to Mr. Bhutto, on the Holy Book. Mr. Bhutto was so impressed that he appointed General Zia, as his COAS.
- In 1977, Mr. Bhutto was visiting Murree. Commander 12 Division Maj Gen Akhtar Abdur Rahman lined-up his officers and their wives, on the reception-line and in an exclusive meeting he also pledged loyalty to Mr. Bhutto on the Holy Book, establishing the nexus with General Zia.
- In 1977, when the political agitation against Mr. Bhutto’s government had reached a dangerous level, the top military commanders, such as the Chairman JCSC and the three service Chiefs, pledged to the nation, their loyalty and unflinching support for the government, but, within days, Gen Zia struck and dismissed the government.
General Kiani has time to correct the course. Civilian supremacy over the military can be established only by a sovereign parliament and an independent judiciary as we witness today in Turkey – the example to follow. General Kiani should support the Parliament’s resolution demanding cessation of drone attacks, which the American flouted and the parliament was helpless, while the Pakistani armed forces have full capability to deter and defeat such violations of our sovereignty. The will to use this capability is ‘a function of command decision, of the person in authority’ as demonstrated in 1990, by the then Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto. She sent the foreign minister to Delhi, with a strong message, and ordered a squadron of F-16s fully armed, ready to strike targets deep in the South of India. This bold command decision, deterred the enemy. Then, we had the F-16s and now we have the submarines, missiles and guns, which can engage targets upto a range of 30 KMs to 3000 KMs. Whereas we enjoy distinct superiority on ground, i.e., the men and missiles and the conventional weapons support. Our men belong to one of the best fighting machine of the world, supported by the hard core tribal fighters of our border regions. Based on Men and Missile, we can effectively deter and defeat aggression directed against Pakistan from Afghan territory. Let there be no ambiguity about it.
The Armed Forces must support the ‘Supreme Court of Pakistan, to ensure that the judgments passed by the apex court are implemented, which is the constitutional responsibility of the armed forces and there is no going back on it. The armed forces must also help re-establish, above board accountability, to punish the corrupt and the unscrupulous. The political parties also have the shared responsibility to help the military, establish the supremacy of the civilian rule and also have to remain mindful of the bloatings and blusterings of the opposition leaders, against the military, which is counter-productive. They better draw on the political wisdom of Mr. Erbogan of Turkey, who has achieved harmony between the seculars/liberals and the Islamists, has established the supremacy of the civilian rule over the military and has taken the country to unprecedented economic heights.
If the military high command remains content with the 10th June declaration, that would mean waiting for the collapse of the system and military take-over. It is the time now to act, remaining within the framework of the Constitution, and support the present government, to build a sovereign parliament, an independent judiciary and the institution to deliver above board accountability. This would be the greatest gift, the armed forces could offer to the nation – an unprecedented move, “to willingly accept the supremacy of the civilian rule.”
This is our rendezvous with history. And to make history, one has to rise above the level of the ordinary.
General Aslam Beg is one of the most authoritative analysts in Pakistan. He can be reached at email@example.com