As far as the army chief is concerned he has to do nothing but wait and deal competently with the menace of militant extremism that stalks the land.
The other day I had a conversation with a man less than half my age, a well-educated democratic Pakistani, and on-the-ball as far as happenings are concerned in what is not Jinnah’s Pakistan but rather a mishmash of Ziaul Haq’s theocracy and a corrupt, dysfunctional, governance-free autocracy.
A question I posed: who now is the most powerful man in Pakistan? Without pondering, his immediate response was: the chief of army staff. Now, this happens to be a de facto reality, no matter what anyone may say to the contrary. News items in the media, almost on a daily basis, tell us who Gen Ashfaq Kayani has met — from the US secretary of state and all other visiting US civilian or military fireman down to functionaries of our own government.
On March 16 ‘key federal secretaries’ met the general at GHQ to sort out our foreign policy, which the army runs. Such is the dominance of the army in the life of Pakistan — admittedly the sole organised fully functional institution we have that can still hold high its head despite the setbacks of the periods when it has wielded de jure power.
The army has no rivals. The ‘supremacy of parliament’ is but a myth. Not only is it not supreme when it comes to the Pakistan Army, but it is also subservient to the presidency over which reigns the de jure co-chairman of the party in power, who in turn has no option but to heed Kayani’s ‘advice’ on all vital policy matters.
Conspiracy theories concerning those who are, as it is known, ‘in power’ abound. As far as the army chief is concerned he has to do nothing but wait and deal competently with the menace of militant extremism that stalks the land, abundant in our western border areas and spreading fast downwards through the lush Punjabi plains.
The army is his and he can give extensions of service to whomsoever he may choose and there is little that the supreme commander or the supremacy of parliament can do about it. The press front-pages news of extensions of service given, of promotions made (even of brigadiers to major generals), then raises objections which are rightly ignored by the army.
The supreme commander, in his precarious position, put in place by Master USA can but acquiesce, for he is as sure as are we that whatever is done by Kayani is in consonance with the desires of Washington.
A rather nasty conspiracy theory doing the rounds is that the quickest way to bring Pakistan to its knees, literally, was to appoint the present president. Time will tell on that one, but as long as the army reigns supreme, de facto, as opposed to the supremacy of parliament, existence as we know it will carry on.
The army has for long been on top of it all, even prior to 1958. Pakistan’s first military attaché went to Washington in 1952.
He received instructions from the then commander-in-chief Gen Ayub Khan and defence secretary Iskander Mirza that his main task was to procure military equipment from the Pentagon and that there was no need to take on board either ambassador or foreign office as “these civilians cannot be trusted with such sensitive matters of national security”. Ayub Khan was appointed defence minister in a civilian government in 1954.
As to the right of Kayani to make his own appointments, readers are referred to a letter published in this newspaper on March 13, written by one man of integrity who has sustained respect over the years, his integrity amply proven by the fact that he has never been able to succeed in politics.
Air Marshal Asghar Khan has this to say on the “recent extension of service given to some generals”: “A service chief is within his rights to recommend to the government any such step which, in his opinion, is in the interests of the country or of the service he commands.”
There has been much of a kerfuffle over the extension given to the ISI head, Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha. It is obvious that both the army chief and Washington have decided that at this stage of the operations being conducted against the Taliban a change in intelligence command would not be advisable. That is not difficult to comprehend.
Having mentioned Asghar Khan and the ISI, I am reminded that there still lingers in the Supreme Court of Pakistan Asghar’s human rights petition of 1996 concerning the disbursement by the ISI of state money to influence politics — the elections of 1990.
The ISI, which has within it a ‘politician cell’, has been at play meddling in the political field since the days of Ayub Khan when he was jostling with power and held his elections the result of which was a foregone conclusion.
It held its hand in the 1970 elections, the only completely free and fair elections we have had. Since then, in 1977, 1988, and throughout the 1990s it has been heavily involved in sorting out governments. Active involvement in the 2008 elections was not necessary as the sympathy vote took care of that one.
In 2006, soon after Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry took office I had occasion to remind him of Asghar’s petition and requested that he hear and finally decide this pending matter of national importance. Events intervened. May I again, with all due respect, request that the petition be resurrected (judgment was reserved by the then chief justice of Pakistan at the last hearing in 1999, 11 years ago) and before the air marshal and some of those involved go to different place, it finally be decided.