By Najam Sethi
THE TERRORIST attacks on GHQ last year and the Mehran Naval Base last month were outrageous examples of terrorist efficiency and motivation as opposed to ISI incompetence and military ill- preparedness.
But the US helicopter raid to extract OBL from a compound in the backyard of the military was acutely humiliating as well. In any other country in the world, heads would have publicly rolled.
But in Pakistan the military won’t even consider an independent commission of inquiry to unearth the facts and pin specific responsibility.
No wonder its credibility and sacred cow status have taken a mighty hit.
Within the armed forces, officers are standing up to question and confront their superiors.
Outside, the public wants to know why we are spending half our tax resources on equipping the military with F- 16s and BMWs when it can’t even protect itself, let alone defend the nation. This angry public questioning of Military Incorporated is unprecedented.
More significantly, the civilian opposition is up in arms, asking why the military’s national security doctrines — particularly with reference to the obsession with, and fear of, “arch- enemy India” — that have spawned such self- serving budgetary outlays and an arms race at the expense of the social welfare of the have- nots for six decades should not be scrutinised for reform and accountability like other institutions.
The indignant argument that any criticism of the military is “unpatriotic” or serves the interests of the “enemy” doesn’t wash any more.
INDEED, the term “establishment”, which was hitherto used in the media to refer obliquely to the military so as not to offend and incur its wrath, is rapidly going out of fashion, and the army and navy and air force are being referred to as army, navy and air force, which is, of course, exactly what they are and have always been.
More ominously, the spooky cloak and daggers stuff that once mythologised the power and outreach of the ISI are now being unveiled as the conjuring tricks of unimaginative magicians.
The “agencies” are out of fashion, the ISI is squarely in. The premeditated abduction and torture of journalist Saleem Shehzad, which led to his death, has been bravely laid by the media and opposition at the door of the ISI and not the “agencies”. The government’s silence — in not establishing a credible commission of inquiry — has also compromised the ISI’s position. This is remarkable, not because of the rather pathetic response in self- defense elicited from unnamed spokesmen of the ISI but because a conviction has now taken root in the public imagination that the ISI should not be beyond the pale of the law and accountability.
The opposition has gone so far in parliament as to demand an oversight of its functions, duties, responsibilities and budgets.
This is a far cry from a demand by the media and opposition not so long ago to shield and protect the ISI and its DG from the “ conspiratorial” tentacles of the PPP government and its ubiquitous interior minister, Rehman Malik, who sought to bring the ISI’s internal political wing dedicated to political machinations under civilian control.
All this has happened because of two new factors that are not sufficiently imagined or understood by the military and ISI. One is the rise of a fiercely competitive and free media that is rapidly coming of age and will not allow itself to be manipulated wholesale in the “patriotic national interest”, a term that is constantly being re- evaluated in light of changing realities.
The other is the revival of a chief justice and supreme court that is acutely aware of the civil burden imposed by its historic and popular enthronement.
Neither will countenance any political or military oversight of its own sense of freedom and functions. So if the military cannot rely on the troika of army chief, president and prime minister for political leverage of government — because the president and prime minister are one now — it is even more problematic to try and manipulate the media and SC in each and every situation on the yardstick of “ patriotism”, “ national interest” and “ monopoly of wisdom” regarding the supreme national interest.
THE MILITARY’S woes are compounded by the fact that, for the first time in history, a popular Punjabi “ son of the soil” like Nawaz Sharif, whose PML is a veritable creature of the predominantly Punjabiorigin military itself, has turned around and openly challenged its supremacy, arrogance and lack of accountability.
The “ Punjabi establishment” — meaning the civil- military power combine that has ruled Pakistan since independence — is therefore openly divided. The irony of history is that, for the time being at least, it is a Sindhi politician ( Asif Zardari) that is lending his shoulder to the military as it braces for fresh buffetings at home.
But that is just the beginning of a new story. The international establishment — principally the USA and EU — that has nurtured and molly- coddled the Pakistani military for six decades with money and weapons is also at the end of its tether.
The “ strategic partnership” mantra is dead. Washington, like Islamabad, doesn’t trust Rawalpindi either as a long- term partner or ally. It is only a matter of time before the civilians in Pakistan and those in DC or Brussels make common cause for mutual benefit.
If the Kerry- Lugar- Berman Bill were to be floated anew with clauses enjoining civilian supremacy over the military, there would not even be conscientious objectors today.
The Pakistan military should see the writing on the wall. It must hunker down and become subservient to civilian rule and persuasion instead of embarking on new misadventures in the region like the proverbial pied piper. The road to hell is always paved with self- serving intentions.
Source: Mail Today