WEB DESK: The guessing game went on even though the outgoing Army chief General Raheel Sharif had announced as early as March that he would retire on the completion of his term. Still the subject continued to agitate the commentariate. It kept opining, will he or won’t he seek an extension?
Maybe he will stay; he wants to; no he doesn’t; the government should give him an extension, anyway. Once it became clear that he was going to go, the attention turned towards his replacement. For the entire month of November the one subject dominating the TV talk shows and newspaper pages has been Prime Minister’ Nawaz Sharif’s possible choice from among the five most senior generals. In the end, the number three on the seniority list won the position, bypassing two generals, probably because he is said to be of the view that the Army should stay out of politics.
In functioning democracies the appointment of a military chief is a routine matter; most people are unable to even name an incumbent. Here there is an obsessive interest in the person. General Raheel Sharif is almost a household name, though for the right reasons. The first CoAS to retire on time in over 20 years, he has earned a lot of public respect because of the manner he led the fight against terrorism. It was he who persuaded a dithering Prime Minister to give up trying to hold peace negotiations with violent religious extremists, and launched operation Zarb-e-Azb in the Taliban-infested North Waziristan.
Furthermore, he oversaw the Rangers operation in Karachi, restoring peace to the nation’s commercial capital. General Sharif is also credited with resisting the temptation to seize political power even as opportunities presented themselves. True, the environment is not favourable anymore for military take-overs. It is also true that there are a whole lot of people, including born-again democrats, who would have eagerly lent him support had he chosen to take the wrong step.
Yet concerns remain about military’s encroachment on civilian space. Which is why now there is so much unhealthy interest in the new CoAS, regardless of the fact that individual leadership styles may differ but institutional interests don’t change. Courtesy the media we know almost every detail about General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s life, such as where he grew up and what his childhood ambitions were, complete with close relatives’ interviews – none of which has anything to do with the duties he has been called upon to perform.
What matters is that he is believed to be as determined as his predecessor, if not more, to rid this country of the scourge of violent religious extremism, which seems to be the reason certain elements have tried to create a controversy about his faith.
As for the question of establishing civilian supremacy, the key is in the hands of the political class which so far has demonstrated that winning an election for it means a chance for self-enhancement rather than addressing issues and concerns besetting the state and society. Hence we see personalization of governance. During the last eight years, the hallmark of civilian rule has been corruption, impunity and wilful weakening of democratic institutions. Accountability, an essential feature of democratic governance, is regarded as a mere nuisance that must be avoided at all costs.
The last PPP-led government at the Centre spent much of its time in an unsavoury confrontation with the Supreme Court to protect suspected ill-gotten money of its party leader and then country president, parked in Swiss banks. And more recently, the PPP leader found it fit to deliver a tirade against the Army because of the Rangers crackdown on corrupt elements in Sindh who, the paramilitary force insisted, had a nexus with terrorism. And although parts of Punjab are known to be the strongholds of various violent sectarian organisations, the PML-N government continues – due to considerations similar to those of the PPP – to disallow the security agencies to launch operations against these people.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif refuses to accept responsibility, unlike so many leaders in other democratic countries, for his own and his children’s involvement in the Panama Papers corruption scandal. All concerned institutions – the NAB, FIA, FBR, SECP, State Bank, and the Election Commission – have washed their hands off the case because they have been rendered powerless to do their job. Thanks to the PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s tireless campaign, the case is now before the apex court.
All this is bad enough, but a related problem is that the ruling class has been taking a huge amount of money – acquired mostly through illegal means – out of the country for investments abroad. This can affect foreign policy. In fact, there is a recent example. When the Gulf States wanted Pakistan to send its soldiers to fight their war against the impoverished Yemeni people, reports suggested the government with its business interests in certain Arab kingdoms and emirates was willing to comply.
Which would have brought disastrous consequences. Our troops could have lost lives in a war that has nothing to do with us, and relations with a next-door neighbour badly damaged. Had it not been for the public outcry and behind-the-scenes efforts of those who had a say in the matter, we would be embroiled in an ignoble and futile foreign war.
The Prime Minister may be happy to make the choice he has made. But if things remain as they are, he may still find himself looking over his shoulder. In order to secure the civilian space, he as well as other power aspirants needs to understand that the people elect governments in the hope of betterment in their own lives rather than self-enrichment of those chosen to govern. And that a democracy is as strong as various state institutions.
Source: Business Recorder