ROVER’S DIARY: Half-truths of Zardari and Nawaz —Babar Ayaz
President Zardari should have asked the PML-N to come jointly and make a non-aligned policy with a loud and clear message that Pakistan will henceforth ban all militant organisations and live in peace with its neighbours
The co-chairman of the PPP, Asif Zardari, turned ‘khaki’ while addressing his party leaders and workers on the birthday of Benazir Bhutto and lashed out at Mian Nawaz Sharif for criticising the army.
Getting defensive, the PML-N leaders have not only started praising the army but also declaring that they are “custodians of Islam” and are “our crown”. Many a time, politicians of the same creed tell us that the army is also the defender of our ‘ideological frontiers’. These PML-N leaders are not in sync with their leader, Mian Nawaz Sharif.
Unfortunately, politically, both Zardari and the PML-N leadership are equally wrong. They are shortsighted and cannot see beyond their immediate political gains. Pakistan’s history is full of leaders like the president who had no vision about building a democratic, independent country. They have led us to the conclusion that important geo-political and geo-strategic decisions are not made by the elected government, but a fait accompli is presented to them by GHQ. It is these important decisions that have a long-term bearing on our politics, economics and public perceptions.
Criticism of the army for transgressing its constitutional limits has been subdued. The space provided by weak political leaders has, over the years, encouraged the mindset in the army that politicians do not have the capacity to make crucial decisions for the country.
In his well-researched book, Military Control in Pakistan: The Parallel State, Mazhar Aziz has pointed out: “It is shown that the military has come to identify itself with the state, rather than see itself as one of the key components of the constitutional state. This analysis then reveals how a powerful military has incrementally penetrated and exercised control over political developments. The constitutional, political and economic dimensions of this control show that the institution perceives, and arrogates to itself, the task of nation building as part of the military discourse. The evidence presented illustrates the almost universal mistrust that the senior military commanders have of the political leadership in Pakistan.”
The editorial of the Green Book, published by the army in 2002, confirms: “Gone are the days when the sole role of an army was limited, either to invade or beat back the attackers…Geopolitical and geo-strategic regional compulsions of South Asia have made the revision and redefinition of Pakistan Army’s role a necessity.”
In this backdrop, when Nawaz Sharif is telling the politicians that a time has come to correct the civil-military imbalance, he is right. When he talks about making peace with India he is right.
But the PPP co-chairman sees it as a smart move to pitch his party against the army. President Zardari is right that the biggest challenge to the country is from its enemy number one: terrorism. He is also right that the PML-N is softer when it comes to militant Islamic outfits. As a matter of fact, they shied away from even turning up to console the Ahmedis after the massacre in their ‘places of worship’ last year and standing up against the conspiracy that led to the killing of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer.
But, in spite of these shortfalls of the PML-N leadership, Zardari should not forget that he is also the president of Pakistan and not only the co-chairman of a political party. As the president, he has to carry himself with grace and speak with dignity. The choice of words and style of delivery should not be belligerent no matter how provocative Mian Nawaz Sharif is at attacking him personally. A person who holds the office of the president should not allow others to provoke him and come down to their level. There are many in his party who should be defending him and the party.
President Zardari should have asked the PML-N to come jointly and make a non-aligned policy with a loud and clear message that Pakistan will henceforth ban all militant organisations and live in peace with its neighbours. He could have invited the opposition to support the government to remove GHQ encroachment from the foreign policy-making domain. He was, however, right in pointing out that there is a clash of ideas in the country between those who feel that jihadi organisations should be disbanded without any hesitation and provisos and those who are sympathetic to such organisations.
Contrary to Mian Nawaz Sharif’s policy, his brother Shahbaz Sharif and opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar are out to please the army establishment. When they say that the army is “our crown” or the “custodian of Islam”, they are wrong. In the first place, Islam is in the hearts and minds of over a billion Muslims living around the world. In the last 1,400 years, Islam has flourished even in the lands where Muslims are in a minority. It does not need a ‘custodian’. Secondly, it is dangerous to ask any army to defend an ideology. Once we say that the army has to defend Islamic ideology or be its custodian, we are breeding a seed of discord in a disciplined organisation. Remember we have scores of sects in Islam each having its own ideology and interpretation of the religion. Recently, we have seen that indoctrination of military personnel has given space to the militant religious organisations to make inroads into the army.
The army of any country has to remain within the role assigned to it in the constitution — defending the geographical frontiers and assisting the civilian government if called upon to fight against militant organisations that challenge the writ of the government. The secondary role in all countries is that the army is called to assist in the event of a colossal natural calamity. And that is it.
Ideologies, whether they are religious or anti-religion, have no barriers, flourishing in open space and have been debated upon all through human history. Any attempt to involve the army of any country to defend its ideological frontiers or be the custodians of Islam, is giving them the license to interfere in the fundamental rights of the people. Taking advantage of this self-imposed responsibility, we have seen that General Ziaul Haq postponed elections and ruled the country for 11 years. He left behind intolerance, social schisms and countless militant Islamic groups, who have today turned their guns on the Pakistani people and the government as well. They want to impose a Caliphate in Pakistan and do not believe in the democratic process.
Here, President Zardari was right when he said that this mindset has to be fought. My question to President Zardari is the same that I have been posing for many years: while militant Islamic ideology is being spread from dozens of organisations in a systematic way, who in the government and his party is challenging this in an organised manner?
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org