VIEW: Idealism versus pragmatism —Mohammad Jamil - Saturday, July 31, 2010

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Pakistan is at war with terrorists and there are internal and external threats to its security. In such circumstances, extension of the army chief is justifiable. The Pakistan Army has avoided politics and one should appreciate an army chief who performs his duties within the parameters of the constitution

If idealism is pursued, no extension of extension of service should be given to the army chief, but for continuing the counter-terrorism measures, the extension can be looked upon as logical and inevitable. Ideally speaking, ad hoc judges should not be appointed, as it is against the established norms and principles, but after the PCO judges were shown the door, the chief justice sought appointment of ad hoc judges to ensure quick dispensation of justice. Also, in the case of the extension of the chief of army staff (COAS), pragmatism has taken precedence over idealism because of the dire conditions and the existential threat to Pakistan from local and foreign-inspired terrorists. But the debate continues to rage in the media, and many analysts oppose it on the grounds that individuals are not as important as institutions. Secondly, they state that it will deprive many officers of a promotion, which automatically comes with the retirement of the COAS. One has to remember that Pakistan is at war with terrorists and there are internal and external threats to its security. In such circumstances, extension of the army chief is justifiable. Similarly, in the US, Admiral Mike Mullen has been given a one-year extension because the war on terror has entered a very crucial stage.

But the problem is that our leaders have the penchant of making good decisions look bad by implementing them in a dubious manner. The prime minister’s remark that all major stakeholders — the president, the prime minister, the Supreme Court, chief justice and the army chief — were in a ‘secure position’ until 2013 is a case in point. On the other hand, detractors of the government and a few media personnel, who had supported the appointment of ad hoc judges, are opposing the extension of the army chief. By highlighting the ‘heartburn’ of the military officers who will lose their promotions, efforts are being made to undermine respect for the chain of command, a hallmark of the Pakistan Army. These groups do not realise that by doing so, they are wittingly or unwittingly trying to sow seeds of dissension among the army personnel, who are known for their sacrifices. Forgoing a promotion would be a trivial matter for them. Nonetheless, there was no dearth of patriotic media persons who wrote appreciatively about the extension, which they considered to be imperative in order to take the military campaign against terrorists to its logical conclusion.

Almost all political parties have supported the move or given comments like those given by PML-N. Some PML-N leaders complained that the prime minister did not discuss the matter with Mian Nawaz Sharif. Maulana Fazlur Rehman also hinted that he was not taken into confidence. If we walk this road, then other questions emerge. Did Mian Nawaz Sharif take the late Benazir Bhutto into confidence when he showed the door to then COAS Jehangir Karamat? Had Mian Nawaz Sharif consulted Mohtarma Bhutto when he appointed Pervez Musharraf as COAS, superseding General Ali Quli Khan, who immediately resigned? Knowing Mian sahib’s temperament, one could say that no such matters were discussed in the cabinet. According to reports, at the sacking of Pervez Musharraf, Mian Nawaz Sharif called the then Defence Secretary General Iftikhar and discussed the matter. General Iftikhar had reportedly suggested letting Pervez Musharraf return from Sri Lanka and then be shown a ceremonial exit, but the suggestion was ignored. The problem with our leaders is that they do not want to consult others on issues of national importance but expect others to take them into confidence.

There is no denying that General Kayani has conducted himself admirably during the last three years and stayed away from politics. He salvaged the situation when the government and opposition were on a collision course during the movement for the restoration of the judiciary. He is perhaps the first army head that strictly directed all officers of the Pakistan Army to avoid politics in line with the established rules and did not call any politician to GHQ. In a letter written to officers, he stated the role of the armed forces was already defined in the country’s laws and constitution, adding that the officers should not indulge in any profit-making venture other than their salary and perks as per their ranks. Following his directives, army officers deployed in civil departments were recalled to their units, a move that was appreciated by the people at large. The point here is that while people have often welcomed the promulgation of martial law, the writers and intellectuals have criticised and condemned it because the constitution is thrown to the winds. Nevertheless, one should appreciate an army chief who performs his duties within the parameters of the constitution.

Except for pseudo-intellectuals, who have a passion for Pakistan-bashing and wish to see clashes between the state’s pillars, all other groups will admit that the military is not involved in politics today and, according to reports, the political wing of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was also closed three years ago. The self-righteous and ‘paragons’ of scruples should not offer suggestions to the army chief to not accept the extension, which reportedly has been done. It is noteworthy that when General Kayani took over as COAS, terrorists had traumatised the people of the northwest and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The writ of the state did not exist in Swat and Malakand, as the civil administration was on the run. Even political leaders had abandoned their abodes to find safe havens. In FATA, extremists had either killed political agents or forced them to quit the region. Today, however, Swat and Malakand have been cleared and the operation in South Waziristan has been completed. A lot still has to be done, which justifies the extension of the COAS. It is hoped that he will lead the military to higher pinnacles of professionalism and preparedness during his next three years.

The writer is a freelance columnist. He can be reached at

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