VIEW: Anatomy of the military’s image — I —A R Siddiqi - March 19, 2012

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The two ‘gates’ — straight and narrow — underscore the vulnerability of the civil-military establishments on the one hand, and the fragility of the military’s image on the other

Once the darling of the nation, the military, mainly the army, look likes the man-on-horseback suddenly and unceremoniously dismounted and left alone to fend for himself. He looks around for a kind word or a reassuring whisper from anywhere but, in vain. The military is tolerated for there being no substitute for it as the only dedicated body, for better or worse, to ensure the safety and security of the state against existential threats from within and without.

Furthermore, it remains the only institution still in one piece as a unified whole with sworn loyalty to the state, its laws and the constitution. The so-called Memogate affair pushed the collegial high command, comprising the army chief, his principal staff officers and corps commanders, almost to the point where a coup d’etat looked almost imminent.

Mistrust of the army chief and the chief of the ISI, openly expressed at the prime ministerial level, brought the civil-military establishments face-to-face. Without mature wisdom and exemplary patience on both sides, the confrontation could go beyond recall with disastrous consequences for the state and the nation. 

The Memogate crisis was caused by a Pakistan-born American go-getter, Mansur Ijaz, for carrying a memo attributed to the president of Pakistan, to Rt. Admiral Michael Mullen, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. The memo sought Mullen’s help in pre-empting an army coup to topple President Zardari’s government.

The second, Mehrangate (after the Mehran Bank, now defunct) case involved two retired generals — Mirza Aslam Beg, the army chief (1988-1991) and a former head of the ISI Lt.Gen Asad Durrani. The two generals were named for disbursement of funds provided by the president of the Mehran Bank Younus Habib, to various political parties and politicians for manipulating the elections in 1990. 

Apart from the gravity of the accusations levelled against serving and former army and ISI chiefs under Memogate, and retired generals Beg and Durrani under Mehrangate, has been the woeful lack of credibility of the individuals involved in each case.

Mansur Ijaz, an American businessman, essentially a busybody, hardly ever enjoyed any credit as a man of integrity. A crafty operator, he knew how to worm his way into important circles and cultivate VIPs, official and non-official. With exceptions few and far between, Mansur Ijaz was little more than a loud-mouthed namedropper.

That an ordinary operator could create such upheaval in the highest civil-military echelons — and almost get away with it — is a matter of deep concern.

As for the banker, Younus Habib, the promotee chief of the fledging Mehran Bank, his sole achievement, was to establish the bank as well as to preside over its liquidation not too long after its inception.

The two ‘gates’ — straight and narrow — underscore the vulnerability of the civil-military establishments on the one hand, and the fragility of the military’s image on the other. Are the two vital facets of the nation so weak as to be shaken at the root by a clever manipulator and a crafty banker? If so, where then lies the security of the state and the credibility of the military?

Newspaper headlines claim the Supreme Court is ‘targeting’ the army. Now could the nation’s apex court ever ‘target’ the army, the nation’s sole sword arm? However, there is nothing to deter the higher judiciary from bringing the highest placed individual or institution to book if so required to meet the ends of justice.

What stands out in the ongoing face-off between the civilian and the military establishments is that it was sparked off by two individuals as small as Ijaz and Younus. If the two fortresses could be penetrated by moles like Ijaz and Younus, God help the nation.

The two cases in varying degree also underscore a sort of story of combined and accumulated sentiment of angst against a single body left in one piece. 

Former army chief General Mirza Aslam Beg facing the apex court in a cavalier fashion was promptly told to behave. He had used the term ‘hat trick’, reminding their lordships of his experience of having faced two other chief justices, Afzal Zullah and Sajjad Ali Shah before facing his third. Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry wouldn’t approve of light banter ill suited for use in any court of law, least of all the highest temple of justice and custodian of the law.

Contrary to his image as a former military chief, General Beg went rhetorical in his affidavit, inconsistent with his professional standing and the dignity of the court. He recited the following verse: Jane kis jurm ki pai hai saza yad nahin.....

(I wonder what crime I may have committed to deserve this punishment...)

Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry wouldn’t wait to ask: “Is he (General Beg) here to play golf?” “He should tender his apology or we will take him to task.”

Wisely, the General promptly complied with the order of the chief justice and apologized.

Such an acerbic dialogue between a military chief (former or serving) and the Chief Justice would have been practically unthinkable in the past. Not for lack of respect for the higher judiciary or any bitterness on the part of the judiciary itself, more for the improbability of such a situation ever arising.

As for the alleged disbursement of funds provided by the banker Younus Habib manipulating elections in favour of the shady electoral alliance under the banner of the so-called Islamic Jamhoori Ittehad, Lt General Asad Durrani admitted that he did that under the orders of General Beg.

The sorriest part of the proceedings lay in the refusal or inability of the military to learn from past mistakes.

The break-up of the country in 1971 in the aftermath of the grave errors committed after the elections of December 1970 should have been enough for the army to ensure against the recurrence of similar blunders.

No lesson was learnt however, to put the military into sort of an addictive, vicious circle, committing one mistake after another. 

What happens to Generals Beg and Durrani at the end of the court proceedings remains to be seen. The damage already done to the military’s image and reputation would not be easy to repair for years to come, however.

Placed as it is between two scandals, the Memo and the Mehran Gates, the military would find it hard to sail through the court proceedings unblemished. The stain would stay until the military comes up against yet another grave crisis in peace or war and meets it with the same zeal and commitment as through the first-decade-plus (1947-1965) of its existence.

The Rawalpindi Conspiracy 1951 had been its one major deviation from its code of absolute loyalty to the country and the institution. However, its memory has been practically swept under the carpet.

Let the sleeping dogs of a coup or a blatant interference in civilian affairs sleep on to salvage its martial image.

(To be continued)

The writer is a retired brigadier and can be reached at

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