Ex-servicemen’s activism

Ishrat Saleem

President General (retd.) Pervez Musharraf’s graph of popularity has been on a constant decline since he moved the presidential reference against the Chief Justice; it received a fatal blow when he imposed a state of emergency on November 3, 2007, clamped restrictions on the media and deposed more than 60 judges of high courts and the Supreme Court to save himself from being disqualified as the president by the court. General (retd.) Musharraf’s influence considerably declined when the party which he had built as his political face was routed in the elections. Although the president still persists that he will react if parliament tries to slash his powers or impeach him, several recent developments attest to the fact that politically President General (retd.) Pervez Musharraf is on a ventilator.

The most interesting among these is an expression of favour for democratic values by the ex-servicemen, who have been part of many a contentious decision during the current and previous military regimes. In January this year, prominent generals came under the banner of Pakistan Ex-Servicemen’s Society (ESS) and asked the newly retired President General Musharraf to resign in the “supreme national interest”. This initiative was spearhead by Lt. General Faiz Ali Chisti of Ziaul Haq regime fame. Their demands have crescendoed of late and offer some food for thought. On June 2, Lt. Gen. (retd.) Jamshed Gulzar Kiyani gave an interview to a television channel and made some stunning revelations along with demand for probe into the Kargil Operation, plane conspiracy case, missing persons, Lal Masjid Operation and imposition of emergency on November 3. On June 7, the ESS demanded a judicial trial of President General (retd.) Musharraf for the Kargil debacle in a press conference. The ex-servicemen have also expressed support for the lawyers’ movement and made it is a point to mark their presence in the long march. In fact, they announced they would set up a permanent camp outside parliament – even if the lawyers had decided to end the long march – and demand the ouster of President Musharraf.

It would be interesting to analyse the credentials of these luminaries who suddenly found is expedient to put on the mantle of ‘civil society’ and look for the reasons that prompted them to make this move now. Lt. Gen. Jamshed Gulzar Kiyani was serving in the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) at the time of the Kargil Operation. Immediately after the successful military coup against the elected government on October 12, 1999, he was made commander of the 10th Corp. After his retirement in 2004, he was made head of the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC). In November 2007, through the provisional constitutional order, the president made an amendment in the constitution to reduce the tenure of the head of FPSC from five years to three year, effectively sending Lt. Gen. (retd.) Kiyani home. By this time, Musharraf had already weeded out most of his fellow coup-makers from the system he was heading.

Many of the things Lt. Gen. (retd.) Kiyani said in his interview call for a closer examination. He said that his real differences with Musharraf started after 9/11. One might argue that the differences between Lt. Gen. (retd.) Kiyani and the president started when, as head of the government, Musharraf took decisions which hurt the long-term interests of the military, e.g. a U-turn on Afghan policy that was based on the doctrine of strategic depth and a reduction in militancy in Kashmir. On the other hand, it also means that Lt. Gen. (retd.) Kiyani tacitly supports the illegitimate act of overthrowing an elected government in a coup in 1999. During the interview he went so far as to suggest that the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should have waited for Chief of Army Staff to return from Sri Lanka to remove him from office. While religious parties and a dominant part of the vernacular press have hailed Lt. Gen. (retd.) Kiyani’s statement that instead of surrendering to the American threats after September 11, 2001, Pervez Musharraf had the option of holding a referendum to ascertain the will of the people, it is questionable if such a thing was possible at that time. It easier said than done that after 9/11, Musharraf should have stood against Washington, given the intensity of international pressure and the kaleidoscopic speed with which the events were taking place. The UN Security Council had passed resolutions on September 12 and September 28 calling for a stance against terrorism and anti-terrorism respectively. India had already offered support to the coalition for war against terror. The tremendous pressure under which the Musharraf regime decided to go along can also be gauged from the excerpts of exchanges between General Musharraf and Secretary of State Collin Powel as well as those between US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Lt. Gen. Mehmood Ahmad. Therefore, Lt. Gen. (retd.) Kiyani’s assertions in this regard should be interpreted as nothing more than appealing to popular sentiments against the US and the war on terror.

It is unfortunate that ex-servicemen’s explanation of religious extremism as presented by Lt. Gen. (retd.) Jamshed Gulzar Kiyani derives its inspiration from the logic put forth by the Musharraf coterie in delaying the Lal Masjid operation and failing to tackle extremist outfits throughout the country. In the interview, Lt. Gen. (retd.) Kiyani said that the suicide attacks escalated after operation on Lal Masjid in July 2007, in which many innocent students were killed. In calling for a probe into the operation, he conveniently ignored the activities of the students of the twin seminaries from January to July and the very fact that they started openly challenging the writ of the state in the heart of the capital when the Lal Masjid administration was issued notices for vacating the madrassah built on encroached land. Musharraf supporters as well as his opponents fail to mention – for their own expedient reasons – how the Lal Masjid administration used innocent children as hostages during the operation. Lt. Gen. (retd.) Kiyani’s call for a probe could again be interpreted as a populist stance meant to resonate with the public rather than a principled and honest opinion on the issue.

Analysts believe that the damage to the image of army as an institution during Musharraf’s nine-year rule is being viewed with grave concern by the serving and retired military officials. To keep an upper hand in the political process in the country, it is necessary to restore a positive image of the army in the eyes of the public. With Musharraf’s rule going through its last leg, when he does not enjoy support in any section of society, his stay in power can cause further damage to the army’s reputation. Therefore, sacrificing Musharraf for saving the institutional interests of the military would not be a bad deal. It is not then a coincidence that going by popular sentiment, the ex-servicemen have joined the chorus of ending army’s intervention in politics. Since assuming charge as the Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani has paid special attention to restoring the image of the military. The calling of serving officers from civilian institutions was a step in this direction. The statement of Lt. Gen. (retd.) Jamshed Gulzar Kiyani that Musharraf should be made an example to prevent the emergence of future dictators should be taken with a pinch of salt. Interviews such as these appear to be a PR exercise rather than a change of heart of these gentlemen.

Since the struggle for the restoration of judiciary took off last year, many questions have been asked regarding the role of military in politics. It is for the first time in the history of Pakistan that the military’s misdoings have been so consistently and openly condemned in the public with the call to end military’s intervention in national affairs. The ex-servicemen’s organisation could well be a reaction to the lawyers’ movement. The latest recruit to the society is the former governor of Sindh and the former Minister of Interior, Lt. Gen. (retd.) Moinuddin Haider. Commenting on ex-servicemen’s activism in her article (‘The wannabe heroes’ Dawn, June 13, 2008), Dr. Ayesha Siddiqua, author of Military Inc. Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy, argued that this is the natural consequence of entrenchment of military in politics. According to her, the serving and retired officers and a few civilians, whose interests are associated with it, are all part of the ‘military establishment’. In the absence of institutional mechanisms for internal dialogue, opinions of different lobbies within the military establishment are given voice through the media and ex-servicemen. These do not represent the independent views of these individuals but reflect a deepening of friction within the military establishment. The retired officers serve as the informal conduit for reaching out to the public or conveying views of one section of the establishment to the other through the media. She cautions the discerning onlooker to analyse the real intent of these people, which is not upholding of democracy. They struck when Musharraf is most vulnerable and sat silent when the incidents on which they are showing their reservations now were taking place.

Here, a brief look at the credential of members ESS and would be in order. Lt. Gen. (retd.) Faiz Ali Chisti, the author of Betrayal of Another Kind, was the Corp Commander based in Rawalpindi at the time of the coup in July 1977. In his book he claims that “he was in charge of planning the take over in the capital and it went off like clockwork.” Another prominent name is General (retd.) Mirza Aslam Beg, who has publicly admitted to his role in manipulating the election of 1990 (although he is now rumoured to have left the ESS on the plea that it is headed by a lower ranking ex-servicemen!). Then there is Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul, former head the ISI, whose ties with the Taliban are well known and who has also admitted to political manoeuvring. General Lt. Gen. (retd.) Asad Durrani is also the former head of the ISI. These gentlemen have an entrenched view of Pakistan as a security state as opposed to a welfare state. Their views on terrorism, national security, regional peace, human development, economic globalisation, provincial autonomy, etc. conflict with those of liberal democratic forces. Their model of an ideal state favours constant external frictions and an authoritative state structure. In the face of the fact that Musharraf is counting his days in the president’s office, the signs of the presence of a powerful military establishment that is not ready to let go of the power it has exercised in national affairs for long does not bode well. Pakistan ill-affords to continue with this configuration of power, as people are becoming more organised and aware and would not put up with a weak elected government for long, which is unable to take decisions on issues of critical importance.

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One response to “Ex-servicemen’s activism

  1. Pingback: Pakistan: Supremacy of Constitution and Musharaf’s Trial « Mudassar Jawad

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