I have often been accused of promoting military rule in Pakistan and that I am recognised favouring military dictators over democratic governments. I appear overly critical of politicians while reflecting a benign tolerance towards the shortcomings of the military. I am compelled to clarify my position on the matter but first, this matter should not become a debate on which is a better form of governance, civilian or military. The focus should remain on what would be the best for Pakistan and if in that, it is envisaged, that the military in general and the army in particular should be disbanded in the interest of the country, I would stand in favour of national interest. There was never a question of relative piety where military personnel are morally or intellectually superior to their civilian counterparts. The military has its share of dubious characters and are of the same stock as anyone else in Pakistan and as such any comparison between segments of societies, communities or individuals is not only meaningless but simply wrong. Having said this, I would still begin my argument with what I have always said and at the cost of repetition, and a whole lot of repetition, that the Army is the only institution that remains functional as an institution, is cohesive and is a product of systems, procedures, rules and regulations. This is not said to demean any other institution or to down play their role in governing the country but to simply state that most of these institutions simply exist to go through the motions and that they have collapsed as institutions. This is not their fault and I am convinced that they are a victim of government sponsored nepotism, parochialism and violation of merit.
Whereas I agree, that the army having ruled the country shares the blame for the collapse of these institutions and is partially responsible for the state we are presently in, but it is generally on account of bad choices, poor decisions and skewed policies forwarded by individuals and not because of bad institutional practices. So what makes the army different in relative terms in Pakistan is that its institutional procedures limit individual greed and corruption that elsewhere go unrestrained due to institutional collapse and lack of cohesive capacity to reign in the corrupt. There is no institution holier than the other and the national malaise of corruption must be viewed in relative terms with the army the least corrupt amongst the corrupt, so far. This could change in the future as the Army is slowly politicised, reformed and influenced. But at the moment, almost all other institutions are non functional: a dysfunctional judiciary, a politicised police, a compromised NAB, a sold out NADRA, an indifferent Election Commission. To make matters worse the Mullahs have now license to influence and dictate our foreign and domestic policies because the constitution allows them to do so. The government whether of the civilians for 36 years or the army for 33 years, are both responsible for this state of affairs and there is no debate on this matter. However, the aberration brought about by military rule can easily be corrected through constitutional amendments but no civil government has found it within themselves to reverse any of General Zia’s pearls of wisdom. Thus there appears to be a tacit approval of the policies in the past except for the 18th amendment. Performance of military and civil governments can be debated till the cows come home but if there is any measure to compare them for intent at least, if not capability, it would be recognised in the local bodies. The military has always held such elections whereas no civil government has ever done so voluntarily. The present government has reluctantly held them under a Supreme Court ruling on the subject. Of course no meaningful funds were transferred. Civilian governments have always given development funds to the Members of Parliament in total violation of the so called sacred constitution, thus confusing legislation with development. The distribution of funds has quickly turned into a persuasive tool or then a coercive one, in the hands of the ruling party. The constitution is violated daily in terms of crossing defined red lines related to external and internal debt as well as ignoring the pre-requisites to even qualify to stand for elections. Tax is raised on the people but politicians do not contribute towards any such revenue. Legislation is passed that is damaging to the country for instance the reversion of A areas back to B in Baluchistan or reversing the need for an educational degree needed to be a legislator and as late as only yesterday, the money bill that makes off-shore financial dealing not only kosher but exempts those practicing it even in the past. The parliament is conspicuous in its silence as the constitution is raped before their eyes.
This now brings me to the question of competence and capacity; the common argument given is that military men don’t know how to govern states, or worse still: wars are too complicated to allow generals to run them. Here are some statistics which contradict such views: Out of the 44 US presidents, 33 held a military position. Of these Dwight Eisenhower and Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman were the most famous in modern times As a fledging new state, the United States, entrusted the establishment of the country and its democracy to George Washington, Andrew Jackson, James Monroe, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor etc. All of whom had only military experience. History is filled with examples of Sun Tzu, Alexander, Babar, Akbar who were military leaders first but good rulers as well. The list is long and includes Napoleon Bonaparte, Miguel Hidalgo, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Vo Nguyen Giap, Fidel Castro etc. On the other hand, military contributions to life and living by its contributions to medicine, research on infectious diseases and human psychology, logistics, transportation and man-management cannot be simply wished away regardless of how averse one is to the military. The Fortune published the PEW survey of 2013 where it was analysed and declared that the military contributed to civil society more than any other profession. One cannot ignore military contributions to engineering or science and technology. In our own case, our military has been recognised for organising one of the most efficient disaster management systems in the earthquake of 2008. The Army managed the flood relief of 2010 as it always has in the past. It conducts elections, de-silting of water channels and consensus. Currently it is undertaking policing operations in support of internal security. Thus with so much evidence on record, to proffer a sweeping statement that military leaders do not have the capacity to govern nations is neither supported by facts or figures but to quite an extent is downright unfair.
Whereas one may very well argue that ‘our’ military leaders have botched it up when given a chance or having taken the opportunity; yet the fact is that they did govern as they wanted to in line with their political and ideological vision or whatever it was. It is not the capacity which should be questioned but the vision which has so damaged us.The debate evolves around an individual with his own ideas and not the capacity of the institution. After all, when this institution functions for the state in every other matter of governance or administrative matter, why does one feel that it lacks capacity. On the other hand our hindsight expertise ignores very basic facts and figures related to economy, balance of payments, food management which on a relative terms always did better under a military regime. Yet in no way am I suggesting a military rule and once again at the pain of repetition, here is what I am recommending: the removal of this government, establishing a national government, rewriting the constitution, reforming the judiciary, depoliticising the police and containing the mullah.
Civilian or military, these are people of the same values and similar backgrounds, the former with an open opportunity and the latter with a restricted one. However some fallacies that needed to be addressed were related to the capacity of military personal to rule and govern. I do agree that the biggest aberration is to have the military takeover the country but at times it is necessary yet such takeovers should not lead to military rule but to corrective reforms only; our biggest mistake. None of the Asian Tigers were a product of democracy as much as of authoritarian rule; Lee Kwon Yew, Suharto, Mahathir, first created the environment for democracy before they were truly democratic. I am suggesting that we put into place a ‘civilian’, government comprising men and women of capacity, honour and dignity; surely in a population of 200 million there are such people who exist. I am suggesting that we must find a way to do this to right the wrong that has been done to this country. I am suggesting that this be done any way possible and if it is the military that has to do it because as usual in this country, everybody and everyone else, is dysfunctional, then so be it. The bottom line is that we are in trouble in more ways than one, and democracy, the constitution and politicians as they stand today, are part of the problem and cannot be part of the solution.
Lt Gen Tariq Khan