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Selective suicide?

“THE chief rarely expresses his personal opinion,” I vividly recall Gen Jahangir Karamat telling me over the telephone a few hours after he left his job as the chief of army staff all those years ago. My question to him was whether his proposal to set up a ‘national security council’ was a personal opinion or if he was articulating the wider view in the army. It was this suggestion made at a defence training institution that angered the then prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, and triggered a controversy. As a gloating Mushahid Hussain was telling the BBC, where I worked then, that the day had demonstrated who was calling the shots in the country, implying the general had been sacked; Karamat insisted to me he hadn’t been pushed but had jumped to avoid further controversy. On the reported recommendation of the defence secretary, retired Lt-Gen Chaudhry Iftikhar Ali (a gunner like Musharraf) and the brother of cabinet member Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the prime minister handpicked Karamat’s successor. At the time, insiders suggested that the prime reason Gen Pervez Musharraf was preferred as army chief over the others was that the Delhi-born former SSG officer wasn’t a ‘son of the soil’ and therefore wouldn’t have the sort of constituency in his institution that the others might. The obvious implication was that this would make him so utterly grateful to the prime minister that he’d be pliable to a fault. When after the Kargil fiasco the army chief started to flex his muscles and the prime minister sacked him, we all have a recollection of the events that unfolded. Viewed against this background, the statement of army chief Gen Raheel Sharif about his institution’s resolve to preserve its ‘dignity’ appeared ominous. But is it? Frankly, one can’t say. What is certain is that there is unease in the army’s ranks. The Musharraf trial is being seen as ‘selective’ as he is the only one in the dock facing high treason charges for his Nov 3, 2007 declaration of emergency. I am not a lawyer but eminent legal experts such as Babar Sattar and Asma Jahangir robustly argue for and against the process being selective. Babar Sattar’s credentials are impeccable and Asma’s equally, if not even more so. That Gen Musharraf hated (there is no other word) what Asma stood for and represented was not a secret and, for her to question the manner in which the former military dictator is being tried, merits more attention than it has so far. Even then blaming the Nawaz Sharif government for being selective sounds a tad unjust simply because every institution and individual with a say in our nation’s destiny is selective. Allow me to refer to a few examples here. Look at the institution which is unhappy with the way its former chief is facing ‘selective’ justice. There might be weight in this argument but has the institution reflected at all over its own role in the mess we find ourselves in today? Well the military has had three decades of being directly in charge during which every conceivable disaster has gone unaccounted for, while the civilians have been held to account for both real and perceived sins. The Constitution has been shredded, prime ministers removed forcibly from office, imprisoned on trumped-up charges, even executed. The record on defending territorial integrity does not inspire much confidence either. And the self-assumed guardianship of the ideological frontiers is an aspect so disastrous one isn’t sure if the country will ever be immune to its repercussions. The confusion over its stated policy of identifying some Taliban as good and others as bad, and the reliance on crazed zealots as force multipliers has meant the institution and society as a whole has paid a huge price in blood. And it hurts. But is the institution prepared to abandon its selective policy over militants? The speed with which religious zealots are being introduced in nationalist strongholds of Sindh and Balochistan makes one very despondent because the institution’s commitment to the zealots appears undying. However, one can also argue that if Chaudhry Iftikhar’s just one ‘no’ to keep himself in office allowed the judiciary to wash away the sins of years and years, from Munir to Anwarul Haq, to Irshad Hassan Khan to Iftikhar himself, then why can’t Musharraf be forgiven as his Nov 3 action eventually facilitated opposition parties such as the PPP and PML-N to assume power. Of course the media has been as guilty of being selective as the next institution. Its chronicle of shame is far too voluminous to be presented in total but just look at how it gleefully covered the ‘memogate’ threat to the PPP’s elected government vis-à-vis how it is outraged today at Gen Sharif’s statement. The conservative elements who dominate the influential electronic media in particular have all suddenly become diehard defenders of democracy either owing to the effective PML-N spin machine or to a soft corner for the religious extremists whom the government wants to talk to and, rather mythically, the army opposes. The ultimate irony is that while all established ‘institutions’ squabble and fight petty ‘selective’ turf wars even if in the ‘noble’ name of Constitution and law, there is only one likely winner. The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. Hope the day we realise it poses a serious existential threat doesn’t come too late.–Dawn]]>

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