When former President of Pakistan and its ex-army chief Gen Pervez Musharaf spoke about how civilian governments in Pakistan derailed the country while the military brought it back on tracks, many felt that he was merely trying to defend his own controversial tenure as the military dictator-cum-President. Yet, while Musharraf’s claim about civilian governments derailing the nation is debatable, abundant evidence is available to prove that it’s the military in Pakistan that has incessantly been derailing civilian governments. Earlier, it would do so by simply toppling governments and seizing power, but since all dictators had to demit office in humiliation as they proved to be inefficient administrators, Pakistan Army Generals found the option of running the country from behind the scenes through pliable Prime Ministers more convenient.
The 2018 General Elections in Pakistan is a classic example of how the army manipulated the system to ensure that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) emerged victorious. The army systematically emasculated PTI’s arch rival Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) with military precision and the beauty is that though they used strong-arm tactics to disqualify and intimidate candidates as well as muzzled the media, all this was done legally and strictly under ambit of the constitution. Whereas the PTI government and Pakistan Army will deny any wrongdoings, but with Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of Islamabad High Court (IHC) revealing that “ISI officials instruct the judges to constitute the bench of their own choice,” and adding, “We are not independent and our institution is in the hands of those carrying guns,” the extra-constitutional role that the army is playing in Pakistan requires no further elaboration.
Gen Musharraf’s successors preferred to play the role of puppeteers for running the country as it gave them absolute authority without any accountability. But it appears that the present army chief, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa doesn’t like the idea of being a ‘behind the scene’ operator. Why else would his name figure in the list of members in the recently created National Development Council (NDC)? Since NDC will formulate policies and strategies for development activities aimed at accelerating the economic growth, approve long-term planning for national and regional connectivity and provide guidelines for regional cooperation, how exactly does the army fit-in NDC’s scheme of things?
But the Pakistan Army has always boasted of being at the forefront when it comes to nation building and Gen Bajwa’s recent announcement of a voluntary cut in defence allocation shows how concerned the army is about Pakistan’s precarious financial condition. But the reality is that despite this announcement, the defence budget for the next year (starting from July 1) has remained very much unchanged and stands at US $11.4 billion, this amounts to a whopping 4% of Pakistan’s GDP. So, like always, while the country continues to struggle in order to keep afloat in choppy waters of an unprecedented economic crisis, the military in Pakistan on the other hand continues to have the cake and eat it too.
It may be argued that with India flexing its muscles and independence struggle raising its head in Balochistan and former tribal areas, the burgeoning defence expenditure is unavoidable in order to meet these challenges. Though it may be difficult to comment on how the Pakistan Army can control terrorist activities in Pakistan, but going by past experience, tensions along the Indo-Pak border can certainly be diffused if Gen Bajwa is as serious about this as Gen Musharraf was when he declared a unilateral ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) in J&K in 2003. Let’s not forget that this ceasefire lasted more than a decade and even as late as 2015, PM Nawaz Sharif proposed in his UNGA (United Nations General Assembly) address that “Pakistan and India (should) formalise and respect the 2003 understanding for a complete ceasefire on the Line of Control in Kashmir.”
Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has already placed Pakistan on ‘grey list’ for its inability to curb terror financing activities and despite being given adequate time Pakistan has failed to rectify things. As things stand today, Islamabad hasn’t been able to take appropriate action on 25 out of the 27 terror related observations raised by this international terror financing watchdog and this only goes to prove that there’s something seriously wrong somewhere. But who’s responsible for this sorry state of affairs? Is it apathy of the government or inefficiency of bureaucracy which is to blame? Or is it all because of the Pakistan Army’s duplicitous refusal to stop patronising and start acting against certain terrorist groups that it considers to be its ‘strategic assets’?
While presenting a cheque of Rupees one billion to Chief Justice of Pakistan as the army’s contribution for the construction of Diamer -Basha and Mohmand dams, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Asif Ghafoor, quoted Gen Bajwa as saying that “Pakistan Army will continue to contribute towards nation building as a national institution.” But if Pakistan Army actually wants to make a genuine contribution towards nation building, then it has to go much beyond cosmetic gestures like announcing defence budget cuts or making donations for constructing dams.
At a time when Pakistan has been inextricably cornered for its failure to rein-in terrorist groups that are thriving on its soil, it becomes the professional duty as well as moral responsibility of the army to help government and people of Pakistan by disgorging its suicidal ‘strategic assets’ doctrine and ending patronage to those terrorist groups that it is nurturing as ‘strategic assets’ to be used against its neighbours.