The address of COAS General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani to officers of the GHQ and another by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry to officers of the 97th National Management Course, both couched in fairly strong and apparently conflicting terms, have stirred a heated debate in the country. It should be understood, first of all, that though delivered the same day on Monday, they were not in response to each other. Both the army chief and the chief justice read from the written text. The function where Justice Chaudhry spoke ended an hour before General Kayani moved to deliver his speech. While trying to make sense of the statements and titillated by the timing, there are feverish attempts at hair-splitting and divining the hidden meaning behind each sentence and choice of word. However, whatever else might be said about these speeches, an impression of a clash between the two vital institutions of the state has been created, to the pleasure and satisfaction of those entertaining such a wish. The Supreme Court’s castigation of the Frontier Constabulary and ISI in the context of lawlessness in Balochistan and the exposure of some of the generals during the Asghar Khan case and others had already created rumblings within the armed forces, used to not being accountable to a civilian authority.

The COAS’s remarks are also being considered a reaction to this unfamiliar treatment. The timing of even a general known for his reserve and reticence and commitment to stay out of politics, venturing out to make a statement that has clear political overtones and contains a not-so-cryptic warning to avoid “creating a wedge” between the army and the people, is being attributed to the historic judgment in the Asghar Khan case and its ongoing fallout. The emphasis on the legal maxim, ‘Innocent until proven guilty’, is also a telling indication of the discomfort from a section of society unused to criticism and media trials in the past; an experience which politicians and public officials have long been accustomed to. The caution against employing haste in moving forward, to the detriment of long-term goals and in pursuit of short-term gains, is advice kindly meant – but the pace of progress is certainly not the domain of the armed forces to decide.

If the COAS stressed the need for strengthening the institutions, so did the Chief Justice. The latter’s view that tanks and missiles cannot ensure security was a telling choice of words to herald the arrival of a new era in Pakistan. He followed with the necessity to establish “social security and welfare nets” and added that the protection of the people’s national and civil rights could guarantee security. Justice Chaudhry on Tuesday responded, “Yes, we have seen it, yesterday” to the remark of a petitioner’s advocate that the army respected the judiciary – adding yet another tantalizing detail to those dissecting the situation. The court also directed the same advocate to produce the ISPR’s press releases and President Zardari’s interview published in a US-based magazine in the wake of May 2 US Abbottabad raid to take out Osama bin Laden. While both speeches also contained much positive intent and a promise to abide by the constitution, this air of intrigue that still prevails, is an ill one for the nation. If all institutions, including the Parliament, Judiciary and the Armed Forces are committed to obeying and upholding the constitution, then what is all this public bristling and fussing about? It is best avoided and replaced by the principle of self-criticism and accountability, and trying to deliver the very best of results in each of their constitutionally determined realms. That is what will earn them the lasting respect and trust of the public.