It is, indeed, very difficult to say ‘no’ to temptation because the truth is what the famous American comedian, Bob Hope, while addressing a young lady, admitted: “I can stand anything, but temptation.” This is the kind of phenomenon we have experienced and suffered, during the last 50 years of our checkered history of civil-military relationship. Those who could not resist temptation are altogether a different category, such as Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf. They suffered from the Hope syndrome. There are others, who abated and encouraged such tempters like ACM Asghar Khan, resulting into the imposition of military rule.

In 1977, when an agreement was reached between the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government and the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA), Asghar Khan revolted and finally sabotaged it. Maulana Kausar Niazi in his book, entitled Aur Line Cut Gai, described this incidence in detail: “By the morning of July 2, 1977, a complete agreement was reached. ACM Asghar Khan was not happy with the agreement and entered into a heated argument with Mufti Mahmood and Prof Ghafoor. Mufti Mahmood asked him: ‘After all, what do you want and what do you propose’. Asghar Khan shouted: ‘You all get lost. I will handle the matter myself and I am prepared to…….guarantee that after military takeover, the army will hold elections within 90 days’. On hearing this, there was pin drop silence, when Mufti Mahmood spoke: ‘Do you realise what you are talking about?’ Asghar Khan shrugged off the question and derogatively uttered the word ‘hoon’, as he walked away.”

As the agitation continued, Asghar got impatient and wrote a letter to General Ziaul Haq urging him to remove Bhutto and take over the reins of government because “Bhutto, as Prime Minister, was extremely dangerous for the country.” General Zia read out his letter to the officers in one of the conferences held at GHQ. Dr S.M. Rahman, the Advisor Psychological Operations to General Zia, was also present. He writes about this letter in his article titled National Propensity to Rise in Crisis, published in TheNation on October 21, 2005: “The politicians, therefore, must make a solemn resolve that they would never create conditions that would aggravate the military to intervene. I do recall that a very distinguished politician of Pakistan, Air Marshal Asghar Khan, wrote a personal letter to late Ziaul Haq, persuading him to dismantle the government of late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and if he did not do it, he would be doing great disservice to Pakistan, or words to that effect. That letter, I thought, has reinforced Pakistan’s transformation into a praetorian state or at least had facilitated that process.”

So, Zia obliged Asghar by imposing martial law and initiating Bhutto’s trial. As the trial prolonged, Asghar became impatient because he wanted the PM (Bhutto) to be hanged as soon as possible. Addressing a public gathering at Kohala, he urged Zia to hang him or hand him over to Asghar who himself would “hang Bhutto from the Kohala Bridge.” The General further obliged Asghar by hanging Bhutto on April 4, 1979, in Rawalpindi jail and “made him a horrible example” to his great satisfaction and that of Henry Kissinger, the American Secretary of State. Perhaps, the ACM hoped to be the next Prime Minister after Bhutto had been eliminated. But that was not to be!

The third category of tempters is rather rare; they tempted to act but lacked the passion “to go full length.” General Waheed, the COAS in 1993, ordered both the President and Prime Minister ‘Out’, and held elections under an imported Prime Minister. By doing so, he violated the oath of the armed forces and the Constitution of Pakistan, setting a praetorian trend in the army that led to Musharraf’s rule.

The fourth category is of those who have rejected temptation, and supported the rule of law and democracy. On August 17, 1988, for instance, when the three services chiefs namely, Admiral Saeed Ahmed Khan, Air Chief Marshal Hakimullah and myself, assisted by DG ISI Lt Gen Hamid Gul and Judge Advocate General of Army, Brigadier Aziz Muhammad Khan, restored the Constitution and handed over power to people within three hours of General Zia’s death - an unprecedented act of correcting the course of democracy. Further in 2008, when General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani restrained the ISI and prevented General Musharraf from manipulating the elections as he had done in 2002. This led to his ouster and “democracy was put on its course.”

The Pakistani nation is used to frequent military interventions that have created a class of opportunists, who are ever ready to cooperate with the tempers; the foremost among them are the politicians and the sycophants waiting for such an opportunity. These days, one can hear loud voices urging General Kayani to intervene. In fact, they are testing his nerves; whereas, he wants the people of Pakistan to clear the mess themselves.

Undoubtedly, army generals have committed serious mistakes in the past. Even crimes have been committed causing great loss to the nation and disrepute to the armed forces. It is time to establish a civil-military relationship based on the rule of law and justice. This is a process the nation is passing through, which must not be disturbed. The credit goes to our political institutions, the judiciary and the armed forces, who will persevere and steer the country on a democratic course - Inshallah.

n    The writer is a former COAS, Pakistan.