Last Thursday, mouth-frothing analysts dominated 24/7 news media after a clip of Khawaja Asif’s speech was aired on a TV channel. His strong tone, they said, was rebellious against the armed forces of Pakistan. Hell broke loose, the skies began to fall and media corps commanders got brutally active, declaring the Defence Minister’s speech uncalled for and ‘anti-army.’

The problem with that clip, which we missed in our frenzy, was its resurrection by a usual suspect from the media corps with the audacity of deliberately presenting it as a ‘few days’ old. The speech however, had been on social media sites since 2006 when it was given in the National Assembly as his budget speech by then-opposition MNA, Khawaja Mohammad Asif. The clip was carefully doctored to not let the sitting Speaker appear on the screen. The MNAs sitting in the background while Asif spoke however, were very clearly identifiable; they belonged to MMA, the coalition of religious parties. Most of them are not even part of the Assembly now.

For a few days, every Zaid, Bakar and Omar of the media and analysts’ galaxy kept regurgitating the great sin Khawaja Asif had committed. So much so that the Chief had to speak up as well. We will fix you if you don’t behave, was the underlying message. Some say the timing of the actual speech doesn’t matter. That he uttered such words ‘against the army’ is the singular point of concern.

On the Internet, one can easily find this 20 minute long video from the budget debate of June 2006. Surprisingly, one finds no factual incorrectness in the speech. Khawaja sahib, not to forget, was manhandled and tortured by the custodian of the institution he was talking about. He had seen guns pointed towards elected representatives. He had witnessed the unwarranted arrests of politicians belonging to his party, by the individuals representing the same institution. He had also seen the Parliament building sieged and sealed by the same institution. He and neither of us however, could ever witness any disclaimer by the institution distancing itself from usurpers and dictators.

A similar speech by Khawaja Saad Rafique, the federal Minister for Railways was also flaunted in the electronic media around the same time. The Railway Minister was responding to a nauseatingly pro-dictator speech by an elected representative (smell the irony here) on the floor of the National Assembly earlier in March. Khawaja Saad had also pinched aching nerves from vulnerable points. Truth hurts indeed.

Both of the Ministers were maligned in the media for their old speeches in which they had strongly criticized the military dictator and the shameful institutional help he and all his predecessors had got. Both have been quite vocal recently on Musharraf’s High Treason Trial as well. Resurgence of their speeches happened at a time when the Trial had entered a crucial phase and when the Army had started clearly manifesting its support for the former dictator.

There would be few denying the follies that Mian sahib’s government indulged in so happily and eagerly in the years that followed the coup d’état of 1999. His poor performance on managing very difficult civil-military relations, his ambitions to become unchallenged Khalifa-e-waqt, his aspirations for his family business, his coterie of ministers who were working day and night to curb anything progressive in this country and his unforgivable destruction of institutions to name but a few. With all these scandalous idiocies, he still was an elected premier of Pakistan.

Like every democracy, Pakistan too had a mechanism to impeach the governments following constitutional means. The ego of a General however, is never bound by any constitution. Who else would know that better than we in Pakistan? We have a seamless track record of welcoming and tolerating military dictators for decades.

Khawaja Asif had raised all the right points about the contribution of such Generals to what Pakistanis as people and Pakistan as a state were going through. Not a single bit in his speech was factually wrong. Neither was anything factually incorrect in Khawaja Saad’s statement. If anything was wrong, it was the ego and cachet that the media corps have created for this enormously powerful institution.

The Ministers were guilty as charged for undermining the hallowed institution, while clearly declaring in their respective speeches that they had all the respect for the institution and for the ordinary soldiers who have been fighting to keep Pakistan safe and its boundaries intact. Their object of criticism were the generals; the few so used to usurp the power and resources from the people of this country that they take it now as their inalienable privilege. If some people decide to stand against it, they are traitors and the unpatriotic who are ‘against their own army.’ The way Khawaja Asif and Khawaja Saad Rafique are being made to eulogize the army and defend themselves after this engineered resurrection of their words is bizarre and painful to watch. Both gentlemen had pointed out excruciating truths.

One can’t help but recall how excitedly Khawaja Asif came forward to fight the case of the establishment during the Memo Gate saga. Being at the wrong side of history then, and the wrong side of politics now makes Khawaja sahib a peculiar character. He however, needs to be supported instead of maligned in the present scenario by everyone who claims to be loyal to the country and its institutions. He has been vociferously against the army’s political role, snatching power from civilian hands and arrogating itself to authority. These are all the right causes.

Looking at the challenges and risks that Pakistan is facing within and with the world at large, none can overlook the importance of a strong and professional army, which, lest we forget, is one that is disciplined and keeps itself bound by the law of the land. An army is mature and strong when it passionately safeguards its professional and disciplinary standards, zealously brings to justice any culprit who plays with its prestige, carefully evaluates and checks the actions of individuals that might be serving their own vested interest while hiding behind the honor of the institution.

A usurper who trapped the country into an impossible quagmire of internal and external security issues because of his shallow and manipulative double games, who put the institution’s honor in jeopardy alongside the country’s sovereign geopolitical position, who refused to see beyond his own interest and who now heads a political party, cannot be taken as the ‘army’s own. Our institutions must not reduce themselves to the level of cheap power mongers and dictators.

It is high time that our sacred institutions start taking stock of their historical wrongs and undergo self-evaluation. A state cannot function when its institutions are captives of their false egos and curators of their powers, while forgetting their constitutional delineations.

A rose at the end of the day is a rose, a crow is a crow and a dictator is a dictator, no matter by what name he is called. I suspect Shakespeare really won’t mind.

The writer is an Islamabad based campaigner for human rights and works on parliamentary strengthening and democratic governance.

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