An army is designed for the barracks and should stay there in times of peace. As a child growing up on the Mall Road Lahore, the Mian Mir Bridge was the clear divide between civilian authority exercised through municipalities run by elected majors and cantonment boards. As land could only be leased in the Cantt area, civilians kept away. The city of Lahore was fully functional with transport, health and education facilities for the common man.

The founding father of Pakistan worked with honesty and dedication to build national institutions. Policies and procedures were formulated and then followed. Governance was a huge challenge. The two wings of the nascent democratic states were thousands of miles apart. There was an influx of refugees from all over India who had to be settled. Issues of party between East and West had to be determined, and by 1956, the constitution was also passed. Elections were scheduled for 1958 to put Pakistan on solid foundations of a constitutional democracy. Ayub Khan, an ordinary soldier with a very checkered military career was chosen to first lead the armed forces and then derail the entire democratic order. Under his orders, the Khakis crossed the Mian Mir Bridge and started running civilian institutions for which they were neither brained nor exposed.

Pervez Musharaf the last Khaki usurper started appearing at jalsas in uniform where he was crowned with all kinds of head ware in violation of the uniform SOP. The GHQ promptly informed him of the incursion and he was made to follow procedure. By contrast, when khakis take over civilian institutions, they disregard all procedures which eventually cause their collapse when they leave. The list is long: Pakistan Railways, WAPDA, LDA, University of Punjab, University of Engineering and Technology, Pakistan steel Mills, Mechanized Construction of Pakistan, Pakistan National Shipping Corporation, Saindok Metals Ltd., PiTAC, Tusdec, Overseas Employment Corporation Pakistan Tea Board, Municipalities, Literacy Commission, LOS, National Construction Company etc.

The rank and file of the Pakistan Armed Forces are professional and committed to national security. Trouble starts when their leadership decides to meddle in political affairs. Ayub Khan was the first to cross the line. Marginal officers like him should have never made it to the top. The same holds true for Zia and Musharraf. Professionally, only Yahya Khan had a good career but once thrust into leadership, his conduct was unbecoming. Compared to the founding fathers of Pakistan, all four men were unsuitable for the role that they forcibly assumed by using the rank and file of the army. By surgically eliminating the entire democratic leader, the country was orphaned.

It is widely believed that PPP wants to sell Pakistan while PML (N) is interested in buying. The Armed Forces do provide security on the borders but inside their interests are mostly limited to plots and plazas. With no parenting and institution bashing by the four martial laws, the country has become ungovernable. Mafias and vested interests have taken over with no nation building.

On a recent trip of mine to China, there was a clear feeling of a present authority; one that was responsible and watching out for national interests. While the Communist Party has allowed private enterprise it clearly watches the interests of the common man and facilitates their growth. The embalmed body of Mao Tse Tung the great leader is kept right in the city centre at Tiannamen Square, reminding everyone of the revolution that changed the very fabric of the nation. The state is a facilitator of the strong and protector of the weak. Whereas in the motherland it acts as an exploiter and usurper of the nation.

Turkey under Erdogan was able to contain its Armed Forces by confining them to the barracks. With honest leadership and good governance, the sick man of Europe has been transformed into an economic giant. There was a time when the European Union (EU) was reluctant to take in Turkey, and now it is the other way round.

After coming into power in 1970, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) crated an election monitoring cell within the ISI. The charter of this cell was to watch the popularity treads of political leadership. It was the data from this cell that convinced ZAB to hold elections in 1977 and Zia to postpone them.

With the mess that Pakistan is in today, the march back to the barracks is not that simple. The Armed Forces of Pakistan remain the only functional viable institution. Now that the original 1973 constitution has been restored, the election monitoring cell within the ISI should be disbanded and free and fair elections held. In Iran all candidates have to be sieved by a council before they can contest. A strict disqualification mechanism can be enforced. Mafad (vested interests) have to give way to ‘Khidmat’ and nation building.

What was started in 1958 by the compromised Khaki leadership cannot continue any longer as it is not in the national interest. Khakis have failed miserably to govern on this side of the Mian Mir Bridge so they must retreat back to their barracks on the other side. Not before cleaning the mess created by them on this side. Pakistan has to be in safe hands; individuals who are elected through an honest ballot as was done in Turkey, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Bosnia, Argentina. Both the Khaakis and the political leadership they control, must not be allowed to hold the reins any longer.

The writer is a freelance columnist.