On Tuesday 19 December the Chief of the Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa DG MO Major General Sahir Shamshad Mirza participated in the in-camera briefing of the Senate Committee of the Whole on matters of security and also answered questions of the senators on a range of issues including the role and disposition of the Army towards democracy and civilian authority. Though it was in camera briefing and its contents were not supposed to be made public but the senators belonging to the treasury benches and the opposition thought it appropriate to divulge what had transpired in the briefing and what were the responses of the COAS on the asked questions. Reportedly DG ISI and DG ISPR were also present on the occasion.
The COAS gave an overview on the security situation which was followed by a detailed presentation by DG MO. Apart from the security situation that was explained to the senators with regards to fight against terrorism and related issues, the COAS answered the probing questions of the senators. The responses of the COAS on national issues as narrated by different senators were : General Bajwa has unflinching belief in democracy; Army does not have any desire to play an extra-constitutional role and the parliament is supreme; parliament should formulate policies on foreign affairs and defence and the army will follow them; there is no room for Presidential system because it not only weakens the country but also leads to dangerous polarisation; Army is subservient and answerable to the public and the institution has to act according to law and the Army will continue working according to the constitution and the policy guidelines given by the government will be acted upon. General Bajwa strongly quashed the impression of Army being behind the recent sit-ins saying that if it was proved he would resign his post. The COAS also explained the role played by the Army in ending the stalemate at Faizabad saying it would not have ended without it.
What the COAS said was indeed very reassuring. It was for the second time during this month that the General has strongly quashed the impression about Army having any interest in manipulating political events and expressed strong faith in democracy as a system of governance. On December 7, 2017 while addressing a seminar in Quetta he said “it is not for the army to run the government and it is time for everyone to correct their mistakes and work in their own sphere” He reiterated that he was pro-democracy and knew the significance of power of the vote.
There is no reason why the words of the General should not be taken at their face value. In the present circumstances of political uncertainty his words should be enough to remove the apprehensions about behind the scene manipulation by the Army. It was also a message to those forces, which might be banking on the perceived support of the Army to nudge their political ambitions, that no umpire was available to do their bidding. That gives the hope that the present government would complete its mandated tenure which was essential for democracy to gain strength and extend its roots in the country.
Another very encouraging development that has occurred during the week is the passage of the Bill regarding delimitation of constituencies by the senate after the stalemate on the issue was resolved through dialogue. This would enable the ECP to make preparations for holding the elections on schedule without any delay, which could have caused constitutional complications.
I think the onus now rests with the politicians to make sure that the process of democracy continued uninterrupted in the larger national interest. And undoubtedly it was in the national interest that the policies and strategies initiated by the sitting government to deal with the inherited challenges continued and the gains made so far were consolidated without any obstruction. It is an undeniable fact that the PML (N) government during the last four years has been able to turn around the economy, it has almost overcome the energy crisis and above all the scourge of terrorism has been checked in its tracks besides bringing normalcy in Karachi and Balochistan.
The forces which are trying to foment instability in the country to orchestrate the downfall of the sitting government and mounting challenges to the writ of the state must realise that their actions were inimical not only to the national interests, peace and tranquillity but their own political interests. By ganging up to destabilize the government they were actually trying to insult the genius and mandate of the people. The precedent set by them could come back to haunt them if they ever find the chance to win the public franchise, accentuating the vicious circle of political instability and self-inflicted catastrophes.
The culture of sit-ins introduced in the political landscape of the country and challenging the writ of the state and the government is very dangerous trend. It has already done tremendous damage to the economy, promoted political instability and diluted the state authority which is not acceptable in democratic dispensations. The country is faced with the likely hood of yet another sit-in by the PAT, supported by other political parties especially PTI. Dr. Qadri has put the CM Punjab and Law minister of Punjab to resign before 31 December or face the consequences.
Many political analysts and legal experts believe that the demand by PAT was unreasonable as the case regarding Model Town Tragedy was already in the court which should be allowed to decide it instead of resorting to unconstitutional ploys merely to achieve certain political agendas. The role of PTI which claims to be a mainstream political party and a potent political force is indeed very questionable on the issue and dents its democratic credentials.
Under the prevailing circumstances all the stakeholders in the peace and tranquillity in the country, proponents of the writ of the state and defenders of the constitution which are part of the executive must play their due role in preventing a situation that leads to law and order situation in the country. Probably judiciary needs to take a suo moto notice of the brewing storm and ask the concerned parties to refrain from any unconstitutional actions that could have serious repercussions for the future of the country. The main stream political parties like PTI and PPP owe it to the people to ensure the continuity of democratic process by allowing the sitting government to complete its mandated tenure and focus more on winning the franchise of the people in the coming elections for which the way has been paved with the adoption of the Delimitation Bill. It is essential for establishing their democratic credentials and showing respect to the ballot box. That is the recipe prescribed by the founding father.