In a meeting with Chairman Senate Standing Committee on Defence Mushahid Hussain Syed, a delegation of army officers from Command and Staff College Quetta conveyed their concern over what they said was unfair criticism of the armed forces. In their own words, they asked with some bemusement, “what is happening”.
The worry is not warranted. The army's national role is not under question, it's constitutional role is to ensure the geographical defence of the country, under the command of a democratic government. However, several times in history, those in the highest echelons of command have overstepped that role and toppled elected governments in the past. Army as an institution has been the country’s strength, all would agree and any mudslinging in any form has been avoided. That, however, does not mean that any Bonapartist taking any unconstitutional venture for instance that of dismembering a democratic dispensation is also holy and would forever remain so. To say that he cannot be questioned for wrongdoing amounts to condoning undemocratic attitude. Such leanings are frequently observed. During a TV interview, when General retd Aslam Baig was commenting on the Asghar Khan case verdict, he referred to hundreds of SMSs sent to him by serving army officers, who, he said were willing to use their muscle to save him and the institutions’ integrity. This thinking explains where the problem lies. If it is the constitution that cautions against unjust criticism of the military, it is the same constitution that is very clear and precise in saying that its mandate is to man the country’s borders, something it must never exploit to usurp power from people’s chosen representatives. When an adventurer dismisses a political government, he isn’t the only one, but is backed up by the top brass and even the rank and file. And so at the end of the day we have the entire institution jumping into the fray. Since the military has been ruling over the country for over half its existence, civilians think it well within their right to attribute some of the existing mess to it as much as they would evince their contempt for the politicians.
The judgement of the Asghar Khan case continues to send shockwaves across the civil-military combine. And now the house arrest of General Musharraf has grabbed the headlines. These events might be strange and shocking for some of the more swashbuckling men in khaki but that is how things are these days. They could do well to see where their mandate lies, for otherwise they would be brushing aside the word of their COAS General Kayani who has been unequivocally asking the soldiers to maintain high standards of professionalism.