Ever since the attack on Hamid Mir, the debate has been whether or not ‘some institutions’ can be criticized.

The question is, why did the media’s excesses against a myriad other victims never create any hue and cry? Why did the skies never fall while the media was engaged in the libelous overreach of political governments and elected heads of state? Jang group has been guilty of hounding without an iota of evidence, the democratically elected former President Asif Zardari amongst others. It has been criminally promoting the clerics of Lal Masjid and their narrative over many years. All have remain unchecked.

This sudden calling by the intelligentsia and rival media groups whereby Geo is being sullied and damned for ‘accusing without evidence’ and ‘attacking’ the ‘sacred institution’ of the country, is understandable if not justified. No one wants to remain behind in the rat race of proving one to be more loyal than the king.

Who is the king? To quote Voltaire, if you want to find out who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize. The civilians, as Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto had famously said about her party, have been in office but never in power. The current government, despite its pre-election commitments to further the civilian supremacy on public policy, had to backtrack on major foreign policy issues. Prime Minister’s speech in the UN General Assembly within just four months of his taking office highlighted his willingness to kneel down to save his democratic mandate. But the tensions nevertheless continue and keep abounding.

In the latest spat between Geo and the military establishment, even the ruthlessly progressive have been taking the position against ‘maligning the institutions’ while trying hard to not appear as doing so. The equation has been set between going against the state and criticizing the sacred institutions, with ‘equal’ marks in between. The common axiom of ‘criticism for the army is unconstitutional’ is widely being used to render all dissent as treason.

Applying Modus Ponens, the antecedent has to be affirmed in order to prove the subsequent. If the dissent is treason, it has to be enshrined in the constitution. Does the constitution grant any institution complete immunity from all kinds of criticism? If so, this does not quite go in favor of the institutions. Immunity from all oversight might give unchallenged power to those in the lead, but this would surely squeeze the armed forces of all their credibility, prestige and professionalism over time. Such a thing in the Constitution should be viewed as a conspiracy against the army.

Reading the Constitution and the Pakistan Penal Code together, one would have to stretch the provisions to impossible limits in order to deduce such immunity. The oft-repeated Article 63(g) of the Constitution only explains the conditions for disqualification from office of a member of Parliament. To the naked eye, even this Article doesn’t speak of ‘criticism for the army’. The expression used is: “…defames or brings into ridicule the judiciary or the Armed Forces of Pakistan.” The red faced angry TV-angelists would, hence, have to prove first that the army has been ‘defamed’ or ‘ridiculed’ by raising suspicion about the acts of some individuals associated with it.

This however, should not be taken as approval of libel and defamation by the media. Libel should always be treated as it is being treated right now. The Parliament should seize this opportunity to intensify and strengthen the country’s very loose and virgin libel laws. Virgin because they are almost never implemented and applied by the courts of law. The unfettered media freedom to slander and defame, which is abetted profoundly by the social media, must be checked with the proverbial ‘iron fist’.

This needs to be coupled with stern laws to bind our intelligence agencies, which do have some space throughout the world to operate under the shade. One can’t see any single law binding our civilian or military intelligence agencies; all of who have been working in a darkroom with absolute impunity and zero oversight by any other pillar of the state.

The genius that Mao Tse-Tung was, wrote his famous essay, On Contradiction, in August 1937 from his Guerilla base in Yenan. In the essay, he suggests that all movement and life is a result of contradiction. There are multiple contradictions that define our world but only one of them is principal. The rest of them are either derived from that principal, or transform themselves into it. Mao’s contradictions keep trading their positions on the ladder of superiority. In order to resolve the enigma of complex conflicts in our world, we must be able to differentiate between the principal and non-principal contradictions.

Those accusing Geo of slandering the army, see principal contradiction to be between the Pakistan Army and the enemies of Pakistan. Even those who are not taking any clear position and are preaching restraint to both parties to the conflict seem to be seeing it that way. The principal contradiction however,quite clearly is of Civil-Military Relations (CMR). The Hamid Mir post-attack scenario is a manifestation of just that.

The conservative approach to CMR in Pakistan has been the military’s control on policy because civilians presumably are incompetent and untrustworthy to do so. The liberals on the other hand insist on equating civilian control of the military with oversight on defense spending and political hegemony on security policy decision-making. The flawed application of universal principles of CMR and failure to localize and ground them in Pakistan’s political and historical realities coupled with corporate and market interests of urban trading and business classes have resulted in static stagnant waters. The vested interests of a ‘petite bourgeoisie’ have been passionately married to military control of public policy, which provides them easy operations through a single window.

Such a situation results in unconditional readiness of all civilian forces – political parties, media and civil society – to collude with the military. The narrative of anti-corruption and of patriotism (which is conditional ONLY to being loyal to the interests of military) is used to rob the civilians of their mandate and credibility. Quasi-educated masses (mostly urban middle class) swing with the wind without taking into consideration the longer-term interests of the state.

The instability is thus manufactured during the civilian regimes whether or not they prove themselves to be subservient to the military establishment. Under such political instability, it is difficult for legislators to discuss military policy openly under the civilian democratic dispensation.

The biggest losers in such a situation are the people of Pakistan, who are still largely clueless regarding the complexities of civil-military relations in Pakistan. The rational course to tackle this might be to focus on the most urgent measures, i.e. the rule of law and protecting citizens from unrestrained military actions most of which are done using under-the-shade intelligence agencies. Disbanding the agencies is not affordable for security states like Pakistan. But putting them under the legal umbrella is realistic, which should not be taken as a zero sum game by the military establishment.

This needs to be taken as watershed moment for Pakistan’s Civil Military Relations. Both sides should stop shying away from public scrutiny and legal framework.

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


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