Soldiering is an experience punctuated with strong emotive factors, comradery, a sense of belonging to a strongly bonded group with an exclusive identity and always putting others ahead of self. This training, dormitory living and bonding forge a collective identity to create a spirit de corps in peace, war and retirement. This hardens soldiers to dare where others don’t.  They spend half their lives without families, children and neighbourhoods. When they die, their families suffer unseen. This strange form of exclusivity from the outside forges an inclusive sociology within. Enlisted in teens, all sacrifice a part of the youthful evolution to integrate into an organisation that demands a code of honour.

“May you live in interesting times” is an English version of a traditional Chinese curse. It seems that the curse inflicting us to live in times of disorder and conflict is relentless and unforgiving. Our generation was born in midst of crisis and likely to fade away in them. Crises, mostly interest generated keep popping up with alacrity riding airwaves and drawing away attention from Pakistan’s most critical issues. These are the soap operas played in full public view with distinct characteristics of thrill and sentiments. 

Our generation of learned people including judges and generals grew up reading Ian Fleming, Earl Stanley Gardner and Robert Ludlum. Of all, this was a Ludlum thriller. Ludlum typically featured one heroic man, or a small group of crusading individuals, in a struggle against powerful adversaries whose intentions and motivations are evil and who are capable of using political and economic mechanisms in frightening ways. The suspense for me and many others was to discern who this heroic man is? If was left to the media and commentators to discern the hero and the villain, they did it the way they liked. So like the blind men describing an elephant, each one concluded what part of the body he felt. The judges and government attorneys were not far behind into a discourse of Taleem e Balghan (Adult Education). 

On the Westminster model, Pakistan constitutionally has three organs of state; the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary. So far so good on paper, but the ground situation is contrary. There are other organs besides these that wield influence, nuisance and power far beyond imaginable. These organs and carnivorous parasites are twined in concentric circles around the traditional organs cutting into the power and effectiveness of institutions that keep vying for influence. In this free for all melees Pakistan remains an overdeveloped state (too much legislation, too little compliance). There is a method to madness. The genuine state is always the loser. Others survive. 

As this roadshow on the institution of a military commander amplifies, all organs of sate need a crash course in statecraft and discernment on what could be a public discourse. They also need a quick course in military culture and sociology. If matters related to defence institutions will continue to be handled in the manner they are, Pakistan needs no enemy to defeat its armed forces. 

In Pakistan, rule of law, enforcement and governance are a constant downward trend. Therefore when the Executive and Judiciary get onto loggerheads over a purely military matter, it damages the only organisation that has beyond doubt provided the only cohesive force in one crisis after another. In the past decade it has fought and won despite all odds, shed blood beyond all known military calculus and provided stability to democracy. 

The three organs need to learn the art of handling and co-opting armed forces in the national security and development environment. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto could not have been wrong when he reorganised the command structure of armed forces. He was venturing to make it the ‘most efficient fighting machine’ in his own words. He had a genuine understanding of military sociology and culture and never tampered with it. 

Though the spectacle of a convicted individual walking away free for treatment abroad was not enough, the extension saga of Chief of Army Staff was ‘Conduct Unbecoming’ to say the least. The issue raised by a rather reluctant and frivolous petition became a Public Interest Litigation before an open audience that included segments representing Hybrid Warfare against the armed forces. This should never have happened. 

What followed was a comedy of errors, caustic humour and belittlement of an institution sworn to perform its duties with the ultimate sacrifice of life. Parading the Manuel of Pakistan Military Law as an archaic ancient document, a joke book, much behind times and legacy of colonialism was the cruellest cut. 

Had the apex court been cognisant of the martyred, maimed and broken families in the past decade, the least respect it could have paid to the ‘Unknown Soldier’ could have been a closed door discussion in the chamber or an in camera session. This was not unprecedented because in the past, honourable judges have held in-chamber hearings on more trivial issues. 

So in this unbecoming melees, who was the target and who the casualty? 

The Supreme Court is proud it ventured into unchartered waters against the ‘holiest of holies’. Whatever remains of the next six months, gives it the oversight as the ultimate law interpreter. It tightens its grip over Executive. 

Is it venturing into changing the basic character of 1973 constitution is a matter for attorneys and jurists to see? The makers of 1973 constitution with least military inputs, were never so naïve to leave an un-exploitable gaping hole. The government in 1976 had issued a letter that tenure of all chiefs would be three years. What happened to it? 

The government despite its comedy of errors stays around to handle the crises politically. The emphasis of the Prime Minister is already on a conspiracy hatched by mafias. If so, the state machinery at its disposal must dig out these mafias and bring them to book under the law. Some critics allege that the digging must begin in near proximity.  

Yes! General Qamar Javed Bajwa surely gets a reprieve of six months. In the meanwhile the government will try framing a fail-safe amendment or addition to existing laws that satisfies a very strong opposition in the Parliament and meets the roving eye of the Supreme Court. As if it was not a nail biting finish and start, the COAS will have to endure this tribulation which will have a direct effect on his ability to lead a fighting force. 

 In any professional modern army, the cutting edge is not the tangibles like firepower, mobility and technology, but leadership and motivation. When courts and governments put these essential notions into question, the whole organisation suffers. Hence the only target by implication is the armed forces and it’s fighting skills. 

 The intangible force multipliers of honour, exclusivity and prestige have been compromised. These are neither enshrined in the constitution nor the law and least in regulations. These are the unwritten Code of Conduct and Customs of Service that get embedded due to ‘spirit de corps’, conventions and traditions. All these have been damaged by the recent saga and will continue for the next six months. Worse, the new laws will haunt armed forces for times to come.

Will the Prime Minister and COAS be able to gather the remains of the day?