Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Daily Times Editorial May 2, 2012

COAS’s ‘intervention’ Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has taken ‘advantage’ of the occasion of the army’s Youm-e-Shuhada (Day of Martyrs) in prepared remarks to deliver a ‘message’ (despite his denial of the same in answer to media questions) to all stakeholders of the country to play by the rules. Reiterating the military’s support for a continuance of democracy, General Kayani reminded his audience, those present as well as those who would receive his words later, that all state institutions were enjoined to function within their constitutional limits. In the context of the conviction of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani by the Supreme Court for contempt, the COAS explicated that the prime objective of the democratic system was “to ensure the welfare, happiness and increased dignity of the people and the establishment of a balanced society where every person can get justice equally”. This is a very interesting formulation at the present juncture. It can be divided into three parts. One, it is open to question whether the democracy we have had over the last few years has indeed ensured the “welfare, happiness and increased dignity” of the people. Most people would argue it has done precisely the opposite, given the increasing miseries vast numbers of our people are going through. But that, contrary to the impatient and angry view that blames democracy for the people’s woes, thereby throwing open the door to anti-democratic and authoritarian solutions that have a proven track record of being disasters in our history, is a questionable position. It is less democracy and more the practitioners of the system at whose door the faults, warts and mistakes of the present conjuncture need to be placed. The solution for these is not to throw the baby of democracy out with the bathwater but to understand in our historical context how the absence of democracy and its continuity has led to the present situation. Fixing the faults requires continuation with the nascent democratic experiment till we get it right, either with the present cast of characters in the political class or eventually throwing up a new and hopefully better lot. Second, similar remarks apply to the failure so far to establish “a balanced society”. The last part however, has extra resonance in the context of the political-judicial crisis the country is passing through. In sum, the COAS is ending a message to the politicians, especially the opposition, and all other institutions of state, including arguably the judiciary, to understand the limits on their actions laid down in the constitution, particularly in their relationship and interaction with all other players. For the COAS, this ‘reminder’ has been necessitated, first and foremost by the dark clouds of political confrontation and secondly by the demands of the ongoing struggle against terrorism, a struggle requiring all stakeholders to pull together in the overall interest of the country’s security and well-being, rather than tear each other, and thereby the country, apart at the seams. It is of course the military’s prime task to stave off all threats to the security of the country, and the occasion was a poignant reminder of the sacrifices of our soldiers in the struggle against fanaticism and brutal, indiscriminate terrorism, which has cost the lives not only of some 5,000 personnel of our armed forces, but also taken a toll of some 35,000 civilian victims of the extremists. The COAS has delivered a timely and wise cautionary message to all and sundry. While welcoming his measured remarks, it may not be inappropriate to hope that the military too by now understands the cost of its own past transgressions against civilian democratic governments and the need to eschew such a course in the future if Pakistan is to see a stable polity, which is the sine qua non for a stable and flourishing economy, the only guarantee of improved lives for the majority of our people. If it has, and is now sharing its newfound wisdom with all other institutions of the state and all stakeholders in the politics and future of the country, hopefully the message will get through and restrain all and sundry from the kind of adventurism that has in the past, more often than not, brought the whole temple crashing down around our ears, to our great cost and peril. Time to turn over a new leaf and march forward together without reducing politics or the division of powers inherent in the constitutional construct to a zero-sum game.

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