Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Daily Times Editorial April 9, 2014

Army’s warning It seems that COAS General Raheel Sharif’s visit to the headquarters of the Special Services Group (SSG) at Ghazi Base in Tarbela proved uncomfortable in some respects and elicited a statement from him that has set the cat among the pigeons. General Sharif was subjected reportedly to the concerns and complaints of the officers and men at Ghazi Base about the criticism being heaped on the military by disparate quarters. In particular, since he belonged to the SSG, former commando and General (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s ‘humiliation’ was of particular concern, interpreted as eroding the dignity, respect and morale of the military. The statement by General Sharif released by ISPR spoke of the challenges facing the country, notwithstanding which the army would uphold the sanctity of all institutions while preserving its own dignity and institutional pride. Forensic analysis of the statement, its meaning and import aside, basically the well known concern of the military at the ‘treatment’ being meted out to their former COAS rankles more and more. This sensitivity in the ranks is something no commander can ignore. Therefore the statement of General Sharif can be taken as a message intended to boost the under pressure morale of the army and fire a warning shot across the bows of all its ‘critics’. The unstated but perhaps equally important cause of not so hidden resentment on the part of the military as a whole is the controversial approach of the government to the Taliban. The military has acted with exemplary restraint in keeping a public posture of support to the government’s much touted peace-through-talks process. However, rumblings in the ranks are ‘visible’. Logically, two reasons suggest themselves why the current scenario troubles the military. One, the military has suffered deaths and casualties at the hands of the very people the government is treating with so much respect as to raise the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) almost to the position of an equal stakeholder in the state. This is obviously not going down well. Second, the issue of exchange of prisoners is so far a one-sided process, in which the government has released, and intends to release, Taliban prisoners in small batches after reviewing their cases. In fact the task is big, since reports speak of the TTP having submitted a list of around 800 prisoners they claim are non-combatants, including women, children and the elderly, who they claim are fit cases for release. The government has reportedly now decided to set up a committee to review all these cases in order to expedite the process. In return, despite demands, the TTP have yet to free a single hostage in their custody. While the general public and the Sindh Assembly through a resolution the other day are demanding the release of Shahbaz Taseer, Ali Gilani and Professor Ajmal, no one is talking about the military and security forces’ prisoners in the custody of the TTP and affiliated groups. It should not be forgotten that 23 Frontier Constabulary hostages were mercilessly beheaded and their heads used as footballs, a grisly scene released on video, by the Taliban not so long ago. The rest of the hostages remain at risk until and unless the TTP shows some signs of willingness to release them. In return for the concession of release of their prisoners in batches, the TTP has yet to reciprocate the gesture. The military may have reservations about this one-sided bargain, particularly since the extension the TTP granted in the ceasefire runs out tomorrow (April 10). What will follow is therefore dogged by much uncertainty, as is the general outcome of the talks. The military’s sensitivity on the criticism it says is being unduly heaped on it in recent days is on the agenda of the Corps Commanders meeting today. In a related development, two ministers of the government, Khwaja Saad Rafique and Khwaja Asif, both of whom have been in the forefront of severe criticism of Musharraf during his trial and incarceration, were at pains the other day to deny that their stance on Musharraf should be interpreted as criticism of the army as an institution. Given the delicate situation facing the country, in which the possibility of the talks failing and the need to take other measures looms overhead, the civilian and military leaderships should exercise greater restraint and care in their pronouncements to avoid unnecessary misunderstandings. After all, if terrorism is to be tackled, both wheels of the state need to be pointing in the same direction.

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