The army’s response

the-armys-responseSince May 2, the armed forces have come in for an unprecedented amount of stick. Abbottabad, Mehran, Kharotabad and most recently Karachi have become bywords for what the critics are saying has gone wrong with the military and intelligence services. Lest we are swayed by the language of the ISPR release after the meeting of the high command of the army, these critics are not confined to the ‘usual cast of suspects’. Even hitherto reliable, if not wired mouthpieces of the establishment have of late acquired new wings and taken flight along paths never before associated with them even in the wildest imagination. Is this, as the Corps Commanders’ ISPR release suggests, a move to slander and weaken the armed forces by those with unshakeable biases or, God forbid, hidden agendas at the behest of our ‘enemies’? Even more alarming, does the press release’s statement that all this criticism should be put an end to constitute a thinly veiled threat? After all, Saleem Shahzad is not yet cold in his grave, and the investigations into his brutal murder seem to have lost their way in the labyrinthine maze such efforts seem always destined to end up in.

The media in Pakistan may be imbued in large part with pro-establishment views, but even those holding such views are finding it hard not to reflect on the obvious failures of recent days, fearing a loss of their own credibility. Defending the indefensible has never been harder, and seems all but a lost cause. Some political leaders too have taken up verbal arms against these alarming manifestations of weaknesses, lapses, failures. No doubt some of them may already have had the honour of being in the list of usual suspects, but new entrants, as in the media, must be cause for concern for GHQ. The trickle down effect in today’s information-savvy Pakistan also is cause for worry for those whose self-image of the ultimate saviours of the country has taken a pounding of late.

Perhaps it is a reflection of the sensitivity this barrage of criticism has aroused that COAS General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, in a rare show for the military of self-abnegation, has proposed that US aid intended for the military should be redirected towards the civilian side. Appreciable as the sentiment is, and it may be informed also by the questions of ‘guns versus butter’ that have been reignited by the recent budget, in the first place it is necessary to ask whether this is practicable? US aid is intended to be spent for the purposes for which it is given. In the past, the US has raised suspicions over the diversion of aid meant ostensibly for non-military or specifically for counter-terrorism purposes, to other uses. That is one of the issues holding up the reimbursement of Coalition Support Fund payments.

Can a ‘reverse osmosis’ of military aid being diverted to civilian use be done without an explicit nod from Washington, and particularly the US Congress? In that case, the aid would be re-designated and therefore no longer be considered ‘military’. The implication is that it is not as simple as ‘switching’ money from accounts received under the head of military aid to civilian use, no matter how desirable that may be in the present circumstances. In fact, this would require a re-negotiation and restructuring of that aid with the US’s consent. Such a restructuring would be immensely popular here and help, if that is the purpose, to refurbish the recently battered image of the army, which the present COAS has been at pains to achieve after Musharraf’s departure took the stain of association with the dictator off the uniform.

The corps commanders also warned against stoking divisions between institutions and between the military and the people. It needs reiteration that there is no ‘plot’ at work here, only the natural consequences of recent negative developments that need addressing rather than a retreat into a bunker mentality and knee-jerk reactions against real or imagined enemies. Shooting the messenger, a la Saleem Shahzad, will only mean the message has not been heard, remains therefore unaddressed, and can only be to the detriment of the armed forces themselves and the country. Cooler and wiser reflection at the level of the top brass is the need of the hour. The country is beset with grave problems, primary being terrorism and the economy. As the military itself has stated, this is a time for pulling together to confront the huge tasks ahead. The best beginning for that would be to shun any thoughts of ‘ending’ criticism and instead responding in a serious manner to the issues and questions the critics keep throwing up. – Dailytimes