The Pakistan of today is a country, state and nation in transformation.
It is home to a budding democracy, a vibrant mainstream and social media, active judiciary, strong army and a civil society in awakening. It is only inevitable therefore that the examination and criticism of pillars of the state follows forth from this.
From elected representatives, ministers, lawyers, judges to media persons, all are subjected to the grilling by the public and the institutions of these groups themselves.
In divergence of this trend, one of the institutions is often mostly, if not always, manages to sidestep such criticism: the Pakistan Army.
The mainstream media has conventionally, cautiously avoided crossing this unwritten-yet-understood red line and has only recently been seen to gather the gut to tread it occasionally.
The influences that have produced this general condition tumble into an evident number.
First: the demoralization narrative. Reinforced by General Kiyani himself in a meeting with senior journalists and editors last year, to whom he also conveyed his complaint of media campaigns “damaging the morale of the jawans“, he firmly stated that “unnecessary criticism”, which we are left to interpret for ourselves, dampens the spirits in the ranks. This presents criticism as a risky foray, a tightrope for all criticizing the army to walk.
Then comes the traditional and social background to the issue, Pakistan as a nation has been consistently and constantly, and rightfully so, prodded through a variety of means (Shoaib Mansoor’s Alpha Bravo Charlie or Madam Noor Jehan‘s ’Ae puttar hattan tay nayi wikde’, anyone?) to become conscious of the valiance of our soldiers who risk their all today for our tomorrow. This coupled with the first narrative automates public thinking to to conceive it unacceptable to ‘target’ the army and dispirit those belonging to it, serving us day and night.
The last angle to this, somewhat, a result of the abovementioned, is the entrenched McCarthyism in Pakistani society, which out-rightly assumes that any person criticizing the army belongs to or deserves to belong to the ’fifth column of the enemy’. This has also been fuelled by a cleverly channeled and built image of the army during or as preludes and justifications of military dictatorship, as the sole strongest and reliable institution of the state, especially compared to the ‘incapable’ civilians at the helm, that possess the commitment and power to alleviate Pakistan from its troubles.
In light of this, it is deemed the peak of being ’unpatriotic’ and the height of patriotic insensitivity to have the audacity to criticize the institution that protects us, our country and holds the state together.
The recent declaration of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to try Musharraf under Article 6 of the constitution on the count of treason not only dimmed all concerns regarding the ambiguity of the government regarding the case but also witnessed the unsurprising and coinciding resurgence of the aforementioned features.
An attempt was also made to augment the argument by linking Musharraf’s trial to the sacrifices of Pakistan’s gallant shuhuda.
Social media began to be filled with photos of captions stating how the nation must never forget the ultimate sacrifices of our martyrs which are on the verge of, somehow, being insulted to satiate the personal vengeance of Nawaz Sharif by trying Musharraf; an act that will demean the institution of the army.
The act of putting up the shield of the shuhada to save the institution of the army from the artillery of criticism and introspection is a shameless stunt that must cease immediately.
It eludes both sense and logic to assert that holding the transgressors within the army or bringing the excesses of the army into the fold of accountability is an affront to the institution and the shuhuda when their existence in the first place fulfills this condition already.
If there is something demeaning for the shuhuda, it is their exploitation to evade the necessary actions needed to counter the actions of those in the army, such as General Musharraf; who not only damaged the dignity of the army, marred the sacrifices of the martyrs’ with their grime but also played havoc with the country.
If the soldiers are to be disheartened and demoralized then they must be by the decisions of generals like Ayub, Yahya, Zia and Musharraf. For their discontent to be roused by censure of such actors within the army instead of such actors themselves clearly shows a case of misplaced ideas, priorities and focus.
What also remains to be realized is the difference between the gernails who are the focal point of criticism on the military and army, and the jawans, the fearless and selfless foot soldiers who brave the frost of Siachen and the heat at the barracks.
This is not to ignore the transition that the generals themselves have had to this rank from being soldiers themselves, but to distinguish between both is imperative to understand and tolerate the critical discourse on the army. To criticize the army or to speak on the scandals and excess of some gernails is not to degrade our jawans and to shrewdly muddle up the principal difference between the two to shun criticism of the army is unjust.
These elections did not merely mark a democratic and political transition but May 11th formally roared Pakistan‘s desire, with a massive turnout, to set out on the progressive path it is now on. Yet, to fully blossom into a one, democracy must trickle into Pakistani mindsets, public interaction and discourse. Criticism must begin to evolve into constructive and mature within the parameters of a healthy debate that shall, at the end of the day, be beneficial for all of Pakistan. The dogmas of yesterday must be broken and the ‘taboos’ that impose the locks on our lips must be smashed. A principle of equality of accountability must be established in Pakistan, no institution or individual is above the law and there exists no holy cow.
Musharraf’s trial will not be the trial of the army, but a trial of the idea that he represents that has marred the army and charred Pakistan for far too long; an idea of constitutional violations and undemocratic adventures.
If a democratically-elected prime minister can be sent to the gallows, another humiliated and sent into exile then it is only right to place a man who stomped upon the country with his boots to be placed behind bars.
The support of all parties for the decision of the government in Musharraf’s case is a welcome step in the creation of a pulsating democracy in Pakistan.
Indeed Nawaz Sharif is pursuing vengeance on the trial of Musharraf, but not personal, national vengeance.
~ Hafsa Khawaja