Trial: The Army or Musharraf?

*First published condensed as a letter in The Friday Times and later as a post on Borderline Green.


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.

kayani_ap_670First: 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.

Nawaz-Sharif3-480x238The 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.

Pak_Army_177352815If 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.

pervez-musharraf2Musharraf’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

Pakistan’s National Sport of Griping and The Olympics

Hockey may be officially Pakistan’s National Sport, but virtually griping is the national (spoil) sport.

As the Athletes Parade commenced during the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, the arrival of the clad-in-green-and-white shalwar kameez Pakistani Contingent evoked more complains than cheers and excitement back home.

The grumbling was weaved around the expressions of the athletes, which were apparently dispirited.

These excerpts from an article present those :

‘Sohail Abbas looked dead straight ahead like he was going to the gallows instead of representing Pakistan as its flag-bearer. So engrossed was one woman with her dupatta that she refused to look up once. One athlete with greasy shoulder-length hair seemed to give angry little stares at everyone. Only one player gave a little wave. But not one of those athletes cracked a smile! Every other country’s team seemed to be enjoying the spotlight. The American contingent came out pumping their fists chanting USA! USA! China’s own sea of athletes looked cheerful.

For goodness sake, the Greeks came in grinning and waving with their country in economic turmoil that may take Europe with it. Syria is going through a civil war, but their team looked so exceedingly jolly, it was worrying.

So what was our problem? Why didn’t we look cheerful?’

There is a possibility that Sohail’s walk contained an abundance of nervousness or over-cautiousness to avoid a misstep under the banner of a state that is already under the global glare, but it is most fitting to beckon attention towards the multiple instances of many flag-bearers not marching and grinning, but firmly carrying the flags while wearing an equally firm, dignified expression on their faces.

In all the carping, the occurrence of Sohail Abbas, the man with the most goals in the history of field hockey to his name, being the image of Pakistan’s delegation was pressed below into lesser importance.

Here is the full video of the Athletes Parade, which will provide validation to points penned above:

Pakistan’s Contingent enters at 1:03:13 and lest there are still some who fail to spot the smiles amongst the athletes, then let them book themselves a much-needed visit to the optician.

And the woman who was ‘so engrossed with her duppatta’ not only looked up but was captured during it with a lovely, broad smile that lit her face aglow.

One athlete with greasy shoulder-length hair?‘ Oops! He forgot to conduct a national poll on how he should style his hair before going to the Olympics.

It would’ve taken less than a second to search for the name of this ‘athlete with greasy shoulder-length hair ‘ than creating and conferring this description on him with a derogatory bent. His name is Shakeel Abbasi. Probably, the author is unaware, or has hardly followed hockey but this ‘greasy-haired’ player is terribly talented sportsman with brilliant performances. Too bad though, that his hair doesn’t fit people’s expectations and definitions of style and ‘class’.

Meiryum Ali mentioned some countries with political, social and economic problems similar to Pakistan‘s, but what she failed to realize was how separate countries have one or two of those issues respectively; no country has had the misfortune of being the convergence tip of all those difficulties at the same time, like Pakistan and this does act as pressure for all Pakistanis on the international stage.

The Syrian athletes were reportedly coerced to attend Olympics, but push all aside, as much critique has been thrust onto the contingent’s 15-second march, the background of this specific contingent also deserves to be granted the same level of scrutiny:

Try becoming good enough to be a part of or leading the Pakistani contingent at a globally-famed event, and at a knot in the country’s journey where its possibly the most looked-down upon in the world. Add to that, recent visa scandals, controversies and management failures.

Or as Sabahat Zakariya excellently expounded the situation:

A lot of social media debate was generated about why the Pakistani contingent did not smile as they marched around the stadium. Having lived in London for the past month and 33 years in Lahore I think I can tell why they didn’t smile. First of all, in the international arena right now Pakistan is probably one of the most reviled places in the world. Just to be a Pakistani is to be guilty of some unknown crime you haven’t committed but are still accountable for. That places people who have done nothing wrong under a lot of pressure. When the only images that are beamed out of your country are of bomb blasts, terrorists and donkey carts, then marching down that track does not remain as simple and joyous as it does for countries with lesser burdens to carry. Suddenly that 15 seconds of camera time becomes your only face to the world. In cricket we know we will do well, will have the opportunity to show our mettle on the field. There will be enough time to reveal ourselves as real people and allow crowds to be part of our narrative. In the Olympics we haven’t won a medal since 1992. That means there is little chance of Pakistan being able to project its complexity and to involve anyone in its narrative on the playing field. That 15 second march is everything. Imagine yourself in that position and then try doing the bhangra. Also, think of the nation’s general make up. Most people belonging to middle class families believe that the ‘decent’ way to behave when the world is watching you is to look respectful and deferential. Ours is not a country that smiles in the face of cameras, we pat down our hair and stand up straight. Relaxed smiles and knowing how to work the camera are traits that spring from lifestyles replete with opportunity and confidence. That is not the strata most of our athletes or most of our nation belongs to.

On a related note, caustic censures on the athletes also seem to have been sparked by their inability to bag any medal in the Olympics (the hope’s hooked on the Hockey Team now) but to be fair again, one who is oblivious to the state of sports training, equipment, facilities, finance, lack of merit and sponsorship and the miserable condition of the massively politicized, feckless and incapable sport boards that are under government-patronship; should really put a lid on the overflowing drains of misguided criticism.

Give the athletes and this inherent habit of bitter drivel a break.

~ Hafsa Khawaja

* Later posted on Ideas Evolved.