Can't Defeat Them? Reform Them!

First published in Daily Times as my weekly column BAAGHI, on Sunday May 8, 2011

Last week brought odd moments to Pakistan and sheer embarrassment to some of its holy cows. The bin Laden kill saga not only shamed Pakistan’s security agencies, but also pointed questions at the security forces fighting the ‘Global War on Terror’ (GWoT). And, if answered honestly, the questions could wreak havoc in the world of counter-terrorism.
In the post-bin Laden world, clearing of the fog that envelops the mystery of ‘howdunnit’ will give a new perspective to the global balance of threat. For the Americans, nothing is going to change vis-à-vis Pakistan if it maintains its status quo on its GWoT strategies. But for Pakistanis, it is important to come out of the episode unscathed, to introspect, reflect and transform in order to repair the damage done to its already blotted image.
At this difficult moment, the army can either be termed as incompetent for not knowing that the highest value target was dumped literally in its courtyard or we can say it was complicit in providing a safe hideout to him. Both arguments seem weak against an all-powerful institution of this country that wields unbridled power in foreign and defence policies.
More than anything, Pakistan needs to restore its integrity (as opposed to superficially defined ‘sovereignty’ by a section of the media and intelligentsia) in the world of nations and help in eradicating the scourge of terrorism from its soil. And, finally, Pakistan must overhaul the structure and functioning of its security sector.
Time was never so ripe for a thorough reform in the defence sector of Pakistan after 1971, as it is now. More than any other institution, the army has to undergo a complete revamp and bring out soldiers from the current unprecedented low morale. The government, political forces and civil society must campaign with operational, viable and realistic proposals to reform the entire security sector for efficient counter-terrorism.
The security sector of a country comprises a policy making supra body (the ministry of defence), an oversight body, which in a democratic country is a legislative body (e.g. parliamentary committee on defence) and functional forces to ensure security (e.g. armed forces, intelligence apparatus and law enforcing agencies). In Pakistan’s case, the army is the almighty supra body. This has weakened the army more than any other institution of the country. Continuous interference in political affairs in the last 60 years has robbed the armed forces of their real strength — discipline and defence capability.
For any army to work professionally, it must separate itself from political responsibilities. After taking over as chief of army staff (COAS), General Kayani introduced few reforms, including no appointments in civilian positions, no meetings with political leaders, increased recruitments of the Baloch and decrease in the number of Punjabi recruits, etc. Almost a year and a half later, the nation should ask the army to present a status report on the reforms undertaken and future plans for the second phase of reforms. The good general might have to answer why he chose to meet with some politicians without the approval of his supreme commander in the past two years, especially on the late evening of May 1, when a few hours later a foreign force violated our frontier.
Separating the military and intelligence apparatus from politics is not limited to no interaction with politicians, but should also entail a review of the mandate and functions of the intelligence agencies as well. The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) should be limited to its original aim: coordination among the forces and intelligence related to defence objectives. The task of foreign intelligence should be transferred to a civilian agency, which should be under the cabinet division. This model works in neighbouring India with Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) doing foreign intelligence with zero interference in domestic affairs.
Another important task is to strengthen the ministry of defence, which should be in the driving seat conceiving defence policy, and not the armed forces. The work of the ministry should be monitored and overseen by a democratic and representative parliamentary committee on defence. Both institutions need to be empowered to take punitive actions on such grave negligence like the one we witnessed a week ago. For now, General Kayani owes the nation an explanation and a couple of sackings, including key figures in the ISI and the air force.
Some key decisions have been long pending for making the army function professionally. The strong religious symbolism in army exercises and the rank and file should be removed because references to religion have only brought poisonous sectarianism and confusion among the troops. That is why the military authorities have been hesitating to crack down on North Waziristan.
A strong pretext for not going deep into the tribal areas has been that the jawaans (young soldiers) might feel bad while fighting their own people. Own people? The ones who have been killing innocent citizens? We have seen what happened to our own people in East Pakistan or later in Balochistan and then Karachi. Or did we never consider the Bengali, Baloch and Karachiites as ‘our own people’? This religiosity has been killing the army from within, which must now be reversed.
The army has also been weakened for decades because of its sickening obsession with India. Everything in our defence and foreign policy revolves around this. While our flight is limited to India, India looks to the world. Sticking to their principle of no-first-strike, they have not only earned a moral high ground in the world, but are exploiting it in capturing world markets by concentrating on economic development and expanding international ties with a focus on interests rather than superficial honour. Their open arms towards China worried our generals. When they confront us, they do it through means like their recent opposition to Pakistan’s request for preferential treatment for trade in EU countries. And we? We do it through means challengeable morally, ethically, legally and with human rights perspectives.
When it comes to our relations with the US and Afghanistan, our India-centrism is loud. The US should not have any ties with India, which should be neutralised in Afghanistan too through a ‘friendly’ (read puppet) government. Countering a big neighbour must be very important, but that is for the civilian leaders to decide. Let them revisit the Afghan policy and foreign policy as a whole. The army should stop using the media to sabotage civilian initiatives and should stop making military advances without taking elected governments on board.
If it is about defeating an enemy, let us defeat it in education, prosperity, poverty reduction, progress in science and technology, trade and manufacturing and, last but not least, in upholding human rights and democracy. Superiority by these means is the only way to dominance. In a globalised world, no one wants a strike on a country and economic sanctions. Better to transform a parasitic relationship with world powers into symbiotic ones for international and regional actors. Detente is the best option for the people.
There were 90-minute speeches against the army and ISI’s political role in the National Assembly two weeks ago. One hopes all the parties will unite and ask the army to come up with an explanation for their incompetence and take punitive action against those responsible. Failing which, the opposition will prove that all they need is a turn in government and the government will prove it is not interested in reforming the polity for a better Pakistan.
At this juncture of our history, the army’s leadership and political parties need to get their act together. I wish those who organised a long march for the judiciary do so now for essential reforms. All the political forces, including those outside parliament, must unite and make the army accountable to the people of Pakistan.

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33 thoughts on “Can't Defeat Them? Reform Them!

  1. Ratnam says:

    What baffles many people is that the military repeats the same mistakes over and over again. It seems as if the Pakistani military has no memory. It blunders on unaware of its many failures. We are not talking about the battlefield alone, but also its interference within Pakistan.

    One reason for the lack of institutional memory, and why it is so poorly accountable is the lack of comprehensive inquiries by independent commissions. With the exception of the Hamood ur-Rehman Commission report on the 1971 war there are no other commissions set up to look into the failures of the Pakistani military. And even The Rehman report was never made public until it was leaked.

    Without a comprehensive and unbiased examination of past failures, and a willingness to study them so that the mistakes are not repeated, it is difficult to remember where the military went wrong. Either in times of war or at home.

    Every democracy relies on independent inquiries to get to the truth. As nations mature they rely on institutional memory to correct their mistakes. Pakistan has no such memory. It lives from one day to the next, and it keeps repeating the same mistakes. And the military is the worse for it. As Ms. Sirmed states, it does the military more harm than good when it interferes in civilian and parliamentary matters, and it is left unchecked. They pay the price for forgetting.

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