Kayani hits back
By Baqir Sajjad Syed
ISLAMABAD, Nov 5: Riled up over onslaught of jabs against the military, Chief of the Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani responded on Monday to the critics warning them against undermining the institutions and behaving as the sole arbiters of the national interest.
`All systems in Pakistan appear to be in a haste to achieve something.... Let us take a pause and examine the two fundamental questions; One, are we promoting the rule of law and the Constitution? `Two, are we strengthening or weakening the institutions?`, the general posed the questions at a meeting with army officers at the military headquarters.
The strongly-worded statement by Gen Kayani was immediately taken as a riposte to some of the observations by the Supreme Court in the Asghar Khan case about the ISI funding politicians in the past. But discussions with some of his aides revealed that the army chief believed that a `sinister campaign` was being run against `the generals`, which not only created doubts about the military leadership, but also affected the morale of the troops fighting militancy.
Instant media reaction to Gen Kayani`s statement releasedlate in the afternoon was hysterical with many talk show hosts lashing out at the army chief for what he had said. But hours later when people began to understand the fuH context of the topcommander`s statement their responses were more accommodative and thoughtful.
Apart from the Asghar Khan case in which the Supreme Court held formerarmy chief Gen (retd) Aslam Beg and ex-spymaster Lt-Gen (retd) Asad Durrani culpable for their misdeeds, the Public Accounts Committee had been actively pursuing thecase against three generals and others accused of causing Rs1.8 billion losses to National Logistics Cell and the National Accountability Bureau last week began grilling three other generals for their involvement in the Railways` Royal Palm Golf Course scam.
The court`s verdict in the Asghar Khan case had thrown open a debate about what was described as `unconstitutional and illegal` involvement of the army and intelligence agencies in politics.
Last year`s Abbottabad raid had already significantly dented the army`s public standing and when the first of the evidence against the military officers began trickling into the public discourse people became more and more cynical about the integrity of the once unquestionable military leadership.
The verbal exchange that two of the three retired generals had with the media when they went to NAB for recording their statement reflected how the negative perceptions about the army personnel were playing on their minds.
Finger-pointing at the army and its affiliated agencies in the missing persons` case also tarnished the image of the military.
The popular belief inside the military is that these problems have been further compounded by the ensuing `media trial` Although the accusations, other than the missing persons` case, were against the retired generals, the GHQ believed that the general public and more particularly lowerranks generalised the allegations as being against the army`s top brass thinking all to be alike.
`Gen Kayani`s statement had been necessitated due to sagging morale of the ranks,` an army officer explained.
This was the second time in 18 months that Gen Kayani had to reach out to his officers to put to rest unease among the ranks. The last time he did so was a week after US Special Forces killed Osama bin Laden in a raid in Abbottabad.
What was common on both the occasions was that Gen Kayani put the dead cat at others` door in the first instance the government was blamed for poor media handling after Osama denouementand this time he found fault with the judiciary, politicians and media for what he saw as unseemly criticism.
`The army chief has been under pressure from his constituency in the cantonments and barracks to respond to what the khakis feel has been an unrelenting and unfair campaign in the aftermath of the SC ruling in the Asghar Khan case and NAB`s summons to the three generals,` an insider said.
`Gen Kayani`s statement is as much aimed at assuaging his own khaki constituency as it is a warning shot at the civilians media, in particular, plus the courts who have gone to town against thearmy,` the source added, but didn`t find it `ominous` The army chief explained that the country was passing through a critical phase because of the war on terror, Nato withdrawal and upcoming polls in the country, and such attacks not only drove `the wedge between the people and the armed forces`, but also between the army leaders and their ranks.
`Any effort to create a distinction between the two undermines the very basis of this concept and is not tolerated, be it Pakistan or any other country,` Gen Kayani said about what he feared to be an attempt to create divisions within his troops. He admitted that there were instances of individuals mak-ing mistakes, but cautioned against prejudging anyone or undermining the concerned institution.
`An intense discussion and debate is natural in this process. No individual or institution has the monopoly to decide what is right or wrong in defining the ultimate national interest. It should emerge only through a consensus, and all Pakistanis have a right to express their opinions. The Constitution provides a clear mechanism for it, the army chief said.
Talking to Dawn, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Defence and Defence Production Senator Mushahid Hussain, who has been working on civil-military relations, said: `At a time when the armedforces are engaged in a relentless campaign against extremism and terrorism, army-bashing due to past mistakes of previous military leaders, is unjustified and uncalled for, more so when the Supreme Court has already set the record straight by giving a verdict that reverses a historical wrong (army`s blatant political meddling in 1988-1990).
Analyst and Director of Jinnah Institute Raza Ahmad Rumi saw in Gen Kayani`s statement `an institution with history of monopoly over power fighting back for its once dominant position` Mr Rumi maintained that some in the media and judiciary and among the politicians were clearly rattling the top military leadership.