The beast called the ‘army’

COMMENT: The beast called the ‘army’ —Shahzad Chaudhry

The military remains the most robust national institution despite our plight of the recent years in all other matters of the state. We should refrain from weakening the institution by defamation, and uncalled for efforts to belittle its positive contributions

What do you do with such an entity? When the Swat-Malakand operation was launched in 2009, and there were some quick successes, the world began to take notice of those successes — far more efficient and effective than any that NATO/ISAF had been able to undertake in their nine-year long presence and when General Kayani began to be invited to high places in various capitals, there was this sudden and an almost impulsive concern within the Pakistani intelligentsia and political circles of the great eminence that the Pakistani military had once again begun to assume. Waziristan was an equally impressive undertaking. No US high official can complete his or her itinerary of visit to Pakistan without a formal, or preferably an informal, call on the army chief. It ruffled some feathers and it continues to do so with every such interaction. It has not slowed the army’s mission, which continues unabated.

Come the 2010 floods — unprecedented, devastating and ravaging and the army has again been in the forefront, reaching out to people, rescuing them, and providing relief while continuing to fight terrorism. The army’s effort has become more noticeable because of the absence of effective organs of state and society. These include the political elites, the moneyed elites and civil society in particular. Reaching out to the flood affectees in this period of monsoons is not easy; it is hot, excruciatingly humid, sweaty and dirty. A speaker on a channel recently said, “It involves dirtying your feet and taking off shoes and walking barefooted.” Those who have never done this can hardly bring themselves to do something as unsavoury as that. The elites have, therefore, chosen to stay behind.

They say it is because the nation has all these years fed the army, nourished it and helped it grow and glow, it is but incumbent on the military to do the squalid work on behalf of the government and the elites. It beats comprehension that the largest donors to the Flood Relief Fund are the Employees Old-age Benefits Institution (EOBI), workers and labour organisations. Where are our moneyed classes — business magnates, industrial owners, feudal landlords, carpetbaggers, hoarders, all the corporations, foundations and multinationals, who skim off the same poor and make life an unbearable burden? Pray, have they paid their taxes to add to the taxpayers’ money on which the military thrives? Is it not ironic that the textiles magnates have received duty drawbacks in the region of Rs 70 billion within the year? Have not heard a thing from the textile lobby on their combined contribution to the cause of the people who remain drowned in the deluge, and will be the first ones out to pluck cotton next season to keep the spinners going.

In actuality, it is a study in contrasts. Leadership, organisational efficiency and discipline, objective-oriented commitment, clear aims, and willingness to get your hands dirty make the military stand out against any other institution. General Kayani was out with his people, those whoSW worked to fulfil a given task at hand, to add a word of encouragement and appreciation for toiling in difficult conditions. Is Kayani competing against the political leadership for acclaim? That is what the chattering class will have you believe; they would rather desire that he not be seen.

The military is not a monolith; it has variations in tradition and culture, and sometime serious disagreements within can produce an intense turf war among them. But they all come imbued with a basic value system that is aimed at making them aware of a higher cause, where the person of one is relegated in the face of the mission or the calling of an esprit de corps. It is meant to be a noble life and a noble death. All this must not take away from the extra-constitutional deviations that are a part of Pakistan’s folklore and were committed by a few commanders at various times of our history, and how those might have pushed the country’s political system back. But, when all else is salubrious, supportive and willing to keep the system in place, why would a group of people not do what they are meant to do — govern? Why would they not build and strengthen institutions, remove distortions, eliminate waste and corruption, collect taxes, and create space to do well for their people who voted them in. It needs sincerity of purpose, a commitment to service, selflessness, and a sense of nobility to lead a composite group of people of various societal levels and social standing. It needs leaders, not merely politicians.

What we might do from here on is to learn from the military. Institutions are built not on the basis of what material inputs are made available to them, but also on a clear enunciation of agreed objectives, of equal opportunity, of sharing the load of the testing times and committed leadership. Let us build our national institutions on these lines. Institutions are also built by putting to good use what is made available to them as resources, not by frittering, pilfering or pocketing the allocations. Reportedly, between 60-70 percent of allocations to the Federal Flood Commission, a cumulative amount of billions over the years, got eaten up and never put to use for the purpose. Why would we end up being where we are if that was not the case?

The military has generally done well, markedly so in the last three years. It remains the most robust national institution despite our plight of the recent years in all other matters of the state. We should refrain from weakening the institution by defamation and uncalled for efforts to belittle its positive contributions. Military bashing is increasingly becoming the last resort of anyone without a sustainable argument. It is time we look at how to improve than to evade responsibility.

Shahzad Chaudhry is a defence and security analyst

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