The armed forces are in the barracks

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

The General-President said, the armed forces are in the barracks and claims to the contrary are unfortunate, while addressing the Jehlum garrison. For once I feel compelled to agree with him because the armed forces rank and file does live in the barracks; only a fool would disagree. Although the abodes of the Generals, Air Marshals and Admirals, etc., cannot be classified as barracks but for arguments sake we will accept them as such. So it is established that the armed forces do live in the barracks.

This, however, is only half the truth as it quite conveniently overlooks the disproportionate power and influence they wield over the body politic while living in barracks. When the people demand that the armed forces should return to the barracks they do not mean that in the physical sense. They want them to stop meddling in politics because this meddling violates the right of the people to be ruled by a government of their choice.

By demanding the return to the barracks, the people want that the army should stop ruling the country and should hand over the reins to a transparently elected government. Now if these demands are tantamount to violating the sanctity and reverence of national institutions, such as the armed forces, then so be it.

Managing the affairs of state is not the job of the armed forces; they have to obey the orders of a civilian government, and defend the borders. Period. The demand for return to the barracks in no way violates the sanctity of institutions. It just reiterates the right of the people to be governed by a democratically elected government.

But it seems that the Army is not inclined to listen to the voices of the people and on the contrary has reaffirmed its intention to continue to rule the country. They are not amenable to arguments nor are they willing to accommodate differing viewpoints. They feel that they have the power to put down any dissent against them and this power gives them the right to do whatever they please, ostensibly for the good of the country. They want to continue doing what they think is right, although that right may be as wrong as any wrong can be.

I am certainly not insinuating or imputing intentions, good or bad, to the inviolable state institutions because I am simply dealing with the facts of the 101st corps commanders meeting, also attended by all principal staff officers, at the General Headquarters and presided over by President General Pervez Musharraf on June 2 as per the ISPR release.

It said, the participants reiterated support for the pivotal role of the president and the COAS in the ongoing reform process. The corps commanders and principal staff officers of the Pakistan Army affirmed to stand committed for the security of their country under the leadership and guidance of the president and the COAS. It was resolved to ensure that the nation continues on the path of socio-economic development and carries on its mission to rid society of the scourge of extremism. The Pakistan Army is committed to lending full support towards realization of the vision set by the president for a dynamic, progressive and moderate Islamic state. The conference took serious note of the malicious campaign against institutions of the state, launched by vested interests and opportunists who are acting as obstructionist forces to serve their personal interests and agenda even at the cost of flouting the rule of law. Any attempt by a small minority to obstruct the aspirations of the vast majority will only derail the nation from its path of progress and prosperity.

The commanders noted the positive developments in the field of socio-economic progress, and the efforts being made to promote tolerance and moderation in society.

The president appreciated their unstinted support and assured them that nobody would be allowed to bring instability in the country.

The message, dear friends, is clear cut in its thrust and direction; there is unequivocal support for the General-President and his policies. He has been given carte blanche to do as he deems fit and this, as the track record proves, means disaster and chaos. There will be more arbitrary dismissals, more autocracy, more rent a crowd meetings and more May 12-like incidents.

By unequivocally endorsing Musharraf’s right to the Presidency and COAS, the 101st meeting has violated the sanctity of the sovereignty of the people and their right to decide what is best for them. This endorsement has made the Army a party in the dispute between the people and Musharraf’s right to rule.

This endorsement has challenged the right of the people to not accept Musharraf and his policies and this is a clear violation of your, mine and everyone’s right to oppose and reject what Musharraf in his wisdom deems correct. This is a step towards aggravating an already bad situation, which means more confrontation. Confrontation just to save Musharraf’s second skin is simply indefensible.

Ayesha Siddiqi’s book launch was sabotaged to keep it from the public. A smear campaign has been launched against her and the only recourse open to the government is to ban the book, but it seems to understand the futility of such a measure. She has said she feels isolated and physically threatened. She can’t be blamed; the entire country feels threatened and isolated now.

The signs of the times to come keep becoming more ominous by the minute; the media is being brought under strict control, despite Durrani’s brave denials. Arrests and detentions are the next step.

The results of the pivotal role of the president and the COAS in the ongoing reform process, are there for all of us to see and rue. That pivotal role has brought the unprecedented chaos and anarchy that we increasingly face in our daily lives. If what we have had for almost eight years is progress than dictionaries should find a new definition for regression.

If dynamism means bullying of the CJP at the Army House by a host of uniformed officers and then keeping him under house arrest for three days, if it means keeping Akhtar Mengal in jail for challenging harassment, if it means more Hammad Razas, if it means more enforced disappearances and incarcerations, then we could certainly do without it.

If progressiveness and positive developments in the field of socio-economic progress means selling of the Steel Mills, PTCL, KESC and other profitable concerns for a pittance, if it means running PIA like a laundry service, if it means grabbing 500,000 acres of land at Sonmiani for a rupee per acre, if it means more prosperous Defence Societies and a terrifying rich-poor divide, then this progressiveness better be shelved for good.

About their ability to fight the scourge of extremism, the less said the better because the Lal Masjid affair festers right under their noses and the recent daring raid at the residence of the Political Agent in Tank speaks volumes about the successes achieved in that fight so far.

Their moderation stood exposed on May 12 in Karachi when the goons of MQM, Musharraf’s favorite party, went on a rampage of carnage and no one, I repeat no one, including the august body of the Corps Commanders, did anything or said anything. Moreover the General defended MQM’s right to have strongholds. Moderation also got a boost during the MQM’s campaign against Imran Khan. The Pakistani brand of moderation was again on display against the protesting teachers at The Mall in Lahore a few days back.

Broken promises like doffing of the uniform, clean water for all by 2007, ushering in true democracy, rule of law and good governance has been the legacy of the vision of dynamism so far. If all other future promises are kept the way these were, then the promised dynamism, progressiveness and moderation will prove to be an even bigger hoax and a sad joke with the fate of the people.

If this is the dynamism, progressiveness and moderation that has been achieved in eight years and is similarly envisaged for their planned indefinite stay at the helm then, dear friends, it is curtains for us all.

It is a fact that the Army has overwhelming force at its disposal and is apparently invincible, but there is no reason to lose hope because history proves that this overwhelming force has itself been overwhelmed by the tide of public resentment and bitterness.

The real power is the people and any army is as powerful and as invincible as is its people’s moral support and acceptance. If the people do not support them, all apparent power comes to naught.

How long and how many people they will be able to keep suppressed and on a leash is something they need to consider before they embark on the rash policy to contain the opposition. Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai at one place says, Mulk Mirai Mansoor Kuhi Kuhanday Kaitra. It means, the entire population is Mansoor Hallaj how many of them are you going to hang.

The crucial question facing the country today is, who is to decide what is a malicious campaign against institutions of the state and who are the vested interests and opportunists acting as obstructionist forces to serve their personal interests. Who is the small minority and who represents the vast majority.

The people will have to decide whether the right to answer these and other questions lies with the 101st meeting’s participants or with them, and this decision will decide the fate of democracy here.

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He can be contacted at

This article was first published on 07 June 2007

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