On the one hand, we should all get behind the Pakistan Army and the entire political class because they are now seemingly united to fight the long overdue war against monsters that the army and these politicians themselves once created.
On the other hand, we should be very worried about due process, about our democracy, and perhaps most of all about yet another generation of army majors rising to the rank of army brigadiers with a sense of ingrained moral superiority over our judges, policemen and MPAs.
How does a conscientious Pakistani reconcile these two disparate instincts? Most of us place a premium on black and white clarity. There is nothing Bush about this. It is human nature. We want to be on the side that we believe is right, and true.
The army is made up of roughly six hundred thousand of our sons and brothers. Putting on the uniform is an incredible act of sacrifice and courage, especially in Pakistan. This is, let’s remember, an army that has been at war for over a decade – on its own territory, against its own citizens, in multiple theatres, and under the swirling clouds of complex international political economy, and assassinations, protests, elections and electricity blackouts at home. Worst, all of this is seen through the lens of the actions of Field Marshal Ayub Khan, General Ziaul Haq and General Pervez Musharraf. The army can never live down its role in our republic’s various dysfunctions. The sins of generals past, weighing down on our heroic men in arms today is fundamentally unfair.
Yet this much is also true. The military has mothered a pathological hatred for Pakistani democracy, a process that goes back to before Ayub, and continued through the daily grind of the containerised ‘revolution’ we had to endure over the last four months. It turns out the devil knows how to work more than one human frailty. The clowns in our discourse that the army can’t outright buy, it seduces with vanity (everyone else is a foreign agent). Does the veneer of distance, because General Pasha is no longer in service, absolve the culture of the Pakistani military of its hatred for politicians and democrats? It absolutely does not.
Perhaps worse, every generation of corps commanders and chiefs from after the Zia era have failed to challenge violent religious extremism as a legitimate marker of Pakistani identity. Some have endured this silently, and others have endorsed it enthusiastically. Anti-west, pan-Islamist gobbledygook is not the fringe rhetoric in our society. It is mainstream. Pakistani generals who have watched our brave sons bleed to death from the wounds of our ‘strategic depth’ must today tiptoe around this Al-Qaedaised narrative of Pakistani statehood. And make no mistake, the Al-Qaeda narrative is the Hizb ut Tahrir narrative is the TTP narrative is the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi narrative is the Abdul Aziz narrative is the pan-Islamist violent extremist narrative. It is one painting, on one canvas.
What unwitting captives of this narrative don’t understand is that a rejection of democracy is a rejection of Pakistan and Pakistani statehood. The evidence is in what this anti-state narrative has generated as outcomes. The people that made, defended and financed Pakistan in infancy, would, if alive today, constitute a bunch of ‘wajibul qatl infidels’. Can you imagine the Quaid, Sir Aga Khan, or Zafarullah Khan appealing to our good senses? Can any right-winger in this country get away with defending those three men as good Pakistani Muslims in the Pakistan of 2014? You know the answer to that.
The otherisation of our very identity as a refuge for minorities took four decades. This process was incubated, and nursed by our military and intelligence services, with the support of a parade of ‘democrats’ that include senior members of every single mainstream party in the country. Every single one.
And then there was Peshawar. Which happened after the Marriott bombing (which was in the year 2008 AD, or roughly over two thousand days ago). After the Marriott was bombed, there was the GHQ attack. That was in 2009, or over 1,800 days ago. The GHQ attack was not the only one on our military. Serving generals have been assassinated, army families have been slaughtered whilst praying Juma at Parade Lane in Pindi, and at PNS Mehran they took out half our fleet of P3C Orions.
Today, many patriotic Pakistanis have an urge to ignore history and swallow the entire edifice of new military courts, and the faux subservience of the military to our political leadership, sideways. This is a baton too large, even for the most optimistic and gullible of us.
The truth is that the case for military courts rests on one simple, but powerful fact. Army majors and colonels are not as vulnerable to terrorist intimidation as our district and sessions judges, or our high court judges, or our Supreme Court judges. That fact, and that fact alone, is both the most legitimate reason to accept military courts, and the starkest commentary on what we have allowed our society and state to become. This is a moral dilemma that Pakistanis have to assess with great sobriety.
One the one hand we should unapologetically stand in support of the army at a time of national crisis. Pakistan needs a strong and effective military, and an even stronger and more effective intelligence community.
On the other, we have collectively, army families included, suffered unspeakably, because Pakistani society has failed to hold its generals accountable for their behavior. This is true during martial law, as much as it is during democratic rule. It is true of the strategic blunders we’ve committed, as much as it is true of corruption and rent-seeking we have allowed. Criticising the existence of Defence Housing Authorities may seem like a trivial exercise, but it is an act of patriotism. It is a challenge to unchecked moral authority. No republic can survive the unchecked moral authority of any individual or institution. Putting on the uniform is an act of heroism, but even heroes cannot be exempt from accountability.
So while I support the military courts on the basis of an internalised doctrine of necessity, I think it would be criminal for us to not ask serious questions about military courts today, and every day until they are established, and twice a day, until they are eventually disbanded.
Would it have been preferable for our prime minister to announce constitutional amendments for legal and judicial reform that could have enabled civilian judges to do what the military courts are now going to be asked to do? Of course.
The majors and colonels that will now be sentencing terrorists do indeed have a different hardware and software to our judges. It isn’t necessarily better. But when terrorists menacingly taunt the Pakistani republic with an invitation to ‘go to hell’, military officers are better equipped to respond by saying, ‘You first’. There isn’t a constitutional amendment app for that. Yet.
The big test of how useful this all will be for Pakistan is whether the convictions are indiscriminate across all terrorists, or whether they are restricted to terrorists that have fallen fowl of our broken, low-grade, low-IQ, strategic thinking. For now, we will have to trust General Raheel Sharif and the army high command. Because, let’s face it, what other choice do we have?
But the long-term reality is stark, ugly and begs reflection. We face the problems we have today because we allowed our soldiers to become social engineers. We allowed our social engineers to take over our mosques, and our television talk shows. Then we threw away the keys. It is no small irony that to get them back, we need our soldiers.