The 3-year extension of Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s term as army chief has aroused considerable comment. Many media pundits have pontificated gravely, using many words to say little. Others have criticized what they term a sell-out due to personal ambition. Quite a few well-meaning people have expressed regret that he did not follow the example of Gen Abdul Waheed (Kakar) and decline the offer. In view of the outsized role that the army chief plays in Pakistan, it matters a great deal what lies behind his acceptance of the extension.
One obvious reason why anyone would willingly choose to continue presiding over Pakistan’s deadly downward spiral is that they are either a super-crook (like President Zardari) or a super-buffoon (like Prime Minister Gilani). Since Gen Kayani is neither a villain nor an idiot, we must look elsewhere. Another possible reason could be that he believes that no one else could steer the country safely through the treacherous shoals of the geopolitical and military conflicts roiling the region, as he has done for the last few years. The crowd of sycophantic courtiers that usually collects around powerful men in Pakistan makes it easy for them to believe such things. However, the general is reputed to be a simple, down-to-earth person ‒ and intelligent.
Thus, for the many who are desperately worried about the future of the country, there are some grounds to hope that he accepted the extension because he feels the need to do more than what he has done in his present tenure. Because he realises that, if he merely continues in his past role, down the road he may find himself one day commanding an army without a country. Or, that there could come about such a transformation in both army and country that they bear no resemblance to what they are now, likely followed thereafter by neither army nor country remaining.
Surely, Gen Kayani can see that the country is unravelling before his eyes. With this happening, what use is it to merely strengthen the army, or fight extremists, or manoeuvre cleverly around foreign friends and enemies? So far, he has been very circumspect about stepping outside the military sphere or that of national security (while firmly resisting any attempts by others to intrude into them). He rightly sees that the newly restored political process must be allowed to continue and gain strength and momentum, and that any heavy-handed military intrusion would be extremely detrimental in the long run. The dilemma he faces is that, left to their own devices, the people running the political process will run it, and the country, into the ground.
There is a way out of this dilemma. It is possible to stop this relentless slide downward without touching the political process, political structures or even a single politician. The two major (and related) causes of Pakistan’s breakdown are terminal misgovernance and megacorruption. In its terminal stage, misgovernance results in not only the absence of all governance but also the creation of centrifugal forces that tear apart the fabric of the country and its people. Megacorruption is very different, in both nature and effect, than ordinary corruption. It is the systematic looting of the country’s wealth and resources (both present and future) by those at the helm of affairs.
To save Pakistan, the essential pre-requisite is to put a stop to both these evils. It can be done ‒ and without touching the hair of any politician!
In every democratic country, there are two basic rules of governance. The first is that the politicians in power make government policy, while the civil service executes these policies within established laws and rules, andwithout political interference. To ensure that this works, the second rule is that the service conditions of civil servants (their hiring, promotions, assignments, etc) are insulated from political control and influence. (Dictators obviously don’t like this; that is why one of the first steps of ZA Bhutto, upon becoming President and CMLA in 1971, was to rescind the second rule. That is when the rot began).
If General Kayani wishes to end Pakistan’s terminal misgovernance, he has to get the government rules of business changed to reflect the first rule of governance in a democracy. To implement the second rule, the federal and provincial public service commissions should once again be given control of their respective civil services, as they used to have once. To achieve these he will need to exert some heavy pressure behind the scenes. He has done that before, when he felt the country faced a serious emergency or national security was at risk. This crisis is worse than any previous one, and national security is much more seriously at risk than it was then. Achieving these goals would not disrupt any valid political process, nor would it (publicly, at least) touch any politician.
Dealing with megacorruption would be a more delicate matter. Of course, ending the worst of misgovernance would automatically reduce it significantly. But the addiction is too firmly entrenched among the present rulers to end on its own. The most discreet method of sending the right signals is for the military to repeat the ‘Riaz Lalji tactic’ a few times. Politicians indulge in megacorruption through intermediaries and agents, who are well known to the ISI. If, every time some big ‘deal’ was being cooked up, the agent was escorted to a quiet place and given some friendly advice, the word would spread quickly, leading to a marked reduction in this profession’s numbers. And, all without mussing any political hair.
Those who have expressed regret that Gen Kayani did not follow the example of Gen Abdul Waheed focus on a minor aspect of his actions. Yes, he did refuse an extension, but he did that only after he had stopped the country’s slide into a crisis, and set it on a path to recovery (without gaining anything personally). It is this example that one hopes Gen Kayani is really following. Gen Waheed’s actions were a remarkable display of patriotism and personal character. It is sad that his shining example is largely forgotten while the despicable roles of adventurers or clowns like Ayub, Yahya, Zia and Musharraf figure so prominently in the recounting of Pakistan’s tragic 60-year history.
(The writer is a retired member of the armed forces).