In May 1990, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan gave me a 'non-paper, listing serious lapses on part of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. I made the mistake of discussing this matter with the Corps Commanders and the PSOs. The 'consensus decision was conveyed to the President, that remaining within the constitutional limits, the President may take action as deemed necessary. Benazir Bhuttos government was soon dismissed and a caretaker government was formed to hold elections in 90 days, thus setting the bad precedence of 'presidential coup, during the period 1990-1998. In retrospect, I regret having consulted the senior military commanders on such a vital issue. My 'command decision would have been very different.
Similarly, General Kayanis recent decision to consult the Corps Commanders and the PSOs on the present critical national issues and the declaration of June 10, 2011, carries all the weaknesses of a 'consensus decision as it has failed to address the main issues that matter to the people of Pakistan and the country, as highlighted in my recent article titled Our Withering Sovereignty published on May 15, 2011. I said: The Pakistani nation has had such high expectations from the democratic government to deliver a sovereign Parliament, an independent judiciary and an aboveboard accountability, which are the pillars of national sovereignty, but unfortunately these institutions have been so methodically suppressed to render them ineffective. In fact, our national sovereignty has been debased and humiliated by one and all who mattered in Pakistan.
The GHQ declaration of June 10 has passed on the entire responsibility of correcting the course to the government, which itself is responsible for creating this calamity. This declaration would not help establish civilian supremacy over the military. Rather, it shirks responsibility to support the state institutions to perform. In fact, it is a repeat of General Jehangir Karamats action of 1997, who failed to respond to the call of the Supreme Court that led to an assault on it and political turmoil, thus paving the way for Musharrafs takeover. And if past declarations of this kind are any guide, this one (present declaration) also falls short of achieving the main objective, that is, establishing the supremacy of the civil authority over the military. Let us recount a few episodes, preceding General Zias coup of 1977:
p In 1976, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was visiting Multan. The then Corps Commander Lieutenant General Ziaul Haq called on him and pledged loyalty to him, on the Holy Book. The PM was so impressed that he appointed Zia, as his COAS.
p In 1977, Bhutto was visiting Murree. Commander 12 Division Major General Akhtar Abdur Rahman lined up his officers and their wives, on the reception line and in an exclusive meeting he also pledged loyalty to him on the Holy Book, establishing the nexus with General Zia.
p In 1977, when the political agitation against Bhuttos government had reached a dangerous level, top military commanders, such as the Chairman JCSC and the three service chiefs, pledged to the nation, their loyalty and unflinching support for the government, but, within days, General Zia struck and dismissed the government.
General Kayani has time to correct the course. Civilian supremacy over the military can be established only by a sovereign Parliament and an independent judiciary, as we witness today in Turkey - the example to follow. General Kayani should support Parliaments resolution demanding cessation of drone attacks, which the Americans flout and Parliament is helpless, while the Pakistani armed forces have full capability to deter and defeat such violations of our sovereignty. The will to use this capability is 'a function of command decision of the person in authority as demonstrated in 1990 by the then Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto. She sent the Foreign Minister to Delhi with a strong message and ordered a squadron of F-16s fully armed, ready to strike targets deep in the south of India. So this bold command decision deterred the enemy. Then, we had the F-16s and now we have the submarines, missiles and guns that can engage targets up to a range of 30 to 3,000 kms. Whereas we enjoy distinct superiority on ground, i.e. the men and missiles and the conventional weapons support. Our men belong to one of the best fighting machines of the world, supported by hardcore tribal fighters of our border regions. Based on men and missile, we can effectively deter and defeat aggression directed against Pakistan from the Afghan territory. Let there be no ambiguity about it.
The armed forces must support the Supreme Court of Pakistan to ensure that the judgments passed by it are implemented, which is their constitutional responsibility and there is no going back on it. They must also help re-establish above board accountability to punish the corrupt and the unscrupulous. Political parties too have a shared responsibility to help the military, establish supremacy of the civilian rule and remain mindful of the blustering of the opposition leaders against the military, which is counterproductive. They better draw on the political wisdom of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has achieved harmony between the seculars/liberals and the Islamists. He has established supremacy of the civilian rule over the military and taken the country to unprecedented economic heights.
If the military high command remains content with the June 10 declaration, that would mean waiting for the collapse of the system and military takeover. It is the time now to act, remaining within the framework of the Constitution and support the present government to build a sovereign Parliament, an independent judiciary and the institution to deliver above board accountability. This would be the greatest gift the armed forces could offer to the nation - an unprecedented move to willingly accept supremacy of the civilian rule.
This is our rendezvous with history. And to make history, one has to rise above the level of the ordinary.
The writer is former Chief of Army Staff, Pakistan.