LAHORE - A debate is going on in the media these days about whether the army is supporting Gen Musharraf in his treason trial or not.
Some people say that Gen Musharraf’s decision to impose emergency on Nov 3, 2007 was his individual act, and whatever the outcome of the trial the army has nothing to do with it. This school of thought says that sentencing of Gen Musharraf will strengthen democracy and in future no COAS will ever dare to violate the Constitution.
The second opinion is that there is already unrest among the rank and file, and the army will not like its former boss humiliated – no matter what his personal character. The subscribers of this view insist that the government is sowing thorns for itself and it may have to reap the same – sooner or later.
Which group’s opinion is weightier and more realistic will be clear only once the army expresses its opinion.
But the army will never issue a statement on any such issue, especially if it is not in line with the government’s thinking. It will only play a behind-the-scene role to get desired results.
Defence Minister Khwaja Asif said in categorical terms recently that the army is not with Gen Musharraf. This may be the viewpoint of the government, not the army’s.
A few days later, Defence Secretary Lt Gen (Retd) Asif Yasin Malik came up with a similar statement. The defence secretary’s statement was mistaken by some media persons as reflective of the army’s opinion. They forgot that the defence secretary was a government employee like other federal secretaries and was supposed to speak for the government, not the army. The army may or may not agree with the opinion of the defence minister or the defence secretary.
If a retired general serving as defence secretary is taken to be representative of the armed forces, then, hypothetically speaking, even a civilian defence secretary like Nargis Sethi would also be speaking for them.
(Not long ago, the then COAS Gen Kayani and ISI chief Gen Pasha had filed statements in court against then prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani. Although this caused tremendous embarrassment to the head of government, they did not review their positions in what is known as the Memogate case).
What is more significant is the fact that the army is staying silent on the subject, despite demands by various parties that they clarify their position.
In such a situation we’ll have to go by inferences or examples of other institutions.
Recently, former chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry sought bullet-proof vehicle for himself for security reasons. The government was first reluctant to grant the request. But on intervention by the Islamabad High Court, it offered a 2005 model vehicle, which was not acceptable to the former CJP.
The IHC directed the government to provide the former CJP a new one, or it would order withdrawal of such vehicles provided to all VVIPs.
Was there any justification for such a threatening order? No. It was in fact the judiciary’s support to its former boss.
Another example also comes from the judiciary.
A judge of the Islamabad High Court came to Lahore a few days ago. Near Thokhar, the police halted the traffic, including the judge’s car, to facilitate the motorcade of the grandson of a billionaire to pass uninterrupted.
The Lahore High Court took a suo motu notice of the incident. The reason: a judge was treated like a common mortal.
It would have been more appreciable if the judiciary had ever taken a notice of traffic halted to facilitate the so-called VVIPs – who don’t like to be treated like humans, although under the Constitution all citizens are alike.
The moral: Institutions support their people, no matter whether somebody likes it or not.
These examples should be instructive for those who believe that the army is not with Gen Musharraf.
The government, for reasons best known to its leaders, seems in a hurry this time. It is taking steps which are raising many an eyebrow.
Dismissal of Tariq Malik as NADRA chairman, Rashid Chaudhry as PEMRA chairman and Tahir Mehmud as accountant general were not liked by the general public. And when the Islamabad High Court reinstated Tariq Malik, threats to his daughter forced him to tender resignation. The IHC’s post-resignation verdict that Mr Malik’s appointment was in line with the procedure was like posthumous recognition, which would not benefit the ‘victim’.
PEMRA chairman was reinstated by court, but he had to proceed on leave in view of the situation created by the government for him. The account general was also reinstated by court. But the government has sent him on forced leave, saying the court had not stopped it from taking such a step.
The government is also determined to privatise dozens of state-owned enterprises at the earliest, regardless of the negative reaction coming from various opposition parties.
People’s problems are growing and various parties are preparing to launch a protest campaign. The situation is likely to start changing during the next few months.