PAKISTAN: The appeasement policy — government misses the initiative of taking the armed forces to task 

Baseer Naweed 

The government of Pakistan — the so called legacy of Bhuttoism — has once again come out in support of our armed forces in an attempt to present them as brave and innocent. The government is reluctant to initiate an independent inquiry commission in the incidents of Abbottabad and Mehran Naval base and their silence is welcomed by the high officials of the armed forces and intelligence agencies. It can be seen in the history of the civilian governments that they do not have the courage to take the generals to task for their continuous defeats whether through war or by terrorist action. The government is turning a blind eye to the fact that all national resources are being grabbed by the armed forces.

This was first done by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto after the successful freedom movement of Bengalis and the shameful defeat of our brave soldiers. It was following this debacle that he started developing a heroic image of the army and generals. He begged Indira Ghandi, the Indian Prime Minister, to release all the soldiers who were captured during the war with India in 1971, thinking that this would make him a popular man before the arm forces. But, after the release of these soldiers it was the very same armed forced that hung him through their minion, the respected courts of the land.

The military government of General Zia Ul Haq enjoyed unchallenged rule for 11 years.

Sadly, not learning anything from the fate that befell her father, Benazir Bhutto followed in the same path and agreed not to take any action against the officers who were involved in the conspiracy against her father. She also agreed to accept all the demands of the army that she would not interfere in the affairs of foreign policy, defense policies and the Finance Ministry. She went further. To show her loyalty to the armed forces she awarded the Medal of Democracy to General Baig, the then chief of army staff. General Baig in turn showed his loyalty to Benazir Bhutto by conspiring to overthrow her government with the support of the Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) and money sequestered from the Mehran Bank. The ultimate victim was Asif Ali Zardari, the incumbent President, who remained in prison for many years on the charges of corruption. Now, history repeats itself as President Zardari, who was severely tortured in the custody is also working hard to appease the army.

The former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif also appeased the generals and supported the military on the Kargil issue, thinking he would become Sultan Salah Uddin Ayubi, by blindly following the wrong policies of the generals. The Kargil incident took place in 1999 when the Pakistan armed forces entered Indian Kashmir and captured some strategic heights thereby invoking an undeclared war with India. In those days the people were very angry over this incident because of the potential full scale war (with nuclear deterrents) with India. India repelled the Pakistani forces which led to the loss of thousands of lives. The people demanded an inquiry into the unconscionable action by the generals. However, Nawaz Sharif in an attempt to appease the military generals refused the demands. History then repeated itself once again when the generals toppled his government and compelled him to surrender. In order to save his own life Sharif wrote a letter of apology begging for amnesty before General Musharraf.

This was the armed forces way of telling the people of the country that even governments could be toppled if they dared to oppose their arbitrary right to wage war on a sovereign state without consulting either the government or the people. The military government of General Pervez Musharraf ruled for ten years.

Today, the government of Gillani and Zardari are again following the same path by attempting to ignore the failings of a demoralized army. After the Abbottabad incident when the whole nation was agitating about the performance, or lack of it, by the security agencies on the violation of the country’s sovereign air space and demanding accountability the Gillani-Zardari team came forward to shield the armed forces and take blame rather than sharing it with the real culprits.

This government has missed a God-sent opportunity to initiative action in favour of civilian rule and democracy by listening to the demands of the people and ensuring the accountability of the armed forces. No doubt, in their private meetings to discuss these matters they cannot help but reminisce on the downfalls of their predecessors who, at one time or another fell afoul of the army generals. There can be no doubt what-so-ever that they have every intention of avoiding the same fate that befell the Bhuttos and Nawaz Sharif. However, what they do not realise is that even by remaining silent and offering blanket impunity to the generals this does in no way confirm their safety.

What is to follow in the months to come? Pakistan already has a judiciary which can not say NO before the generals; can we now expect martial law under the guise of securing the nation?

This government’s habitual performance has been to turn a blind eye to the illegal and inhumane actions of the armed forces against the people of the country. The very people they are sworn to protect are now being disappeared and tortured in no less than 52 torture cells operated by the army and several by the navy and air force. Solid evidence has been produced in the courts with eye witness accounts by the victims themselves and yet no person has ever been recovered and no armed force’s official has ever been taken to task. There is even video-graphic evidence of extrajudicial killings by the army officers and evidence of mass graves in locations where the army conduct operations in the name of counter-terrorism, and yet, once again, no action is taken by the civilian government.

In their ongoing programme of appeasement the government has completely ignored calls from local and international human rights NGOs to demand accountability for these acts of terrorism against the people by their own army. It was documented by the international community in 2005 that the army carried out aerial bombardment in Balochistan and it was promised by Gillani/Zadari’s ruling party that when they came into power inquiries would be held. However, no such inquiries have been instigated. Instead, the disappearances have not only continued but increased.

It is with great sadness that the writer acknowledges the fact that no government has ever learned a lesson from Pakistan’s recent history. No representative of the people has ever paid attention to the character of the armed forces of the country.

This is the time for the government to take strong action against the wrong doings of the armed forces and prosecute all those who are responsible for supporting the terrorism and terrorists in the country whether in the government, the religious community or the armed forces. An independent commission made up of the judiciary, academics and experts must be set up immediately if the power exercised by the generals is every to be contained.

About the author:
Baseer Naweed is a senior researcher of Asian Human Rights Commission.

Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-033-2011
Countries : Pakistan,
Issues : Military,