On Constitution Avenue


Any unusual activity by the army personnel on the Constitution Avenue is liable to arouse public curiosity. Such is the unhappy history of the relationship between the army and the civilian government that this is bound to revive bitter memories among many. It was unusual for the army controlling traffic at the Avenue checkpoint instead of police. For the soldiers to stop a federal minister in a car flying the national flag was regrettable and to point guns at him, a really serious matter that should not be condoned. One can realize that a four star general needs an army escort these days even inside Islamabad. It is also understandable that, on occasions, he has to visit the Presidency and the Prime Minister House which are situated on the Constitution Avenue. However, the security concerns and decorum can be reconciled if the escort is properly briefed that civilians in general and elected representatives in particular need to be respected by those in the khaki. That the car was stopped at gunpoint indicates this was not done.

It goes to the credit of the Leader of the Opposition to raise the issue on the floor of the House. This indicates that there was an across the board sense of injury, uniting the government and opposition on the issue. A widespread perception exists that there is something in the training of the officer corps that promotes the image of the civilian as a lesser creature than the man in uniform. In case of the civilian being also a politician, further disabilities are attached to the persona. There is no doubt that politicians too have sometimes acted in a way that has tarnished their image but this is not peculiar to Pakistan alone. There is something that requires attention in the way the young officers are trained.

Respect for democracy and citizens rights find little place in educational curriculums in general. There is a need on the part of the government to remedy the shortcoming. Academies training government officials and army personnel should particularly give a prominent place to these subjects to enable their trainees to command greater respect among the public at large.