Asma urges civilians to challenge army


Pakistan’s civilian leaders should capitalise on public anger with the military and try to ease its grip on power, leading human rights activist and Supreme Court Bar Association President Asma Jahangir said on Tuesday.
Asma said the mood in the country provided an opportunity to start correcting a lop-sided balance of power between the army and the civilian government. “I am hopeful that public opinion will finally embolden civil society, including politicians. But it’s not going to happen tomorrow morning,” she told Reuters in a telephone interview. “It’s going to be a perpetual struggle.
They are not just going to hand over and say ‘thank you very much we are now under civilian control’. But at least they know that’s what people want now.” The military has ruled nuclear-armed Pakistan for more than half of its history. Generals set security and foreign policy, even when civilian governments are in power, as is the case now. The 600,000-strong army also runs a vast business empire that includes oil and gas interests, cereals and real estate.
“Our parliament has to strengthen itself for anyone to change because nobody hands over power just voluntarily,” said Jahangir. “The parliament will have to be more forceful and also begin to realise that they (the army) can’t hold the economy of this country hostage, foreign policy hostage.” Pakistan’s civilian leaders don’t seem willing to stand up to the military in a country prone to army coups. Generals often orchestrate Pakistani politics from behind the scenes.
“They have selfishly overlooked the interests of the people of Pakistan. We think that it’s time to change,” said Jahangir. The army says it does not interfere in politics and reiterated its commitment to democracy in a statement issued this month. Jahangir said she is hopeful of change because the military has been on the defensive. The US kept Pakistan in the dark over the raid that killed bin Laden, humiliating the army and then piling pressure on it to crack down harder on militancy.
Then a handful of militants besieged to a naval base in the city of Karachi last month, further embarrassing the military, which eats up a large chunk of state spending. About 25 percent of government expenditure flows to the defence budget, according to some estimates, in a country with widespread poverty and social inequalities.