Careful mentioning the army


Lest you have to eat your words

If Gen Kayani is (rightly) credited with restoring civil-military balance – after the eventful Musharraf years – the present chief, Gen Raheel Sharif, must be respected as the soldier who strengthened political traditions and helped, in no small manner, the long transition to democracy. He respected the government’s last ditch effort at talks with the Taliban even as the military rank and file demanded action after losing thousands to TTP attacks. He stayed on the sidelines as the government went about persecuting Gen Musharraf, even though some ministers were clearly over eager to ‘rub it in’ for their own purposes – how that backfired is another story. And lately, he chose not to ‘raise the finger’, as protagonists of the dharnas so wanted, even when there was chatter, for the briefest moment, that the military might be forced to act.

It is, therefore, all the more important for politicians too to respect norms of democratic politics. Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri are facing a tough time now for repeated references to a degree of military involvement in politics, that too as a result of their protests. Not only does such posturing disrespect institutional integrity, it also leaves Imran and TuQ open to political jabs of the kind Khurshid Shah employed the other day, asking the military itself to take notice of ‘exploiters’ allegedly trying to leverage military strength for their own purposes. The Supreme Court, too, has sought answers from the two regarding using the army’s name in their support.

It is equally important to note, though, that the government bears a lot of the responsibility as well. Was it not the ‘heavy mandate’ government that first approached the military to safeguard Islamabad ahead of the protests? And was it not the same government that, a good two weeks into the dharnas, asked the army to ‘facilitate’ things? And the leader of the opposition, too, must be a little more careful in arguing his case. In asking the military to take note of certain aspects of the protests, is he also not playing to the same gallery? The political class must prove itself capable and credible enough to move beyond the present impasse in Islamabad. And they should be very careful when mentioning the army, especially since the latter is busy with Zarb-e-Azb (and existential battle, no less). History is replete with examples of politicians who had to eat their words for not showing restraint at the right time.

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