By Umair Arif
Imran Khan recently tweeted that the “popularity level of Gen Raheel Sharif is touching skies”. Even though this is true but I am one of the many who are not easily convinced by the superficial displays of patriotism, songs, signboards or statements, which determine ‘popularity’ of political and military “celebrities”. I would rather discuss the serious issues like policies designed to resolve the chronic problems of the country. While Gen Raheel has shown lots of determination, I must say that, I don’t find his approach different from his predecessors (Kiyani and Musharraf ). It is true that due to Gen Raheel’s resolve extortion and target killings have gone down in Karachi. But my reservations are as follows:
Same Drone policy
Let us start with the Drones’ issue. Nothing has been done to restore the air sovereignty of Pakistan that is being continuously invaded by the US. The drone strikes by the Americans continue and perhaps have increased in the recent months. How is it any different from the situation under Gen Kiyani (when more than 300 strikes took place) and Musharraf (when these strikes started).
Dependence on the America
Pakistan does not have an independent foreign policy and sometimes even the domestic policies are influenced by other nations. Secondly, any Chief of Army Staff is close to the Americans. For instance, General Raheel has been awarded the Legion of Merit (LOM) by the U.S. This award is given for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements for U.S. Similar interest was shown by the Americans in the case of his predecessors From Ayub, Zia, Musharraf, Kiyani etc. Our dependent behavior remains the same.
Extending the American war on terror
After General Musharraf joined the US war on terror as a front line state, there had been several militancy related operations, which destabilized our country immensely. We have had more than 55,000 civilians dead and more than 6,000 army personnel have laid their lives for the war after the Americans invaded Afghanistan. There was just one reported suicide bomb in Pakistan before 9/11 in 1987 and after our alliance with American, we had to pay a huge cost with more than 450 suicide attacks on our soil.
Musharraf started military operations in 2004 in South Waziristan, then Kayani started operation in 2008 in Swat and other regions. General Raheel has been leading operations in North Waziristan and Khyber agencies.DG ISPR Major General Asim Bajwa while briefing at GHQ said, “For the military, there will be no discrimination among Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) groups or Haqqani network, all terror groups are going to be eliminated.”
It is well known that Pakistan’s enemies are the TTP operated groups, and the Haqqanis have never attacked our soil. The Haqqanis – even after several drone strikes on their women and children – did not take up arms against the Pak Army. Have we thought how after Zarb-e-Azab we may be creating more enemies of Pakistani state?
Same policy of heated rhetoric and blame game with India
Complaining to America about Indian involvement and waging a war of words with India. Using Kashmir issue and Indian animosity to whip patriotism; and taking no concrete steps to resolve them. Same policy here.
Continuing the Army operations policy in Balochistan
Last month, at least 13 suspected militants belonging to the BLF were killed in a raid by security forces near Turbat. Balochistan operations continue to take place and atrocities are generally underreported or not discussed at all.
Increasing the Missing persons Issues
On Jan 14, 2015, acccording to media reports, the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (CIED) was seized with 1,265 cases as of Dec 31. But the Defence of Human Rights (DHR) claims that the total number of cases of missing persons is 5,149 and 252 of them surfaced in 2014 alone.
Zohra Yusuf, Chairperson HRCP talking about rangers operations in Karachi said: “HRCP has many concerns with regard to due process amid a perceptible rise in suspects’ killings in encounters in Karachi… We cannot stress enough the need for transparency in security operations, and unequivocally state that people being picked up and their whereabouts remaining unknown for days is utterly unacceptable.” Especially after the National Action Plan, the situation of missing person cases has increased. Has our policy changed?
Throwing around 2.8 million people in Camps
How can a country move in the right direction when it displaces its own citizens for every operation that is carried out? FATA was already governed in a terrible manner and now people are suffering from multiple security operations. On 19th March 2015, Minister for States and Frontier Regions Lt General (r) Abdul Qadir Baloch said that the ongoing operation of repatriating Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to their respective areas would be completed by December 2016. A total of Rs 2.8 million people belonging to seven agencies had to leave their homes due to military operation against militants.
Keeping army relevant as a political actor
The best start of army officials’ involvement was seen during the ‘dharna’ game of 2014; and the Army Chief was presented as the savior of Pakistanis as silly politicians fought with each other. Even though I do not have much hope from the current system and our politicians but a soft army coup is not the answer to our problems. It seems to be a repeat telecast of army involvement when general Kiyani resolved the issue of restoring the former Chief Justice in 2009 when tensions escalated between the PML(N) and the PPP.
On 26 July, 2015, Gen Raheel said: “CPEC and Gwadar Port will be built and developed as one of the most strategic deep sea ports in the region at all costs,” Even though it is a purely civilian initiative and the government of China has made contract with the government of Pakistan. Such statements undermine the civilian setup unnecessarily and increase the powers of the military establishment.
Silencing free journalism
The message is loud and clear to the journalists. You cannot criticize any action of army. You cannot give coverage to the other side of story of the affectees of drones, Zarb-e-Azab, Balochistan issue, IDPs, Karachi operation. You cannot discuss corruption cases within the security agencies. Anyone doing this is a traitor in the homeland. Media is influenced by the intelligence agencies; and the Army public relations department plays a major role these days in shaping public opinion. Such media management is even stronger than the Musharraf or Kiyani eras!
Pushing Legislation to control citizens
Legislation has been pushed which undermines the freedom of civilians and basic human rights. The PPO and the 21st constitutional amendment (under National Action Plan) are clear examples of it. These legal changes make military the judge, the prosecutor and the witness against everyone.
With the passage of the far-reaching Pakistan Protection Act (PPA) 2014, LEAs now have legal cover to enter and search any premises without warrant as well as detain and fire at “enemy aliens/militants” whom they reasonably believe will commit an offence.
What Musharraf started continues. No questions or FIRs on extra judicial killings by the rangers and army operations or the drones. The blame has been placed on the judiciary for freeing terrorists. Instead of strengthening the current judicial structures, the parliament has set up military courts.
And interestingly, if something goes wrong on the security front, it will be the parliamentary PM who will be held accountable.
If you have heard of the Jamat-ud-Dawa and Jaish-al-Muhammad or Hizb-ul-Mujahideen you would know what I mean. All these groups continue to have offices and banners and billboards and campaigning. This policy has not changed either.
I believe the above points clearly demonstrate that as far as the major policies are concerned, the country has not seen anything new. Patriotic songs, media gimmicks and billboards are of little use given the serious issues faced by the country. The military should contribute to Pakistan’s progress by letting civilians rule and take decisions. We need our troops to guard us from internal and external threats but the Parliament, free media and civil liberties cannot be compromised. We are already suffering from the past transgressions.
The author is an assistant professor at Bahria University and completing his PhD in Artificial intelligence from NUST