Saturday, July 24, 2010

Extensions and prisons By Kamran Shafi

Straight to the leaked news in just one media group — picked up by certain other private TV channels later — of an extension in service for Gen Kayani of not one, but two years!

Mischievously, the story even alluded to the possibility that now that the president had ‘agreed’ to the extension in the COAS’s service, his own further stay in the president’s house would be more comfortable than it has been. No surprise, this news of the extension, for an analyst (or two) have sung Kayani’s praises in the press, recommending he get an extension for his great successes in the ongoing war on terror. Which, be as it may, should Kayani himself accept an extension even if it is handed to him on a silver platter? The Pakistan Army, we are told ad nauseam, is one of the best fighting forces in the world, commanded by some of the finest strategists in the universe. Is there no one who can replace Kayani then, when his tenure is over and he goes home like many generals before him, even some graceful Pakistani generals?

One might point out here that while Gen Abdul Waheed Kakar was a good man in many ways, the thing he stood out most for is the fact that he turned down an extension offered to him by none other than the late and much-lamented Benazir Bhutto (RIP, Bibi). It is great running into him now and again and to see the old soldier surrounded by people wanting to shake his hand and give him respect.

Likewise Gen Jehangir Karamat who resigned gracefully when asked to by the government of the day. He too is a much sought-after gentleman.

More importantly, our generals should see how Indian army chiefs quietly go home every three years, handing over command to their replacements. (Of course, without the unseemly and undignified tamasha that the Commando choreographed himself — the ridiculous handing over of the ‘command baton’ whatever in the world that was, for there is no such thing). We should remember too that if we have 100,000 men fighting the war on terror, India has nearly 500,000 men stationed in Indian-held Kashmir. Yet, if memory serves, no Indian army chief has either asked for, or was given, an extension.

This proves the point that India has a reserve of capable generals to take over command whenever the need arises: retirement of the incumbent, or, God forbid, his departure from this world over which no human being has any control. Well, so do we. Take the most tragic; most untimely and shocking death of Gen Asif Nawaz Janjua (RIP). While his young death was traumatic in the extreme to his family and friends, the sky did not fall on the Pakistan Army, or on Pakistan.

There are several other reasons why there should be no extensions: the new chief may well bring a fresh and a new and a more dynamic approach to the task at hand; second, that those standing in line are not deprived of their right to deserved promotion. In our case, we must note that both the COAS (Chief of Army Staff) and the CJCSC (Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee) are due to retire one after the other.

If the COAS gets an extension, why not the CJCSC too? In which case not one but two deserving officers get passed over, with a ripple effect going down the ranks leaving a bad taste in many mouths.

My advice to Gen Kayani would be to issue his last Order of the Day on the appointed date of his retirement, receive his successor in GHQ, and after a cup of tea get into his private car and fade away like many great generals before him. In the time that he has as COAS, might I suggest he announce the scrapping of the completely needless and wasteful new GHQ in Islamabad and the return of the land to the Pakistani government for auctioning it to the highest bidder and using the proceeds to provide potable water to the populace at large.

He should also order the immediate ceasing of all commercial activities by units and formations through their messes and clubs, such as holding marriage functions and running bakeries and bridal boutiques.

Organisations such as the Fauji Foundation and the Army Welfare Trust, and the factories and banks and cement and real estate and travel businesses they run should immediately be auctioned to the highest bidder and the money realised put into a welfare fund for soldiers, junior commissioned officers and officers at the ratio of 85:10:5. He will then go down as a great COAS who corrected grave wrongs, and a good general who trained up his successor like other successful generals before him.

On another tack, I have just finished reading former Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (Taliban) ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef’s book, My Life with the Taliban. An excerpt: “Those who were handed over to the Americans or to the Afghan government after imprisonment and interrogation by Pakistanis would be as happy as if they had been freed. I asked many prisoners this question: ‘What is the difference between Pakistani jails and Afghan or American jails?’ The answer always was the same: Afghan and American prisons were much better than the Pakistani ones.”

I have often begged My Lords who sit on the Supreme Court of Pakistan that the case of the disappeared Pakistanis must be given the importance it deserves for precisely the reason stated above: the inhumanity with which the security establishment keeps its prisoners. As stated earlier I do not ask that the prisoners be released by the Supreme Court for there may be heinous charges against them. But what certainly needs to be done post haste is for the agencies involved to come clean on how many prisoners they have, and in what state of health (or life!) they are in. Why, even the bad old Americans allow the exchange of letters between the detainees at Guantanamo and their families.

I strongly suggest Mullah Zaeef’s book be compulsory reading for all ranks.

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