The Army Chief’s Address

Spearhead Analysis – 06.11.12

‘When a country looks at its fighting forces it is looking in a mirror, if the mirror is a true one, the face it sees will be its own.’

General Sir John Hackett

The Pakistan Army Chief addressed the officers in General Headquarters on November 5, 2012. The press release giving the highlights of his talk has led to media frenzy with anchors, analysts and commentators falling over each other to give their own understanding of what the Chief said, why he said it and what he actually meant when he said it. If ever there was any doubt as to where the center of gravity lay this reaction has removed it.

In fact the Chief has tactfully explained this phenomenon by saying that-‘Armed forces draw their strength from public support. National security is meaningless without it — any effort  which wittingly or unwittingly, drives a wedge between the people and Armed Forces undermines the larger national interest — the integrity and cohesion of the Armed Forces is essentially based on the trust reposed in them by the people of Pakistan. Strengthening this trust will ensure better security of the country’. More than anybody else the military knows that the true center of gravity is in the people and it is from them that they derive their strength — indeed their very existence. Militaries are sensitive to public opinion as the recent events in the Arab world have demonstrated and the media has an important role in shaping opinion, hence his further elaboration that — ‘equally important is the trust between the leaders and the led of the Armed Forces. Any effort to create a distinction between the two undermines the very basis of this concept and is not tolerated, be it in Pakistan or any other country’. Senior military leaders start by living, eating and working with their men as they progress from command of a section to platoon to company to battalion and beyond — they earn their rank and create their military reputation over many years. Any attempt to undermine this all important relationship would be considered subversive in any military force. What the Chief said has nothing to do with extremists or militants — his focus was on the officer-soldier relationship in a professional military force that must never be allowed to be undermined by irresponsible criticism.

The Chief has sought to raise the level of debate from squabbles of trivialities and personal attacks to a higher plane by saying that national interest needs to be determined by consensus in accordance with the Constitution and not arbitrarily by an individual or any one institution. In the same context he said that the nation was passing through a defining phase because we are critically looking at the mistakes in the past and trying to set course for the future — ‘we should learn from the past, try to build the present and keep our eyes set on a better future’. He was reaching out to the majority when he talked of institutions. More than anyone else the military knows the consequences of an imbalance in institutional development — when one institution develops itself at the cost of the others. His remarks aimed at stressing balanced and progressive institutional development over a period of time by taking the long view rather than expedient considerations. Instead of getting into specifics the Chief stressed the importance of the rule of law and not circumventing or influencing the due process of law by pre-judging people. He ended by mentioning the implications of haste in matters that need time to resolve and asked two fundamental questions. Are we promoting the rule of law and the Constitution? — Are we strengthening or weakening the institutions? The answers to these could guide and modulate our conduct and improve the internal environment.

The debates will rage on but the overwhelming response to what the Army Chief has said has been positive. This also seems to be the verdict of the media. In that sense his purpose has been achieved. Speculations that he was under some kind of pressure to respond to ongoing situations or that he was addressing one or more specific institutions will go on to bring his remarks to lower levels but the message — that the military intends to respect the rule of law and the Constitution — is clear. In a separate and unrelated speech the Chief Justice stated that security no longer meant guns, missiles and tanks. Truer words were never spoken. In today’s world security has a much more comprehensive meaning with economic security, political stability, human security, foreign policy and the rule of law as dominant considerations hence the need for orchestration of national power by a balanced development of all institutions.

(Spearhead Analyses are the result of a collaborative effort and not attributable to a single individual)