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In Defense of Ex-Servicemen

18 June 2008

by Dr. Khalil Ahmad

‘It was the 1947 movement of independence which got us freedom from the rule of foreign masters, and now the lawyers’ movement for an independent judiciary aims at getting us freedom from the rule of local masters.’

This historic formulation was put forward by none other than an ex-serviceman in a private television talk show on June 13 exactly at the moment when the Long March was going to converge on the parade ground near the Constitution Avenue in Islamabad. The words uttered by Admiral Fasih Bukhari (retired) may be different, but his idea was the same. Is this idea worth nothing? Why no other enlightened, liberal, and democratic intellectual was able to realize the same thing, though many are grasping the significance of the lawyers’ movement in different ways?

Also, among other things that the Long March witnessed on the day, a sight was quite surprising, remarkable and unprecedented, it was just impressive: retired generals of Pakistan Army, prominent among them Hamid Gul and Jamshed Gulzar Kayani, rode an open truck flanked by other ex-servicemen. They were part of the Long March for the restoration of the judiciary and ouster of General Musharraf (retired).

As we know, the ex-servicemen society came to be noticed by all and sundry in the wake of lawyers’ and civil society’s protests generated by the March 09, (2007) episode. It was especially General Hamid Gul (retired) who was conspicuous by his presence in the protests before the Supreme Court building showing solidarity with the lawyers and feeling the heat of the state violence.

Of course, it was just unbelievable. How come they have crossed over to be with the people? However, it was pleasant to see a few of them there. The number increased as the lawyers’ movement stepped up. Not only General Hamid Gul (retired), but most of the retired generals of Pakistan Army, (no doubt, in-servicemen too), who had been instrumental in sabotaging the constitution, making/unmaking of civilian governments, and destroying the institutions of the country, are still detested by the people. But they were there on the roads strengthening the voice of the civil society for an independent judiciary.

From the roads, they made inroads into the world of local print and electronic media. Television channels, newspapers and magazines surrounded them and provided them with a platform to connect with the people. They started creating powerful ripples. Of them, the most outspoken are General Hamid Gul (retired), General Talat Masood (retired), General Mirza Aslam Beg (reitred), General Asad Durrani (retired), General Jamshed Gulzar Kayani (retired), and a few others. They are very clear in their stance: restore the judiciary of November 2 (2007), and try General Musharraf (retired) for high treason.

This ex-servicemen phenomenon proves that how the Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and the lawyers’ movement have shaken the nation to its deepest, and how the slumbering conscience of these erstwhile perpetrators has come to be alive. This is a very good omen. This will affect the institution of Pakistan Army in terms of its constitutional responsibilities immeasurably. Moreover, this will create traditions on which the Pakistan Ex-Servicemen Society (PESS) can thrive and work as a watchdog on the future activities of the in-servicemen. In an ultimate sense, this will help build dismantled institutions in Pakistan.

But, unfortunately this new factor of ex-servicemen has met strange responses not only from the civil society and men of opinion but media also. Obviously, those from the establishment, both military and civil, and those who are attached with it, must oppose the outbursts of these ex-servicemen. When General Musharraf (retired) laughs at their stance and ridicules them, it is understandable. When his allies and cronies remind these ex-servicemen of their misdeeds while in service, it is justified.

But how to explain resentment of the civil society, men of opinion and media is a problem. Instead of welcoming them in their ranks, they are being returned with ‘outright rejection’ on this or that pretext. Some say why they did not speak their hearts and minds when they were in service, when the heinous acts of abrogating the constitution of the country and planned conspiracies against the civilian governments and political parties were put into action. Rather, they coalesced and complied then. Why?

Some detect certain conspiracy theories, and for some very elaborate ones, behind their present words and deeds. Some find an element of vested interests and an agenda of their own working underneath. Some believe they are trying to restore the lost image and credibility of the Pakistan Army. Some conclude they are struggling to enable Pakistan Army regain its lost glory and heyday of its exclusive rule over Pakistan. Others fear they are in our ranks as enemies in disguise. We have so many shades of so many opinions roaming around. What is common to all of them is mistrust on these awakened and burning ex-servicemen’s souls!

This is unjust and unbecoming. As is said it’s never too late to mend, so why not allow the ex-servicemen a moment of penance! Haven’t we given such allowance to every section of our polity? Most of all and top of it are the politicians and judges. They have done more than these ex-servicemen did to Pakistan. Have they ever shown any remorse? Why don’t we believe what these ex-servicemen are saying and doing? Why do we doubt their intentions? Didn’t the top politician of this country sign the Murree Declaration before the cameras’ eyes? Didn’t the whole nation watch that? And did we doubt his intentions? No, we believed him. But what did he do? He betrayed everyone. And, he is fully in his place and enjoying what he never deserves.

It is quite unintelligible why this negative reaction is being unleashed on the ex-servicemen. Isn’t it on record that General Hamid Gul (retired) submitted to present him to any inquiry commission or for any trial and for any lawful punishment? Will any politician dare that? Isn’t it true that some of these ex-servicemen have admitted their faults publicly and there are others in line to bring the truth to light? Isn’t it a voluntary service? No one forced them to open their hearts and minds. It is of and on their own that they are making confessions. Isn’t it Truth wining the battle?

In fact, even if they had made no admissions and confessions, they should have been welcomed to the movement. They strengthen the civil society and the lawyers’ movement. They help promote cause of the restoration of the November 2 (2007) judiciary. They are laying the foundations of an ever-vigilant community of Pakistan Army retirees that is acting at this moment also as a very strong pressure group to the excesses of their own in-service brethren.

Why isn’t all this acceptable to us? Do we want these ex-servicemen live a life of leisure in their isolated clubs? Not in our midst! Do we want them always damned and condemned? Not to act like those who come clean out of the confessions closets!

It is immensely disheartening that in a society of perfect indulgents, we look for angels. How come that every one of us behaves like a puritan? This is inhuman. Let there be a society in Pakistan which allows metamorphosis of indulgents into angels! Let there be a society of erring humans accountable to their conscience and to the law of the land. Isn’t this what these ex-servicemen are fighting for along with the lawyers?!


Dr. Khalil Ahmad is president and founder of the Alternate Solutions Institute, Pakistan's first free-market think tank.

This article appeared in The Frontier Post on June 19, 2008.


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