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Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Lt Gen. Asad Durrani explains DGI fiasco

Gen. (r) Asad Durrani, a prominent defense columnist opines that our Army does not have a lethal arsenal and but one must understand their importance and presence in our politics. Military in Pakistan has acquired the role of the ultimate arbiter. Carrying that burden, every now and then it tries to steer the country’s politics – and like the American, Army fails every time.

Not Bruce Lee, but the Scottish king who after repeated setbacks was inspired by a spider to resume his struggle, and liberate his country. Einstein, on the other hand, having experimented all his life, surmised that “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results was insane”. The US and Pakistan may often have pursued different goals but their armies have one in common: to prove Einstein’s theory of insanity wrong.

After losing to the Viet Cong, the American Army came up with probably the first written doctrine to fight insurgents. It highlighted the primacy of soft power over the use of brute force. The problem is that armed primarily with kinetic means, it found their use more convenient and less complicated than courting hearts & minds – and continued to use the hammer, and to lose to ragtag militias.

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Mercifully, our Army does not have a lethal arsenal and therefore must make do with its special status in the country. Reasons may be historic – the territory was so often trampled over by invading hoards that the people developed respect for the force of arms – or circumstantial, due to civilian incompetence. All the same, the military in Pakistan has acquired the role of the ultimate arbiter. Carrying that burden, every now and then it tries to steer the country’s politics – and like the American, Army fails every time.

This failure is programmed

Ruling directly or with the help of a civilian façade, the Army needed political pawns, who carrying khaki baggage lacked credibility and remained dependent upon their godfathers for support and survival. In the belief that some more of the same would ultimately get the spider in its web, the Army had to twist more arms. The higher judiciary was often coerced to legitimize the process; electoral exercises were manipulated, and the GHQ was blamed – understandably – for any bloopers by the puppet regime. That was still not the worse part of this marriage made in purgatory.

Effects on the Institution itself were palpable. Loyalty to the Chief now counted more than the professional acumen. To keep the tottering dispensation on respirators, the boss man perpetuated himself in office – which didn’t endear him to his own tribe. Actual or perceived power trickled down to the ranks and files, causing resentment amongst the hoi polloi, and didn’t do much good to the military’s sacred culture.

Another damage was collateral

Since the Army’s political face had to be whitewashed through an electoral process, over time the beneficiaries convinced themselves that they genuinely represented people’s will. Sooner or later they were thus bound to test the threshold of their mandate. That may well be the reason that the political gurus have often warned against the infirmities of a hybrid structure. Indeed, an artificial organism leads to a muddled distribution of authority and responsibility.

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Consider the latest spat between the prime minister and the COAS over the office of the ISI Chief. According to the rules of business, he is to be appointed – and can be removed – by the Chief Executive. But traditionally, or because of the Army’s singular status, he’s a serving general who must keep looking over his shoulder towards the GHQ. Due to this anomaly, it’s not the first time it has led to bad blood between Islamabad and Rawalpindi. A few prime ministers exercised their prerogative and selected a person against the wishes of the army chief. Many others signed on the dotted lines to live and fight another day.

It’s not that one is not aware of universally accepted good practices. In Israel the head of Mossad is appointed for six years but only after the leader of the opposition was taken on board. In Germany at least once it was a member of the opposition who headed the BND. The underline idea in both the cases was to avoid any controversy over the person assigned to this crucial post – and to ensure stability in the office.

How to create good governance?

Ironically, while many of these incongruities were the consequence of the Army’s larger-than-life role, the corrective measures too were often suggested by the uniformed community. To create consensus on the core security issues, the formation of an advisory group under the aegis of the chief executive that would include representatives from the political opposition, but none from the armed forces, was one of them.

Besides keeping the government waiting in the loop on the rationale of certain policies, it was also to prevent political parties from playing politics with matters of vital national interests. Mainstream parties may have been excited with this formula when in opposition, but would not touch it with a nine-foot pole back in power – most probably because they didn’t want anyone to come in the way when they rode roughshod over the country’s resources.

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Reverting to the original sin, Army’s repeated interventions in politics always ended like the American invasion of Afghanistan. Both of them, when exiting, were followed precisely by the forces meant to be kept out – who walked right in the corridors of power as if through a revolving door. The reverse also turned out to be true. To guard against the power of the gun, whenever the selecting authority – a prime minister or a president – went down the ladder to pick a safe hand on the trigger, it always backfired. Not even Einstein could convince the products of an illegitimate system not to reinforce failure.

King Bruce on the other hand succeeded because his means were legitimate.


Gen. (r) Asad Durrani is the author of “Pakistan Adrift (2018)” and “Honour Among Spies (2020)” and a prominent defence columnist. He served as Director-General Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), DG Military Intelligence and as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Germany. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space (GVS News).