With a bated breath, we witness the political battle unfold where victory is being claimed by all the players. Many permutations, mostly speculative by nature and some by intent, grace us with their presence, offered as the truth. Pakistanis, on either side of the political divide, are enwrapped in this power struggle where maturity and restraint have been compromised, leading the events to a position of no return. The sad part is that history is repeating itself despite tall claims that the demons of the past have been buried forever. They have not. They are still alive with all the notoriety at their command, ready to take us with them into the past. While this happens the future looks bleak and uncertain.
A rather unwanted debate that has captured the attention of all is the issue of neutrality of our establishment. This issue, in today’s age and time, has many dimensions. The most striking part is that all these dimensions are now open for discussion given the influence and ease of expression offered by Twitter and other social media channels. I am quite sure that the neutrality of the establishment will dominate the political and intellectual discourse of Pakistan for a considerable time to come. If we are a constitutional fan, which we are not, but assuming we are, then this neutrality stand taken by the establishment is within the constitutional scheme if not the realpolitik.
Let us first try to understand the constitutional mandate of our establishment
Our constitution separately provides and distinguishes between offices of the government and offices of the state. This has been clearly defined in Article 260 of the constitution in the following words:
“Service of Pakistan” means any service, post, or office in connection with the affairs of the Federation or of a Province, and includes an All-Pakistan Service, serving in the Armed Forces and any other service declared to be a service of Pakistan by or under Act of Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) or of a Provincial Assembly but does not include service as Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Chairman, Deputy Chairman, Prime Minister, Federal Minister, Minister of State, Chief Minister, Provincial Minister, Attorney-General, Advocate General, Parliamentary Secretary, Chairman or member of a Law Commission, Chairman or member of the Council of Islamic Ideology, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister, Adviser to the Prime Minister, Special Assistant to Chief Minister, Adviser to a Chief Minister or member of a House or a Provincial Assembly”
Given the above definition, we can see that the office of the President, Governor, Chief Election Commissioner, Chief of the Army, Judges of Superior Courts and our civil bureaucracy, are part of the Service of Pakistan and not the “government of Pakistan”. The people in the Service of Pakistan, read our establishment, may be appointed by the government of the time but they primarily serve the interests of the state of Pakistan. The offices not included in the Service of Pakistan are also mentioned in the above definition and mostly include political offices and appointees. This leads us to the conclusion that political offices representing the government and offices representing the state are distinguishable under our constitutional scheme.
The importance of neutrality
The officials in the Service of Pakistan have to maintain a degree of neutrality in their approach towards certain issues, politics being one of them. This is an accepted position the world over. But Pakistan has experienced in the last 70 odd years that this separation is mostly confined to our law books. On the ground, our politics has been shaped by the establishment. Therefore, we have to see the issue of neutrality of the people in the Service of Pakistan, our establishment, from our own national perspective.
“Neutrality is rascality”. I have borrowed this rather provocative expression from Late General Hameed Gul. He was known as someone who never minced words. A straight shooter, he was. During his time with the armed forces, he is believed to have played a major part in the “shuffling” of governments in the “interests of the state” and carried an envious influence among our intelligence apparatus. He will be missed for many reasons and forgiven for others.
What Mr. Hameed Gul said in one of his speeches is very relevant to our present predicament in many ways – the issue of neutrality.
Establishments are never neutral in any part of the world
That is not how the establishments operate. They may like to maneuver events from the shadows, not showing their true face, but they do leave undeniable signs of their participation, like the odor of gunpowder. One only needs a good sense of smell to detect their presence.
As a student of law and history, I have come to understand that ‘neutrality’ is used by the establishment to conceal and shield just the opposite i.e. partiality, as part of a larger scheme to avoid public comments on their perceived role in a particular set of circumstances. From their perspective, it is their legitimate right to do so and there are forceful arguments on both sides.
Neutrality may have different characteristics. It generally implies a non-partisan approach in case of a conflict. But unlike partiality, it can never be absolute. Judiciary must be neutral and so should other institutions that exercise quasi-judicial powers, are entrusted with the responsibility to hold fair elections or to conduct investigations, as such impartiality is essential to their credibility. However, the role of establishment in a conflict when the interests of the state are involved, in my opinion, can never be and should not be neutral.
In the current political situation where one party that has founded its political capital on anti-army rhetoric, has garnered support in favor of that rhetoric, has publicly condemned the highest offices in a spate of unreserved anger and frustration, attempted to drive a wedge in the rank and file of the elite defence forces of Pakistan, is now openly threatening to oust a democratically elected leader through trading of conscience and souls and we are being told, to our utter surprise, that our establishment under the premise of neutrality, will allow this sickening episode of greed and power play to continue.
It sends shivers down my spine, given our political history, just to think that all this immoral political scheming and unprincipled connivance that has come to the fore will not trouble our establishment. With the intelligence apparatus at its command our establishment must have ample knowledge about who is doing what. Will the establishment refuse to play any contributory role, within the confines of the law even if it means a comforting gesture, to confront and dismiss the machinations of mischievous minds that will potentially compromise the welfare of the state of Pakistan? Is this really neutrality that we are advised to accept and appreciate?
Or is this a planned silence under the garb of neutrality?
Since the first decade of its creation, Pakistan has been and is being controlled by the establishment. This is not a hidden secret. They may have good reasons to do so, given our extremely divisive political, religious and social structure as well as our geographical position, especially the perpetual threats on our eastern and western borders but is there any method to their designs? To be honest, the domain to determine this also rests with the establishment.
But things are changing slowly and gradually. And I cannot say with certainty that they are changing for the better.
Since 2018, under a well-orchestrated and executed strategy, the role of establishment has now entered the public arena. Every day we see in the television talk shows, a covert reference to our establishment under the pseudo names such as “khalai makhluq”, “angels”, “hidden hands”, “the real power center” “asli hukmaran”, where the presenters, after expressing some views suddenly withdraw from further discussion as if they perceive retaliation. Phrases like “Par jaltay hain hamaray” (this is a forbidden topic for us) are often uttered to bring an end to the conversation. Till that time a lot has already been said.
The establishment strongly believes that there is fifth generation warfare that has been unleashed to destabilize Pakistan by using its own people against the armed forces. The enemy’s plan, we are being told, is to target and weaken the trust between our men in uniform and the civilian population to an extent that our nuclear assets are neutralized. Is this just a counter strategy to quell the public debate on the role of establishment or is this the real thing?
This is the 21st century. A century dominated by technology where the rules of the game have been shown the door. All previously accepted ideas and philosophies emanating over time immemorial have been shattered to pieces. We live in a new world order created by digital trends running on artificial intelligence. Our individual and collective behaviour, thinking, preferences, intellectuality, morality, principles and political views are shaped by a few social media houses. They do not abide by our laws or rules. They do not accept our authority. They create and play by their own rules.
I do think there is some form of warfare that is taking place out there
We do see a sudden rise in condemnation tweets against our armed forces, mostly from foreign-controlled accounts. Then there are those who use their influence to lead furtive attacks on the armed forces within and outside Pakistan. But is this not happening in any other part of the world. Are we not using the same disruptive techniques against our enemies?
In this age and time of social media, where we witness unregulated, uncensored, fearless, unrestricted, open and direct use of the right of expression, the role of establishment and its claim of neutrality has not gone down well with the netizens. This may cause some alarm in the relevant circles and I have reasons to believe that some damage control measures are already in the offing. Old tactics may not work in the digital space. Something new, more modern is required to address the situation.
Pakistanis have always sided with their establishment for the wrong as well as the right reasons. We have fought wars alongside our brother soldiers. We have never resisted martial laws, takeovers, coups and subverting of our constitution by them, believing with a suppressed guilt, that there were good reasons to do so. We have profited from political realignments triggered and enforced by our establishment. We have suffered at the hands of their monsters, be it in the form of religious fanatics or political terrorists.
We supported their decision to fight an alien war. We have shed tears whenever our soldier has tasted martyrdom. We have generously opened our national coffers to maintain the strength, discipline and invincibility of our armed forces. We have accepted the corporatization and expanding business interests of our brothers in khakis, even when the highest judicial forum raised its eyebrows and penned its reservations.
In short, the people of Pakistan have never shown and will never show neutrality towards our armed forces. And yet we are told that the armed forces are neutral when their moral partiality is most required in these dire conditions. Is this the correct interpretation or am I being driven by misconceived notions?
Fifth-generation warfare may be a real and present threat to our survival as a nation. Our armed forces are the custodians of the bond that unites us and they are doing a tremendous job in that regard. But to enjoy neutrality, some moral partiality, especially when the interests of the state are involved, must be demonstrated. Like love, one-way neutrality may not lead to fruition in the long haul. It may last a few decades but will eventually run out of gas. Let’s all work together to ensure our journey is not short-lived. Time is ticking by and we still have many more miles to go.
Faisal Zaman is a lawyer with more than 25 years of professional experience. He writes regularly on legal, social and political issues. He has authored a book on corporate affairs titled “The Corporate Structure of Private Companies – For Business Leaders, Startups and Entrepreneurs”. His legal practice involves transactional & contractual drafting, mediation, advisory and research assignments within one or multiple jurisdictions. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.