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Friday, December 1, 2023

The continuation of democracy by other means – Gen Tariq Khan

Gen. Tariq Khan, who retired as head of Pakistan’s Central Command thinks not being familiar with the common sentiment of national fervor, always search for something in it for the individual who is proffering his views in this country. People fail to connect any recommendations and suggestions with attachment to one’s country and the people who live in it.

‘The basis of our political system is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitution of the government.’ George Washington

The debate rage on – Presidential or Parliamentary system? Everyone has an opinion but no one wants to ask the people. Some refer to the Judiciary, others to the Constitution and yet some resort to reason and logic – but only their own reason and logic. Yet, no one feels that the people, the only relevant equation to such a decision, should even be asked; in fact, some opinionists downright reject any proposal where a referendum can settle the matter. Since some people attribute this debate to me and accuse me of generating a meaningless argument; thus, it becomes incumbent on me to explain my position and clear the air.

Let me first clarify, I am A-political and do not have a dog in this fight. Neither am I representative of any organization, intelligence set-up, the establishment or the Army. My retired status is now light years away and I am no longer connected to the Army – though it is an institution that I am very proud to be associated with and will continue to be proud of. I am settled in South Waziristan, I have only one passport – a Pakistani one, and am happily and gainfully involved on our family lands which have been within the family for a few centuries. For those, who accuse me of being silent when in service I can only inform them that my reputation is very public and can easily be validated.

Read more: National Security Policy of Pakistan is oxymoronic – Gen. Tariq Khan

I never held back my views in service, many a time at my own peril

However, in-service, such debates are never made public and should not be made public even now. It’s a question of form, decorum, honor and dignity. Still others, not being familiar with the common sentiment of national fervor, always search for something in it for the individual who is proffering his views. They fail to connect any recommendations and suggestions with attachment to one’s country and the people who live in it and instead accuse such people of being in search of employment or some other personal privilege. No, I do not want a job nor do I need one. This is needed to be said only because most people attack my views on a personal note but hardly ever on reasoning, logic or the merit of the matter. Thus, going by what people have to say, my views at times, appear to be motivated by some vested interest I may have, which I need to contest and reject as an argument.

Mr Haroon Khawaja found it within himself to premise his take on the subject by paying his respects to me since he probably felt that he was contradicting my intellect. I find myself in his debt and am obliged to thank him for his thoughtfulness and honourable conduct. Nevertheless, his logic, that the Presidential system may lead to a permanent Punjabi President because a Punjabi Candidate would have more votes is not entirely true. The Parliamentary system is also based on votes and as is now Punjab will always have greater representation because of its population – so this argument does not hold any water. Besides out of the three Presidents that we have had, one was Pushtun, two were Muhajirs and if one wishes to throw in Yahya – he was of Afghan descent.

I know that there will be an argument that they were never elected by popular vote but all the same that’s the reality of it!! His other suggestion of converting the already existing districts into provinces is simply not practical for a host of reasons, though if it was possible, I could go along with it.

Now coming to the debate itself. What was lost in the din of noise related to the Presidential or Parliamentary system, was the small caveat, which very clearly indicated that regardless of what system one puts in place, it will remain as dysfunctional as it is today without the relevant reforms. These include Judicial reforms, de-politicization of the Police, constructing more provinces, accountability across the board, merit in the bureaucracy, rewriting or amending the constitution where needed and a whole lot more. If any government can do these things, I am totally in favor of no change and would support whatever government is in place, regardless of which system is in vogue.

Read more: Dealing with militancy: Pakistan’s self-inflicted wound! – Gen. Tariq Khan

However, I am sure, just as everyone else is, that there is no political party today, that can stand its ground and display the moral courage to implement such reforms. It is why the main focus of my suggestion was to bring in a system – Caretaker/Technocrat/NSC style government that is political and not compromised in any way. Only they would be in a position to bring in such reforms

Having brought in such reforms, the country may decide by referendum as to which system they would prefer to put in place. My reckoning is that such an exercise would take anything up to six years but time is not as important as completing the reforms themselves and thus may be flexible. During this process of reforms, the people could be educated on the merits and demerits of the Presidential or Parliamentary system through public debates, television talk shows, seminars and think-tank studies etc. so that when the people are asked the question, related to their preference, they are able to give an informed answer.

Now comes the question of precedence

Has this happened anywhere else in the world? Yes, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam – the Asian Tigers. Many European Countries too have been down this road such as Greece, Italy, Germany and France, as have many others. No country on this globe has ever up-lifted itself by the system that we have in place, yet some are persistent that we should continue with the same dysfunctional system of governance.

Who benefits from such indifference other than the sitting Parliament? Which is another point raised my Mr Haroon Khawaja, as to why would the Parliament dissolve itself? That is not what was suggested and it is the Prime Minister who has jurisdiction to do so based upon an ungovernable situation that this parliament is responsible for in the first place. Yet, there is some truth to the logic that the system if left alone, will eventually right itself – but then there is no evidence to validate this. Every day is worse than before.

Besides, we have run out of time and resource and have reached the point of irreversible damage. We neither have the time nor the resource to continue in the vague hope that somewhere in the distant future, we may finally see the light. We are likely to destroy ourselves long before we reach the point where we are in a position to improve anything.

Read more: “Was this our War?” A General reflects back!

So to conclude: some like to reject this suggestion on the basis of it being martial law – but where is imartial law visible? Others think it’s a ploy to let the Army govern from behind the scenes – but that is what the Army is being accused of even now, yet this system has safeguards that keep the Army away from routine governance. Yet others scrap the recommendations claiming that what is being suggested is an experiment. Some silly rhetoric, ‘like for 75 years we have not been able to find a system’ – well we have not and it is visible even to the blind. No this is not an experiment but a corrective measure, tried, tested and practiced by a lot of countries in the world – why should Pakistan be denied it?


Writer, Gen. Tariq Khan, retired as head of Pakistan’s Central Command and has led Frontier Corps to victory against TTP. He has written and lectured extensively on the issues related to Afghanistan, the United States, and the Taliban. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.