Saturday, 3 October 2015

QOTD: Mushahid Hussain and reforming the armed forces

Nation, Karachi, Pakistan
5 June, 2001
Reforming The Armed Forces
by Mushahid Hussain
It is not perhaps surprising that the military regime's zeal for reform
remains limited to civilian sectors. Since October 12, 1999, the military
regime has been trying to revamp and restructure almost every state
institution with evangelical zeal - the bureaucracy, police, political
system, constitution, laws, sports, post office, railways, CBR, etc. The only
exceptions are the Armed Forces, although as Admiral Mansoorul Haq's case
demonstrates, the 'monitors' themselves need to be monitored and reformed.
Like any institution in a status quo society, the Armed Forces too badly need
reforms. And in a country like Pakistan, only a military regime can undertake
this task. A civilian government will, first of all, not be allowed to do it
and even if it tried, it would be destabilised. Making the Hamoodur Rahman
Commission Report public, sacking Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan or going to India at
the invitation of the Indian Prime Minister are easier for a military regime.
Civilian governments taking these steps would be defensive, promptly accused
of "treason", "sell-out" or being "anti-national". A recent cartoon in an
Urdu newspaper aptly summed up this double-standard: a bearded gentleman is
asked whether it is 'halal' or 'haram' for the government of Pakistan to talk
to India, and he answers "it is 'halal' for the military but 'haram' for the
Top priority needs to be given to military reform in key areas. First, the
issue of accountability and corruption as it extends to the Armed Forces.
News reports in the Pakistani press, which have not been denied, have stated
that in defence deals in the last 20 years, of approximately $ 10 billion in
purchases of military equipment, almost 10 per cent, i.e., $ 1 billion, has
been siphoned off through corruption, commissions and kickbacks. Obviously,
the beneficiaries of such largesse would be senior serving or retired
personnel. Last July, the Prosecutor General of the National Accountability
Bureau (NAB) was on record stating that of the "six dubious defence deals"
NAB was then supposed to be investigating, "in only one deal, kickbacks worth
$ 147 million were paid". Admiral Mansoorul Haq's extradition from the United
States is probably a link in the same chain.
The Admiral's case is somewhat special. He is the first Service chief, a
four-star general, to be caught with his "hand in the cookie jar". He is the
first to have been sacked on charges of corruption, and that too by a
civilian government. He is the first Pakistani to be extradited from the
United States. And he is the first four-star general to face trial in
Pakistan on corruption charges, and that too under a military dispensation.
Given the passion for accountability which the military regime has
demonstrated mostly in the case of civilians - politicians, bureaucrats,
businessmen - in the interests of across-the-board even-handedness, it should
make public the results of the NAB investigation into the six 'dubious'
defence deals that were apparently investigated a year ago, as stated by its
Prosecutor General. This would also belie those cynics and critics who feel
that the Admiral has been made a one-off example, show-cased for public
relations purposes, because as a navy man, he represents the weakest military
The second issue of reforming the armed forces is that of transparency in
non-combat defence expenditures, which is all the more important given
Pakistan's serious economic crunch with annual growth dipping to an all time
low of 2.5 per cent. If civilian budgets are made accountable for the way
money is spent or misused, the defence budget too should be subject to public
scrutiny. And some aspects of khaki ostentation are no longer congruent with
our economic realities, namely, large limousines or spacious mansions and
This transparency should be extended to other areas of policy, which have
wider implications. Even though delayed, the military regime made a good
beginning by publishing the Hamoodur Rahman Report although its contents
showed its military predecessors in a bad light. Similarly, the report
prepared by the Command and Staff College, Quetta, still classified but
available at its library on the 1965 War, should also be made public. These
events are part of our history, and people need to know what happened and
what went wrong.

The third area of reforming the armed forces is its recruitment policy, which,
for the most part, has been a colonial holdover. Recently, in a welcome
change, the Pakistan Army's Adjutant General announced the "first ever
rational recruitment policy" aimed at the interior of Sind and Balochistan.
The recruitment policies of the armed forces were derived from the British
colonial outlook that preferred recruitment from what were termed as "martial
races", a codeword for loyalty to the Crown, which basically meant a few
districts of the Punjab and the Frontier provinces. 
Bengalis, Sindhis and the Baloch were deliberately excluded, with the result
that while the Armed Forces may be national in outlook, ethos and
orientation, their composition has remained quite lop-sided with over 90 per
cent representation to just two provinces. Interestingly, while the Baloch
readily recruit into the Oman Army, they have token representation in our own
Armed Forces. And in over half a century, there has never been a Sindhi
general in the Pakistan Army. It is good that the military regime has
developed an awareness of this problem, and there are serious efforts to
rectify this wrong. Need we recall that one of the major grievances of the
Bengalis was that they were systematically denied entry into the Army on the
spurious plea that they were "physically not fit" to serve since they were
supposed to be short in stature. As one prominent Bengali intellectual
remarked, if height is assumed as an index of a 'martial race', then, by that
reckoning, what about an average Vietnamese being shorter than the average
Bengali! Today, the Bangladesh Army has been the first in South Asia to admit
women to its military academy as cadets.
Military recruitment is an important issue, and given the wider role of the
armed forces, it has acquired a political dimension too. It is no accident
that whenever there is a military regime, the smaller provinces see it as
akin to "Punjabi domination", mainly because of the overwhelming Punjabi
presence in the Army. This needs to be changed as part of a conscious and
clear policy, which should be enunciated publicly as well.
Finally, a caveat regarding a unique feature of the present military regime.
This is the first military regime that is not only ruling but also involved
in actual governance. That role is evident from the large-scale induction of
military personnel in civilian posts, a normal feature of any military
regime. More importantly, an organized, widespread Army Monitoring system now
serves as an autonomous watchdog over various layers of officialdom, somewhat
similar to the role of the Communist Party political commissars that were the
'eyes and ears' of any communist system.
A three-fold danger could result from such a situation. First, the
"civilianisation" of the military, reflected in different ways, all
detrimental to the services: erosion of discipline over time, seeping in of
corrupt practices, and a lowering of espirit de corps as the army interacts
intimately with civilians unlike the insularity of "cantonment culture".
Second, the civil bureaucracy is either supplanted or viewed with suspicion.
Third, restructuring Pakistani society without reforming the armed forces may
create a khaki-mufti divide in an already polarised polity. Military reform
should be a top priority, because when the elected governments return, as
they must by 2002, the armed forces status of a "holy cow", reinforced after
October 12, would preclude any possibility of attempting reform under the

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