I spend some time every month with a think tank called the Institute of South Asian Studies, at the National University of Singapore. It has a vibrant mix of researchers, some of whom are senior citizens and, hence, experienced in different fields, as also young researchers, very energetic and intelligent, churning out papers which are an excellent commentary on contemporary developments in South Asia.
From time to time, the institute holds seminars, workshops and discussions on issues which are relevant to the region. We, recently, had one such seminar, a public event, which discussed the developments in Pakistan since it gained independence. A distinguished panel of experts participated in the seminar titled: ‘Pakistan at 70: Politics, Economics and Sociology’. Besides the high commissioner of Pakistan in Singapore, Nasrullah Khan, and the former finance minister of Pakistan Shahid Javed Burki, General Jehangir Karamat, who was Pakistan’s army chief in 1998, also participated. Karamat spoke on the subject: ‘Pakistan’s sustained political progress: the supportive role of the military’.
I must compliment Karamat for an excellent presentation. It was very candid and thought-provoking. In clinically analysing the role of the military, he made out a case of the Pakistani army, in recent times, not harbouring any ambitions of taking over power. He observed that they merely desired to ensure that the democratic process plays itself out properly and that an elected government functions effectively. He mentioned that the military helps in shaping the international environment sometimes even “overstepping its domain in military diplomacy”. It would only like to intervene to support the government when it finds “instability to deliver on governance” or when “economic governance has been poor”. He talked of the political executive often wanting “their own man as military chief”, and referred to the “politicisation of the bureaucracy”.
Karamat went on to refer to a recently released book by former foreign secretary Shyam Saran, wherein the author seems to have stated (I have not read the book, so I do not vouch for the authenticity of the reference), that in respect of discussions on Siachen, in 1989, there were five visits of military delegations between India and Pakistan, and an agreement on the issues they were negotiating could have been reached but for the intervention of the Indian Army who did not allow the agreement to be signed. [Karamat cited this incident as an example of the supercilious attitude of the Army in India!] The final observation that he made was that in Pakistan the public has great trust in the army and want it to “oversee democracy”.
The presentation of the general was exceedingly illuminating. He reiterated that the military has not, over the last 20 odd years, desired to take over power as it had done in the past. I tend to believe that. Governance has become far more complex now than it was ever so in the past. The international environment is no longer as benign as it was in earlier years and there is no reason for the military to be soiling its hands with such a messy situation as obtains now. It certainly is a remarkable place that the military occupies in the democratic traditions of Pakistan that it sees itself to be a citadel, an epitome or an island of professionalism, credibility, probity and as a conscience-keeper to the nation, when it arrogates itself the mandate to ‘oversee democracy’ and intercede when it finds that there is a breakdown in governance.
In India the question has often been raised: “Who audits the CAG?” I am sure the citizens of Pakistan are asking the question: “Who oversees the army?”
Former comptroller and auditor general, Rai is head of the Supreme Court-appointed BCCI’s Committee of Administrators.