The extension syndrome

Daily: The Statesman
Date: 30.07.10

First proclaim a personality indispensable for the system and then rue the day the
proclamation was made. That is, in a nutshell, an exercise carried out by the Pakistanis time
and again.

On July 22, the Prime Minister (PM), Yosuf Raza Gillani, announced on the state television
that the service of the incumbent Chief of Army, General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani, was
extended for three years.

The succinct speech left the viewers on their own to find the reasons which prompted the
PM Gillani to announce the – hurried – decision of extension of a public servant
(subordinate to the Secretary of Defence). The decision could have been taken implicitly
for being an administrative matter – though having unavoidable political connotations.
Nawaz Sharif has said that he was not taken into confidence on the matter.

In the recent past, the ghost of ‘continuity of policies’ along with the twin spectre of
‘continuity of personalities’ (including oneself) also took possession of General Pervaiz
Musharraf until Musharraf was successfully exorcised – by exorcists called, in this case, the
lawyers.  

The prevalent spell of democracy had promised to usher in an era of fortification of the
institutions rather than personalities: personal qualities should not override institutional
norms and practices. That jingle took the wind out of Musharraf’s sail and made him
dispensable – even if not accountable. Retention of personalities in the name of continuity
of the system was declared tantamount to choking of the system. No one knows for sure the
calibre and qualities of the next man in the row – unless abilities and inadequacies are
exposed. The next in the line had a right to replace his boss and display his skills; he might
be better than his boss.

Against that background, the current turnaround through extension of service of the army
chief leaves one dumbfounded. The doctrine of necessity may have abandoned the
judiciary – one thought the doctrine might have fallen into desuetude – but it is still around
and raises its ugly head here and there.

The saga of Pakistan is also laden with lamenting the strength of one institution at the cost
of the rest. There would be no preferential treatment – but that, perhaps, is also
unavoidable conduct given the frailties of the politicians dredged up by the system. The
crime of producing and presenting fake degrees to the Election Commission to get qualified
for the elections has inflicted a demoralising blow on society besides jolting its conscience.
People have awakened to the reality that several lawmakers are consequently unqualified
(or disqualified) to pass a bill and make a constitutional amendment. In the wake of the fake
degrees scam, what credibility of the recently passed constitutional amendment has been
carrying is yet to ascertain.

Possibly, the problem is not in personalities or institutions but somewhere else. The
prevailing system of democracy was erected on the crutches of the NRO and the related
guarantees. The foreign patrons required restoration of political (and judicial) order in the
country to relieve the Pakistan army for focusing wholeheartedly its attention towards the
western borders. General Kiyani was one of the witnesses to the NRO. Unfortunately, the
spanner of the NRO is now cramping the system.

The system has gradually degenerated to the extent that the exalted principles of giving the
institutions precedence over the personalities are being compromised and personal
objectives are being met in the name of ‘national interests’. Through the announcement,
the PM Gillani might be trying to dissemble insecurity lurking in the hearts of the politicians
owing to their dwindling credibility, thanks to the fake degrees issue. Secondly, the PM
Gillani might be dissimulating the fear that an entry of any new army chief might mean an
automatic alienation of the sitting government. The new chief may not be a witness to the
NRO and may listen to the Supreme Court, in case the court asks, to get its orders
implemented (through the executive including the army).

Disgorging the embezzled money would create deterrence for the depraved. The
misappropriated money has to be retrieved from the foreign banks. Without that money, the
national exchequer is not going to be doomed, no doubt, but the trend of fetching kick
backs in the sale-purchase of the national assets (or the items of national utility) should be
condemned.

The country like the US who is fighting the war on terror does not consider an army
general, McChrystal, indispensable. When the general stumbled on rules, he was shown
the exit door – without faltering. If personalities are considered vital, institutions are
demeaned. The institutions which bring up a person to lead that institution should be relied
on again to bring another one to perform better. An institution should not look pale in front
of a personality of its making. Continuation of policies needs to be linked with continuation
of institutions and not personalities. Of course, the policies adopted by General Musharraf
have been followed by General Kiyani essentially in the same way. The next chief would not
have changed the itinerary to the loss of the stake holders – both domestic and foreigners.

General Kiyani is a marvellous officer and has been serving the country in a professional
way but extension of his service, even if it was consented, is a great injustice to the next
candidate for the enviable post, besides an insult to the performance of the institution of
the army to surface capable commanders. The same formula is applicable to the institution
of the judiciary and the presidency. The trend to look beyond one’s prescribed limits of time
should be quelled.

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