Why it is Absurd to Compare Pakistan Army and Pakistan Police


Lately, it seems, everyone is comparing the general conduct of the army and the police with reference to the two marches on Islamabad. Of course in this comparison, the army always comes out ahead. These comparisons are inherently absurd and are like comparing oranges with apples.

Both these institutions are still organized along colonial lines, which means that their organizational structures, training, and general conduct is based in our colonial legacy. The army, for example, has not only maintained the same rank structure as created by our erstwhile masters, it has also kept the informal symbolics of the civilian-military relationships also intact. The royal Indian army, of which the Pakistan army is one offshoot, was strictly professional, very well trained, and very well-funded: the Pakistan army has kept those traditions and, I would  say, further enhanced them. Furthermore, Pakistan army, when not deployed, is mostly stationed at self-contained and very well maintained cantonments, often separated from the cities, now more than ever, with either a security wall or a security barrier. Within the army itself, the battalions are fully self-contained units: this means that all the needs of a soldier are met, and the officers are trained to make sure that the needs of their soldiers are met. Thus, if there are two soldiers stationed on a check post, you can be sure that their three meals will be provided right on time and so would be their tea and other rations. If they fall ill, or are injured in the line of duty, they will have access to the best healthcare system that a nation can provide. It is no wonder, then, that the Pakistan army is more disciplined, organized, and better led. The officers are not only trained in the specifics of their professions, but also, formally and informally, trained as the leaders of men.

I remember that my first company commander–who later retired as a lieutenant general–taught me not only to check the weapons, and teach classes on tactics and small arms, but also the habits of thinking about my troops’ welfare. As an army officer, one either had to be completely callous or part of a terrible battalion to not learn the basic attributes of a good officer. It is this investment of resources, training, and organizational specificity that makes army such a professional and well honed instrument for the state. Furthermore, there is no direct political meddling in the general affairs of the army. I mean, if my battalion is deployed in aid of the civil power, chances are no one, other than my superior commanders, can tell me how to conduct my business. As a military commander one is protected from the pushes and pulls of political power or even the common vagaries of daily life. These organizational, material, and symbolic markers are crucial to training a professional army, and the Pakistan army, therefore, live sup to its impeccable reputation.

The Pakistan police also inherited its organizational and administrative structure from the British. Our police is still organized under the Thana/ Police Station system and relies quite heavily, and without government sanction, on the methods of policing and interrogation that were in vogue during the colonial times. None of the police organizations, however, is self sufficient and self-contained. Neither their officers, nor their men get the kind o intensive training that is provided for the army. Furthermore, the police interacts directly with the public and its leadership structures is deeply politicized. The police is also very ill-equipped and its soldiers neither get the kind of facilities that their army counterparts enjoy, nor do the police officers are trained to care for the welfare of their troops. (How many times have you driven through Islamabad and seen a policeman trying to get a lift to his job). Chances are, if four policemen are manning a post, they are expected to fend for themselves. There is likely to be no quartermaster’s truck bringing them their daily food and tea?. And before you blame their officers for not doing enough, take a look their budget!

Of course none of this excuses any violence committed by the police against PAKISTAN-MILITANCYevery day citizens, but when the government puts them on the front line in crowd control situations, then a lot of things can go wrong. In Islamabad, compared to police, who have faced the maximum brunt of the popular outrage, often under trying circumstances, the Pakistan army has been mostly behind the scenes. Thus, when they show up to resolve the issues–like they did at PTV station–they can afford to be magnanimous, for the dirty work has already been done by the police. Sadly, in this powerful game of political chess police has paid a heavy symbolic and material price: they have been beaten, abused, stoned, and generally criticized. I am not saying that all their actions were right, but despite their material and symbolic disadvantages, they have done their job: they have, by and large, protected the buildings and areas they were tasked to protect. Given the limitations placed on the amount of force they could use, this is not less than a spectacular performance. However, in order to really create an efficient and professional police force, the police will have to be reorganized and funded in the same way as the army.

The reason I am writing this is because a lot of my former army friends are right now gloating–digitally and otherwise–at the incompetence of our politicians and the army. I have read digital boasts about army being able to control the whole thing in one hour (My reply to that is “what are they waiting for?), and exhortations from others for the army to take over. Naturally, Pakistan army does not need any such comparative narratives: they can claim to be a good force without putting others down, but they do this because they have lately, like all other state institutions, faced criticism and some hostility from their own people. I have no problem with that. I think in a real democracy all institutions must be constantly under public scrutiny, for without that democracy cannot exist. But, on the other hand, try standing in the streets and try to control a bunch of protestors and then come back and boast about how much the army is loved and how effective it can be.

Police_IslamabadSo, overall I think all these comparisons between the performance of the army and police are flawed as they neither take into account the inherent structural and administrative inequalities, nor do they gauge the nature and extent of public involvement of both these institutions.

In the end both police and the army are instruments of the state with completely different missions and modes of functioning, and we should not be too hasty in privileging one over the other.


Article 245 and the Situation in Islamabad

245. Functions of Armed Forces.- 1[(1)] The Armed Forces shall, under the directions of the Federal Government, defend Pakistan against external aggression or threat of war, and, subject to law, act in aid of civil power when called upon to do so.

(2) The validity of any direction issued by the Federal Government under clause (1), shall not be called in question in any Court.

(3) A High Court shall not exercise any jurisdiction under Article 199 in relation to any area in which the Armed Forced of Pakistan are, for the time being, acting in aid of civil power in pursuance of Article 245:

Provided that this clause shall not be deemed to affect the jurisdiction of the High Court in respect of any proceeding pending immediately before the day on which the Armed Forces start acting in aid of civil power.

(4) Any proceeding in relation to an area referred to in clause (3) instituted on or after the day the Armed Forces start acting in aid of civil power and pending in any High Court shall remain suspended for the period during which the Armed Forces are so acting.]

PakconstitutionIn the recent take over of the PTV building and its eventual peaceful clearance by the Rangers and Pakistan army, the Pakistani media have been opining about the absence of police and the warm welcome received by the troops when they arrived at the airport.

I think in this frenzy to constantly create visual and news content, most Pakistani news channels have failed to ask the most important questions about the nature of Article 245 of the Constitution.

I have cited the article above in full text so that none of my views are considered just mere speculation. It is a fact that the federal government of Pakistan invoked the article 245 as far back in June of 2014 but only to safeguard any terrorist threats.

In the current crisis, the argument from the army has been that it cannot be deployed to solve political crisis, which literally means that army does not feel duty-bound to aid the government against the two marches. This, in fact, is a very liberal reading of the article 245.

The article, cited above, states categorically:

The Armed Forces shall, under the directions of the Federal Government, defend Pakistan against external aggression or threat of war, and, subject to law, act in aid of civil power when called upon to do so.

Note, there are no exceptions here, no room for a subjective interpretation. Furthermore, the army has done this countless times before. Most of my service in Sindh in the mid nineteen eighties was “in aid of the civil power” fighting the dacoits in interior Sindh; I was also deployed in the same role in Karachi when the ethnic clashes broke out in Karachi in 1986. Of course, the country was then being run by a dictator, but when we filled our forms, our duty was listed as IS duty (Internal Service) and that is how it was defined and understood.

We were also taught, and we practiced it, that after the local magistrate hands over the situation to the local military commander (we had to fill a form A for that) the area came under total control of the army and police had no jurisdiction over it.

So, while I laud the heroic acts of the army in saving the PTV building, it was, under the constitution, already there job, especially if the building was included in the sensitive areas under their protection. According to the constitution, the police should have not been there at all.

furthermore, if section 245 is still in effect, then asking the police to handle something they are ill-equipped to do does not sound like a sound strategy. So, our politicians and generals should read our constitution and then go on suggesting the best measures to each other.

Pakistan is in serious and dangerous situation right now, and at this juncture we should use the constitution to guide our actions–that is the reason the constitution exists– rather than relying on the subjective interpretations of politicians and generals.

And our dear journalists should be asking these hard questions and they should be educating us about the constitution and its importance!


Mission Accomplished: A Puppet Democratic Government


According to the latest news from Dawn, a Pakistani newspaper I love and trust, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has finally been humbled by the army, and for the rest of his term, he will be, as so many of us had feared, a “ceremonial prime minister.” {{1}} [[1]][[1]]

According to the latest reports, the new compromise in the offing has assured the following for the army:

  • The elected government will defer to the army for foreign policy, US relations, and on other strategic defense matters.
  • The elected government will eventually create a path for Pervez Musharraf to leave the country.

Besides the two obvious capitulations by the elected government, it seems that government is now so weak that we are back to the hackneyed and failed method of Pakistani politics: token governments run by the military.

So, in other words, democracy in Pakistan is back to where it used to be and powers that have held our destiny for all these years are back in charge.

I have been openly opposed to the two marches on Islamabad for precisely this reason: I, along with so many others, had feared that these marches would end up weakening the Pakistani political system and open the back doors to the uncocstitutional power brokers. That is what has come to pass.

It no longer matters what happens now: the fragile system is already damaged.  Even if Imran Khan, somehow, becomes the prime minister, he will be yet another puppet, for this is the new formula of power sharing that he has forced on the current government and he himself will have to acquiesce to it.

I understand that Imran Khan has been successful in mobilizing the privileged segment of Pakistani electorate for popular causes, but in the end this mobilization has weakened the very democracy that he and his followers claim to champion. I dare suggest that this is not an accidental outcome. I believe that both Imran and Tahirul Qadri entered this new phase of popular protest with certain understanding with the powers-that-be, and as a result the same powers now have won their way back to state power.

So, yes while it is salutary to see a different kind of political constituency and a different kind of politics, in the end if we cannot support the democratic norm, then it is only a cosmetic difference. Now, if we soon see Pakistan transitioning into the kind of political farce that we have so often seen, we will know who to blame!

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Why Do I Oppose the PTI and PAT Marches and Sit-Ins


For the past few weeks, I have been reflecting on my response to the two long marches led by the leaders of two separate parties. Mostly, I have found myself opposed to both these marches, and, being a socialist at heart, this negative response to two popular movements has forced me to attempt to tease out the genealogy of my own response.

Is it because I support the policies of Nawaz Sharif government? Obviously, this is the first question I asked of myself. Absolutely not. In fact, my opposition to all forms of neoliberalism, privatization, and free market policies is a matter of public record both in my academic and popular writings. I owe no allegiance or loyalties to the likes of Sharif and their other market fundamentalist friends.

Yet, at this historic moment when people are storming the so-called red zone, I have chosen to oppose both PAT and PTI. I must, therefore, delve deeper into my political consciousness and figure out what stops me from supporting these peaceful and committed groups.

I think I am at a stage in my own thought where I am more interested in seeing democracy established in Pakistan rather than the politics of agitation. One reason we do not fully understand democracy in Pakistan is because we have never really lived in an uninterrupted system of democratic norm. This is only the first government that saw a transition from one politically elected government to the other. In the long run, it is this peaceful and democratic transition that will ensure a more responsive, egalitarian, and inclusive democracy in Pakistan. This is how we will learn the habits of democracy.

So, for me the actions of Khan Sahib and maulana sahib, no matter how pure, are a threat to the construction of the democratic norm. It is this threat to developing a democratic norm that troubles me the most. Furthermore, even if both these groups are successful in ousting the current government, what alternatives do they have to offer:

  • One of them offers a total restructuring of our national framework according to his vision of Islam.
  • The other wants us to believe that he, somehow, can solve our problems quickly and more efficiently.

To me both these lines of argument are flawed. The state that Pakistan is in politically and economically, cannot be fixed by one party or one leader. And it can certainly not be fixed through one or two grand gestures. A change in the culture and politics of Pakistan would need time and would depend upon long-term educational and political reforms and even if these leaders come to power tomorrow, they will still have a long road ahead of them. So, why disrupt the current system to replace it with yet another that itself would need more time to mature and become functional. Why can’t Pakistan continue without the leadership of any of these two fellows? Are they simply too special?

Let us look at both these leaders.

The PAT leader is a Canadian citizens, who neither believes in Pakistani constitution nor in the Pakistani court system. His movement, therefore, aims to reconfigure Pakistan according to what he deems is right for Pakistan. This, of course, is an extreme form of political hubris: this means that one person can, somehow, envision the future of a whole nation. And since he cannot get elected democratically, his only way to power is through the politics of agitation and disruption.

On the other side of this national divide is Mr. Imran Khan. I have always had deep respect for him. I was one of those thousands who loved him when he represented us in the world as the team captain of our Cricket team. I was there with him when he and his team won the world cup. For us Pakistani men, Imran was a sort of masculinity that we all wanted: dazzling, charismatic, and confident. He could talk to the so-called goras in their own language and defeat them at their own game. Thus, when he became a politician, I was amongst the first silent few who were in his camp. For a few months I actually sent in my small donations to his party as well. I stopped supporting Imran when he became a rationalizer for the Taliban actions. I stopped being his supporter when he did not say a word when the Taliban eliminated, one by one, most of his ANP opponents in the last election. I had expected Imran to stand up and speak loudly against the  terrible things that the Taliban did in our country. Instead, I have found him moving constantly to the right and it is this betrayal of expectations that led me to give up on Imran Khan. I should, however, point out that pretty much my whole village voted for Imran in the last election, a mistake we are not to repeat ever again.

So out of both these leaders of two agitating groups, I have no sympathy for the maulana and I have stopped being the supporter of the cricketer.

Another thing that bothers me about both is the politics of personality: I am tired of these kinds of demagogues who keep trying to suggest to me that I, somehow, need their leadership. No, in true popular politics it is the people who lead and not the so-called leaders. Both of them speak with this hubris to their constituencies: For Imran, his followers need to govern their own actions “for their leader” and for Maulana sahib, it goes without saying, that his words are almost divine, for his followers call him “Qibal hazur.” In other words, in both these leaders we have two humans claiming to be more than us mere mortals. If this is not the politics of individual hubris, then I do not know what else is.

So, in the end, to answer my own question: the reason I am against both these movements is because I see their efforts pointless and untimely. Both these groups avowed to launch their agitations the very week when the Pakistan army launched its offensive against the Taliban. So, precisely at the time when we needed national unity, these two leaders placed their own political agenda ahead of the national interest. I am no army tout and my criticisms of the army elite are also in the public record, but I believe that the operation currently in progress is the one for the survival of Pakistan, and to divide the nation at such a juncture is stupid and dangerous for the future of Pakistan.

That both Maulana and Imran Khan failed to consider the bad timing of their movement and decided to launch their quixotic efforts at this time already proves that their own political self-interest is more important to them than the future of Pakistan. Instead, both thee groups could have mobilized their followers to bring aid to the IDPs and to build support for a united front against the Taliban, who, let us not forget, also do not believe in Pakistani constitution.

So, finally I think the following things have forced me to take this stance on these two movements:

  • I am more invested in the long-term development of democracy in Pakistan.
  • I believe the nation needs to be united during this war against the Taliban.
  • I believe we need to get rid of the politics of personality.

And let us also not forget, there is a chance that this democratically elected government will be sacked and a quasi military-civilian government would emerge. If that happens, then Imran and the maulana would have already sold the country and its democratic future for their personal political gains.

During a meeting with one of the regional leaders of PTI, a few months ago, I was told that the PTI did have the support of the intelligence agencies until a few months before the elections. This PAT official was saddened that the intelligence agencies withheld their support of PTI at the last moment. The sad things is that this friend of mine did not see the irony in his statement: instead of being enraged at the lost support of the intelligence agencies, he should have been incensed that his leader and his party had relied on the intelligence agency’s support, for that does not bode well for the future of their party.

Similarly, if the maulvi sahib is so intent on creating an Islamist system, why does not he do that in Canada, of which he is a citizen: isn’t there more of a need of Islam in that country than in Pakistan? I mean Pakistan is pretty much an islamic nation already.

Anyway, I feel comfortable in stating that I would stand for the continuous progress of democracy and democratic norm in Pakistan and am, therefore, opposed to this new wave of agitational politics. It may help oust the Sharifs, but it will also help in hurting the long-term democratic aspirations in Pakistan as well.