Long March, Army and National Interest
After signing of the Islamabad Long March Declaration by the representatives of the coalition government and Dr Muhammad Tahirul Qadri, the chief of Tehrik-e-Minhaj-ul-Quran (TMQ) and Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT) on January 17, this year, the five days episode was ended, which started from Lahore on January 13, and continued at the D-Chowk of the federal Capital where thousands of persons continued the sit-in for the implementation of Dr Qadri’s demands.
The agreement includes the dissolution of the National Assembly before March 16, 2013 so that elections can be held within 90 days; one month will be given for scrutiny of nomination papers for the purpose of pre-clearance of the candidates. No candidate would be allowed to start the election campaign until pre-clearance, and in consultation with Pakistan Awami Tehreek, names of two honest and impartial persons for appointment as caretaker prime minister will be chosen. While, issue of composition of the Election Commission of Pakistan will be discussed at the next meeting on January 27, 2013 at the Minhaj-ul-Quran Secretariat, Lahore.
Different interpretations are being given to the understanding reached between the two parties. Some political and religious leaders including media commentators describe it as a face saving-underhand deal as almost all the political parties like PPP, PML-N, M L-Q, ANP, Jamaat-e-Islami, (JI) and JUI-F condemned the long march and sit-in at Islamabad, while favouring the democratic setup and the coming process of general elections in the country. Even, chief of MQM, Altaf Hussain who decided to participate in the long march of Tehrik-e-Minhaj-ul-Quran, while favouring the demands of Dr Tahirul Qadri, withdrew his support. Similarly, PTI led by Imran Khan, which was considering on January 16 to join the sit-in organised by TMQ distanced itself.
Critics opine that Dr Tahirul Qadri failed in obtaining his real objectives, turning the capital’s Constitution Avenue into Egypt-style Tahrir Square, and had said that he would not abandon sit-in unless bringing a revolution against the control of parliament by the corrupt rulers who are responsible for load shedding of electricity, gas, price-hike, unemployment etc., forcing them to resign.
The government did not accept Dr Qadri’s electoral reforms except minor changes in the process. Aside from giving Qadri a voice in who leads the caretaker administration, the government also agreed to dissolve parliament before a scheduled date of March 16, though it did not specify a date. An announcement of an election date could come during a parliament session on January 21.
Nawaz Sharif of PML-N stated on January 18 that Dr Tahirul Qadri had rushed to Islamabad to save the state and topple the government, but escaped from the scene without completion of his so-called agenda. Moreover, many political leaders including PML-N have remarked that sudden return of Dr Tahirul Qadri, holder of Canadian nationality to Pakistan, after seven years and call for the long march near the forthcoming elections showed that he was working on foreign agenda to destabilise Pakistan.
Some political experts say that it is a good sign that the representatives of the ruling parties agreed to reforms which though do not as much concede to Qadri’s wishes, but they do allow for a smooth run up to the elections.
Although everyone has been viewing the outcome of long march and sit-in at Islamabad by Dr Tahirul Qadri’s party from his point of view, yet like the past, some internal entities of Pakistan misperceived that Pak Army was behind the long March of Dr Qadri.
Meanwhile, rumours started spreading about Martial Law when on January 15, the Supreme Court ordered the National Accountability Bureau to arrest all 16 people including Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, accused of corruption in rental power projects in 2010.
In this regard, the human rights activists and the former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association Asma Jehangir who has always remained a vocal spoken against army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) illogically deduced on the same day, saying that the long march of Dr Tahirul Qadri and the Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry’s order for the arrest of prime minister were not a coincidence, but a part of multiple planning—these developments which had been targeting the democracy and the rule of law, were aimed at bringing the army back into power. She added that lawyers’ community will resist any dictator. Besides, some analysts and newspapers were also misguiding the people that military was engineering a fourth coup behind the scenes.
Earlier, when the chief of TMQ, Dr Qadri had announced the long march and had given the deadline of January 10, 2013 to the federal government to fulfil his conditions, rumours were already spread by some hostile elements that Pak Army is covertly backing Dr Tahirul Qadri’s long march. But, on January 2, 2012, Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Major General Asim Saleem Bajwa categorically denied the speculation, linking Dr Tahirul Qadri to the military establishment.
Nevertheless, all these misperceptions proved untrue as Chief of the Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani did not interfere in the long march, and during the four days sit-in by the supporters of Dr Qadri in Islamabad.
It is notable that many serious crises erupted in the country, but Gen. Ashfaq Kayani did not interfere and therefore, the present civil government completed its tenure.
Notably, while speaking about Memogate case, on December 22, 2011, the ex-Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani, without naming army and ISI, presumed that conspiracies were being hatched to topple the democratically elected government. The opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan of the PML-N had also stated that Martial Law would not be accepted in the country.
In that backdrop, Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani stated on December 23, “The Pakistan Army has and will continue to support democratic process in the country.”
It is mentionable that after the speeches of November 5, 2012 Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and Gen. Kayani, a few segments of politics and electronic media had been manipulating their statements by indicating as if there was a clash between the judiciary and army. Some politicians hinted about Martial Law in the country. Although there was some difference in nature of their statements, yet central point of both army chief and chief justice was the same, as they asserted about the supremacy of the constitution, strengthening the institutions, rule of law, fundamental rights, realisation of forgetting mistakes of the past—and to take a fresh start for the protection and defence of the homeland. Nevertheless, without grasping realities, politicians have also manipulated every issue like the Memogate case, Mehrangate verdict, NRO scandal, missing persons of Balochistan, Air Marshal (r) Asghar Khan case, military operation in Waziristan, incident of Malala Yousafzai etc., not only to disrepute country’s key security intuitions, but also against each other so as to misguide the common men to increase their voting lists.
No doubt during every crisis, by leaving the past practice, Pak army, under the leadership of its present head, has desisted from any kind of adventurism.
While, on June 9, 2011, by stressing upon national unity, Gen. Kayani, especially explained, “any effort to create divisions between important institutions of the country was not in national interest…this is an effort to drive a wedge between the army, different organs of the state and more seriously, the people of Pakistan whose support the army has always considered vital for its operations against terrorists.” Recently, he repeated similar views about media speculations of military operation in North Waziristan.
Particularly, on March 6, 2008, Gen. Kayani had clearly remarked, “The army would stay out of the political process.” He is still acting upon the principle of non-intervention in political affairs. And during Qadri’s, long march, he remained firm on his stand.
At this critical hour, when Pakistan is facing multi-faceted crises in economic and social terms besides perennial wave of subversive activities in various cities as arranged by the foreign secret agencies, national interest demands a selfless unity among politicians, security forces, media and general masses so as to cope with internal and external challenges instead of long marches.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations