Dec 18, 2009

Good commander, bad command?

By A R Siddiqi

The counsel for the federation, Mr Kamal Azfar, appearing in the Supreme Court in the case of the infamous NRO, now struck down ab initio by the apex court, called the GHQ a "a bad boy" and the Army chief a "gentleman." He said, "You want me to say it more openly? The danger comes from the CIA and the GHQ." Even if unintended, the statement was highly unwarranted and patently indiscreet. It challenged the very basis, the very essence of the military command-and-control system under the Service chief in his own wisdom or in concert with his principal staff officer and the corps commanders when necessary. A bizarre and uneasy juxtaposition with far-reaching implications against the institutional oneness and cohesion of the army, in fact, the unity of command of the armed forces as a whole, considering the special status of the army chief.

The simple question is: how can a team, be it the GHQ or a sporting outfit, be any better than its chief? How can a "gentleman" ever tolerate a league of rogues under his direct command? Whether in peace or war, an army chief can be no better than his command, and vice versa. The army chief represents, especially in war or a grave national emergency, such as the existing one, the centre of gravity for his command and the rest of the country.

Without exactly losing the 1965 war, Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan, the supreme commander, and his protégé the army chief Gen Mohammad Musa, threw in the towel before fighting it out to the finish. The Sept 21-22, 1965, tame ceasefire, more then the known asymmetries and imbalances in an unequal war, resulted from the miserable loss of nerve on the part of the supreme commander and the army chief.

Unless, the army chief, in this case, Gen Ashfaq Kayani, therefore, proves his ability to command and control his own headquarter, the GHQ, and his field formations, what sort of an army chief he will be? There is no such thing as a good, gentlemanly commander and a bad un-gentlemanly command. A command in either case must reflect the image of the commander.

Didn't Lt-Gen Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi's command of the military forces in East Pakistan reflect badly to infect fatally their battlefield performance to end in humiliating surrender? Gen Agha Mohammad Yahya's disastrous performance as the head of the state and supreme commander irreparably damaged the battlefield performance of his forces in West Pakistan, his military's powerhouse.

A command, at any level, especially at the level of the high command, can be no better than the commander. He is the one who rules the roost. There is no question whatever of the GHQ being nobler than the army chief. All wars won or lost are known after their commander-in-chief. Waterloo was Napoleon's rather than France's debacle.

Mr Azfar's insinuation against the GHQ for "derailing" democracy contrary, against the wishes of the army chief betrays the existence of a war within the high command itself. Mr Azfar has used his personal acquaintance with Gen Kayani as the basis of his good chit to the general as a good cop without realising how much embarrassment he might have caused the general personally. Once army chiefs go about collecting character certificates from private citizens, no matter how eminent, God help them and their command.

Wasn't Mr Azfar hawking his personal ties with the chief even unconsciously in the Supreme Court to influence or impress their lordships?

Even if by a long shot, would it not be in order to ask Mr Azfar if his classification of the commander as a good man and his command (GHQ) as "undemocratic" was an unintended attempt to throw a spanner in the works of their orderly and disciplined relationship?

Apart from stating that the GHQ and the army chief were at variance about the status of democracy in the country, by far the most incriminating part of Mr Azfar's statement alluded to collaboration between the American CIA and the GHQ. Should there be an even an iota of truth in this, the GHQ would be little more than a mole, a foreign agent planted in the highest echelon of the army. While the army chief, according to Mr Azfar is a "gentleman" and there is "no immediate" threat to democracy, the GHQ, together with CIA, posed a threat to democracy.

Mr Azfar said: "My statement was in historic perspective as historically the army chiefs and foreign intervention have been destabilising democracy in the country." He went on to explain that his statement was a personal one, without reflecting the opinion of the government. A tame apology for the damage done to the unity of the military command, even only theoretically.

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