Pakistan’s powerful military on Monday issued what analysts said was a warning to the country’s civilian institutions not to push their authority too far, after the country’s high court issued a series of rulings holding the armed forces to account for human rights abuses and political meddling.
Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the chief of army staff, issued the warning in a statement that also seemed to be aimed at the government and the news media.
“As a nation, we are passing through a defining phase,” Kayani said. “Weakening of the institutions and trying to assume more than one’s due role will set us back,”
Pakistan has a long history of military involvement in its politics, including a series of coups that have supplanted elected civilian governments. The current civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari has been in power since 2008, when military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf handed authority to it.
The transition from military to civilian rule has not been smooth, with the government, the judiciary and the military all jockeying for the levers of power under the new democratic setup. In particular, the judiciary, led by activist Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, has challenged the authority of both the government and the military and aggressively tried to hold them to account.
Elections are due in the first half of next year, which could see an unprecedented transition of power from one elected government to another.
“In the past, the army would have simply taken over. Now they want to do things from the sidelines,” said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a political analyst based in the eastern city of Lahore. “They are giving advice to civilian institutions to restrain themselves, in particular to the judiciary to proceed with caution.”
In a country where the military previously has claimed the right solely to determine the “national interest,” analysts here were unanimous in their assessment that Kayani’s statement, issued by the army’s public relations arm in English and Urdu, the national language, was highly significant, even if its language was indirect and oblique.
“No individual or institution has the monopoly to decide what is right or wrong in defining the ultimate national interest. It should emerge only through a consensus,” said the general, whose term in office ends in November 2013. “Any effort which wittingly or unwittingly draws a wedge between the people and armed forces of Pakistan undermines the larger national interest.”
Last month, the Supreme Court issued a withering judgment on the “illegal” role played in the 1990 elections by the army chief and the head of the military’s Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency at the time, who had helped form a political coalition that won that election. The court ruled that the two retired generals must be prosecuted.
In recent hearings on hundreds of citizens who have disappeared into the presumed hands of the armed forces and their spy agencies, the court has humiliated the military, hearing evidence that it was behind the abductions and subsequent extrajudicial killings.
Coincidently, the chief justice also made a speech Monday in which he said that Pakistan was evolving. “Gone are the days when stability and security of the country was defined in terms of number of missiles and tanks as a manifestation of hard power available,” Chaudhry said.
On Sunday, Zardari, in a speech, had said that the establishment of democracy was undergoing “teething problems.”
“These are the dying kicks of an old order,” Zardari said.