War, PM and Courts

Dr Muhammad Ali Ehsan | 14 November 2021
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'Political Pakistan' needs more urgent judicial attention than the 'military Pakistan'

For soldiers there is only one reason for fighting any war — the military reason to win it. But what about the political reason of preventing wars? Post facto criticism of the military is fine but who decides whether fighting any war is necessary or not, or whether the political objective of fighting a war is achievable at a reasonable cost? The Clausewitzian notion of fighting any war is simple — never fight it without setting a political aim. What political aim did we set to fight the War on Terror? Military objectives are not achieved without giving sacrifices. Any military can win wars but building a political culture and in turn the society remains an exclusivity of the politicians. In our unique circumstances and exceptional geopolitical environment putting the cart before the horse would not just mean that the horse would stop running, it would mean that the country will stop running too.

A few days back our Prime Minister was asked to appear before the Supreme Court and explain why no action had been taken against the “top security hierarchy” of the country for the attack on the Army Public School (APS) Peshawar which took place on December 16, 2016. The honourable court viewed that the parents of the deceased children would not be satisfied until those whose negligence was found in this matter were brought to justice. The Prime Minister was also questioned about his government’s policy decision of negotiating with TTP and an honourable judge even remarked: “Are we again going to surrender?” The Prime Minister was told that “it was important to satisfy the parents, who had lost their children to such a barbaric act and the parents demand that the leadership of the time be prosecuted.”

Having served the military for 29 years, I do think that some of the civilian assumptions are built on perspective that is absolutely alien to most military men. Negligence is a “breach of duty of care which results in damage”. When the whole country had become a huge battleground and suffered unfathomable damage all around, could we lay down the blame on a selected tier of political or military hierarchy? Despite paying a heavy cost, including the barbaric killing of the APS children, Pakistan came out as a victor and possibly the most successful victor in the War on Terror. It was not just those children that died, it was the entire nation that had given a sacrifice of over 80,000 killed and many more wounded and disabled for life.

So, are we putting a priority on how people are killed in a war? Should we really be putting such a priority to apportion blame and suggest punishments? Does this mean that the killing of APS children was bad and the killing of our soldiers not as bad? Or that the return killing of the Taliban is better and that killing them with drone attacks with no regard for collateral damage even better? How can a type of killing be prioritised to serve justice while others not? Do those who die different deaths in war deserve special treatment than those who did not? Even if they be children, civilians or combatants or non-combatants?

Courts that try to impose a post-war moral and legal standard on how different ways of dying in a war may qualify the relatives of the deceased to seek justice are not taking into account the living soldierly experience of continuing to fight the enemy “beyond the call of duty” to serve this nation despite all the odds.

Nobody can claim that they never committed a mistake and were never negligent in an extended military career of over 35 to 40 years. But are there only extended military careers in this country? Are there not extended and unending political careers also? Despite committing mistakes, if we blame the military of “hiding behind their uniform” why don’t we blame the politicians for hiding behind the social contract i.e. the Constitution that they keep amending for their convenience and the walls of democracy behind which they get together and hide?

Punishment such as the court describes has meaning only if there is a political system that has both the power as well as the responsibility to administer it. Even if a political system demonstrated that willingness, the process of administration of justice has been so slow that the very idea of holding the powerful accountable has been turned on its head leaving the people unsure who to believe and who to doubt? Sadly, but truly, why would there be ground for any punishment when there is no law that is being implemented or justice that is being delayed and denied?

From a historical context, 40 million people died in World War I while 70 million died in World War II including 40 million civilians. The nuclear bombs that the US dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed over 3 million people including women and children. Were the perpetrators of the killings of these human beings brought to justice? Did the US ever even apologise for dropping those bombs? Even if anyone at that time considered the dropping of the bombs as a crime, the synergy between the politicians and the generals in fighting that war meant that it would have been a serious case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Then there was this case of the Hamburg firestorm in which the Allied bombing of the German industrial town resulted in the killing of over 40,000 people. And has there been any trial against the Japanese for killing over 33% of Allied prisoners of war (POWs) held in their captivity or killing a reported 300,000 civilians in China simply with swords as sport. A few Nazis have been held accountable for their involvement in the Holocaust in which millions of Jews were murdered by the Nazi regime, but the Allied invasion of Germany executed by the US, the UK and the USSR also resulted in the slaughter, rape and displacement of innumerable people. Some reports suggest the number crossed 3 million. Were these powers ‘punished’ for pillaging their way across the continent?

The top military hierarchy never reaches the top without having bottomed up from below. The military and all its soldiers look up to that hierarchy which builds the military morale by convincing them to fight for their country with pride and patriotism; to tell soldiers that if they die, they die for the love of their country, and if they survive they become war veterans and heroes. In my personal view, the “political Pakistan” needs more urgent judicial attention than the “military Pakistan”.

Dr Muhammad Ali Ehsan is Dean Social Sciences at Garrison University Lahore.

This article was originally published on The Express Tribune.
Views in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect CGS policy.