A shambolic affair
THIS is without a doubt the most shambolic episode in the PTI government’s tenure so far.
The snowballing controversy over the extension of army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa’s tenure is entirely of its own making, and one that cannot be laid at the door of previous dispensations. Moreover, the government’s ineptness has not only damaged its own reputation but also threatens to drag the military as a whole into disrepute.
As far as it was concerned, the speculation about whether the army chief would be given an extension was laid to rest in an official statement on Aug 19 confirming that Gen Bajwa would indeed serve another three-year tenure. Then there was confusion about whether Imran Khan was the competent authority to take such an action, which was apparently not the case. Later, the government claimed that President Arif Alvi, as required by law, had signed off on the notification.
On Tuesday, Chief Justice Asif Khosa, in a stunning move, suspended the extension order on the grounds of procedural anomalies, and the fact there is no provision in the Army Regulations to support such an extension.
The episode lays bare the PTI government’s authoritarian streak and its lack of maturity — a lethal combination.
For example, consider the manner in which, a few hours after the Supreme Court order, the cabinet rushed through an amendment to the Army Regulations to include a provision for an “extension in the army chief’s tenure”.
There are profound, long-term repercussions for the democratic process and for civilian authority at stake here; the situation demanded a broader parliamentary debate. And yet the government, out of sheer expediency and for the benefit of a single individual, went ahead — simply because it could.
Last week, Mr Khan remarked during an interview that he had decided to give Gen Bajwa an extension just a few days after assuming office. Even for a dispensation that repeatedly boasts of being ‘on the same page’ as the military, the prime minister’s premature decision to grant the extension smacks of impetuosity — or worse, trying to curry favour with the army chief. Reinforcing the impression of ineptitude, it emerged during the hearing at the Supreme Court that the prime minister had moved a summary seeking approval for reappointment while the president had issued a notification for extension in tenure.
This is a landmark case: unprecedented questions are being raised, threatening to upend the accepted status quo, and holding a mirror to society’s psyche.
Consider that four army chiefs have given themselves extensions while two others were so favoured by the government of the time — but no one thought to ask whether this was legal at all.
The court has also rightly noted that the regional security situation — the official reason given for the extension — is for the army to handle as an institution, rather than being an individual’s job. Surely there are other officers more than capable of leading the army. Gen Bajwa’s next step will determine whether he is thinking of himself or his institution.
A GENERAL lack of direction in people-based development prevails in Punjab where the government has been continuously moving the bureaucracy around. There have been far too many transfers in the administration during the 15 months that Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar has been in office. In fact, there has been no letup in transfers ever since the provincial administration was shuffled in anticipation of the July 2018 election. There was a big shake-up soon after Mr Buzdar took over, and since the start of this year, the bureaucracy has undergone further drastic rearrangements. All these changes have been justified in the name of the government’s avowed search for officials who are in sync with its ‘vision’. Meanwhile, the latest purge has hit the chief secretary and the inspector general of police. As other areas in the country struggle for a sufficient number of administrative officers to run their affairs, this is the fifth IGP for privileged Punjab where half a dozen higher education secretaries have come and gone during the current government’s tenure so far. Frequent departures and arrivals have also been seen in the departments of school and services. Every other day, a district police officer or some other senior police official is given his marching orders and told to prepare to take charge of law and order in another area, leading to inconsistency and inefficiency.
This unrest in administrative ranks is rooted in the insecurity inherent in the PTI government’s approach — not only in Punjab but elsewhere too. The issue is magnified in the latter province because of the perceived or real vulnerability of Mr Buzdar. The threat of a transfer order is all the more pronounced in times such as these when talk of the alleged incompetence of the provincial government and rumours about a possible replacement for the chief minister are at their loudest. Rulers tend to blame their bureaucratic teams for the challenges they face, and all these reshuffles over the last one year and three months demonstrate a clear PTI liking for the escape route. It is remarkable that Mr Buzdar, even when he is said to be up against a deadline to prove himself, hasn’t overcome the fear of being thwarted by pro-PML-N officers. Supposing that he is capable of it, it is a pity he has not tried to win their trust to ensure a better-governed Punjab.
Weapon of war
ON the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Human Rights Watch once again reminded the world of growing evidence that the Indian security forces were using rape as a tactic to subjugate the people of India-held Kashmir. Back in the early 1990s, too, HRW found that women in occupied Kashmir were being raped and assaulted by security personnel on the mere suspicion of harbouring separatists. Whether it is used to inflict punishment, seek retribution, or assert fictitious notions of racial and religious superiority, rape is a brutal means of psychological warfare that aims to humiliate and suppress an individual or group of people. However, sexual violence is not just an unintended byproduct of war or the subsequent breakdown of law and order; it is often a deliberate military strategy that is condoned by democratic governments through denial, apologetics or silence. Often, women are the direct casualty of such conflicts waged by men.
Sadly, there has been no letup in such tactics which have always been a part of human history. For example, in Iraq and Syria, the terrorists of the Islamic State group abducted minority Yazidi and Christian women and forced them into sex slavery by using their interpretation of faith to justify their horrific deeds. Even if freed, the stigma attached to victims of rape and their children remains. It was only recently that Yazidi women who did not wish to be separated from their children conceived from rape were allowed back into their communities. Meanwhile, the widespread rape of Rohingya Muslim women by the Burmese military was documented by HRW in 2017. That ‘collective punishment’ was ‘justified’ by labelling the entire community as terrorists. But there is no justification, and rape must be prosecuted for the war crime it is.