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The power of one

Other than the emergence of the Pakistan Army as the centre of gravity in the country, no civilian institutions have grown to the stature required, writes Manvendra Singh.

india Updated: Mar 17, 2010 00:04 IST
Manvendra Singh
Manvendra Singh
Hindustan Times

A little man from Corsica once cast a tall shadow over Europe. And among his oft-repeated nuggets of wisdom is the one about ‘graveyards, generals, and indispensables’. Its essence being that the graveyards of Europe are crowded with all those who thought themselves to be indispensable generals. This has, by far, been his most enduring contribution to the psychology of military incompetence.

The latest chapter in this saga is the extension given to Director General (DG) of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lt-Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha. Rumours had long pointed to its impending announcement, as they do for the current Pakistan Army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani. But these are concerned with — connected to — a military that by any stretch of imagination can be called thoroughly professional. And imagination has been thoroughly stretched in justifying and explaining this extension.

The first one was about continuity and how this extension to Lt-Gen Pasha would provide that. It's a curious concoction about continuity because the nature of military evolution is all about the collective rather than the individual. It is about the primacy of the institution over the individual. Which then suggests that it is indeed institutions that provide continuity rather than individuals. The ‘continuity’ twist given to this extension is as bizarre as it is specious.

Then there was another one about his importance at this ‘critical moment in ongoing military operations’ that the Pakistan Army was waging against the Taliban. This one really takes the cake for its deception. In a professional military, as is the Pakistan Army, operations are babies, as they say, of the director general of military operations and conducted through the various formation commanders, with attached units engaged in combat. This is the simplest military hierarchy that exists. If there was the case of other inputs then there is the director general, military intelligence to provide that, through his various field units. The ‘critical moment’ explanation, then, undermines the efficacy of his peers in general headquarters. Any move that makes a general officer indispensable over his peers sets a bad example. It places a question mark on their usefulness for these operations. Which obviously is not the case.

That breakthrough was provided by a North Atlantic writer who claimed that this extension was “hailed by western powers as well”. Which then begs the question about the management of Pakistan’s affairs. For long, local and foreign writers have commented that the bane of Pakistan’s political evolution has been its lack of institutional development. Institutions critical to its emergence as a functioning vibrant State, and society, have not been allowed to develop.

Other than the emergence of the Pakistan Army as the centre of gravity in the country, no civilian institutions have grown to the stature required. It is rather a case of developing individuals over institutions. The primacy of power and authority has always allowed to be individualistic rather than institutional. This has been the analysis of all specialists, domestic or foreign, and concerned types.

The latest extension case of Lt-Gen Pasha provides the same continuity of practice that has bedevilled Pakistan since its birth. The importance of the individual has once again superseded that of the institution. The motive that pushed this extension is really what begs greater attention. It is clear that interests other than that of the institution, or solely of Pakistan, have prevailed in this case. Which then points at who controls the destiny of the country. The people certainly don’t, as is evident from their inability to create institutions. The interests that have extended the services of the DG (ISI) are, thus, not popular but parochial. And as such they cannot deliver what is owed to the people.

Manvendra Singh is Editor, Defence & Security Alert

The views expressed by the author are personal

First Published: Mar 16, 2010 23:33 IST