Monday, April 6, 2015

ISPR’s political semantics - I

Nothing can be understood in isolation. So is the case with three recent press releases of the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), which acts as the voice of Pakistan Army. However, any attempt to understand them without putting them in their proper context is misleading. Actually, words and sentences are packets of explosives or envelopes of goodwill. It is the situation in which words and sentences are expressed which determines the nature of their destructive or constructive character.

So let’s indulge in a bit of political semantics: Here is the text of the 1st press release (N0.184/2014-ISPR), which was issued on August 31st: “(1) Corps Commander Conference was held at General Headquarters tonight. (2) Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif presided over the conference. (3) While affirming support to democracy, the conference reviewed with serious concern, the existing political crisis and the violent turn it has taken, resulting in large scale injuries and loss of lives. (4) Further use of force will only aggravate the problem. (5) It was once again reiterated that the situation should be resolved politically without wasting any time and without recourse to violent means. (6) Army remains committed to playing its part in ensuring security of the state and will never fall short of meeting national aspirations.”

As far as the sentence 3 is concerned, though the PR reaffirms Army’s support to democracy, but in the same breath it shows its serious concern not only on the existing political crisis, but on its turning violent and resulting in large scale injuries and loss of lives also. The question is why it’s so much concerned about the existing political crisis. The Army is an institution which is sub-ordinate to the country’s civil power, then how come that it stepping beyond its constitutional duties expresses its concern on the violence entering the crisis and large scale injuries. It may also be questioned why it’s so much serious about the violence, injuries and loss of life, which was the result of law-forcing agencies’ efforts to protect the state buildings. Did other institutions such as Rangers, Capital Police and other police officers express any such concerns? Then, it must be asked how such a sub-ordinate institution can judge the policy of the government and its aftermath, whatever it is!

The next sentence 4 reinforces the impression that the earlier sentence gives rise to, i.e. it clearly censures the further use of force. In that, not only does it publicly criticize the government’s policy, but advises it to avoid using force. That amounts to depriving the state and the government of its monopoly of violence, and thus makes it vulnerable to those elements which are creating a worst law and order situation in the capital city. Implicitly it may mean to be understood as carving out a niche for the protesting parties, PTI and PAT. Another angle of understanding 3 and 4 is that in the capacity of a constitutionally sub-ordinate institution, the Army may not advise or exhort any elements which are not part of the government to desist from violence; though they did the same earlier when a PR talked about the sanctity of the state buildings. It be noticed here that the word “force” is generally used for organized (governmental) force, and not for the above-mentioned elements, for which the word “violence” is used usually. It means that the advice exclusively stood for the government!

The sentence 5 reveals the whole stance of the PR. It reiterates political resolution of the crisis, and gives a time frame, affording no wasting of time. More to it, it advises once again no recourse to violent means. Obviously in accordance with the dictates of the constitution, the lawful authority rests with the government, and it is for it to see and decide whether to go for a political resolution, or delay it, or to go for the use of force, or delay it. Here it may be objected that, as argued above, it is justified for the PR to advise or exhort the government to do this or that. But that misdirects the argument, which indirectly tries to make sense of the PR of the ISPR. First, the Army as a state institution may tell or advise only a government institution, not a non-state actor. Second, as it is a sub-ordinate institution, it may not tell or advise the government to which it is subservient.

Finally, the last sentence 6 may be termed paradoxical. While it is said, ‘Army remains committed to playing its part in ensuring security of the state,’ it may at once be asked why that assurance was required to be made. Does it address that mistrust that a long history of military rule in Pakistan has created and strengthened? Or, does it address the doubts lurking around regarding the Army’s role? Be that as it may, the constitution makes the Army to protect the geographical boundaries of the country as well as to come to the aid of the civil power; whenever it is directed to play both of its roles (A-245)! That’s the rationale of its existence.

The second part of the same sentence is rather fatally amenable to various interpretations since the choice of words in it is quite sentimental and problematic. It states: ‘Army will never fall short of meeting national aspirations.’ It is relevant here to note that the constitution consists of twelve parts, and it is in the last part XII and its chapter 2 that the 3 articles relating to the Armed Forces are contained. There are no such words or expression in these 3 articles which may be taken to mean that the Army should not fall short of meeting “national aspirations.” How to understand the meaning of this expression? I would suggest it’s quite a political and partisan expression. How can one know: What the national aspirations are at this moment? That’s something politically subjective, and political leaders use this expression so often to their purposes that it is only in elections that the national aspirations may come to fore and to our knowledge in the form of votes only.

Hence, particularly this PR of the ISPR, which may be said badly or meaningfully worded, does not have only one meaning that the Corps Commanders may have been meaning to say; it may be interpreted in many ways, all of which cannot make part of a short piece of writing. In conclusion, it may said that the spirit and the message of this PR is ominous for the incumbent government, and may be taken to mean something akin to what goes beyond the ambit of the constitution. In short, it’s yielding to the Realpolitik of the moment!

Note: This article was completed on September 2 and was originally posted in September 2014.

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