Generals Are Government Officials

Aug 24th, 2010 | By | Category: Jang, The News

Farrukh Saleem’s article in Monday’s The News makes a fundamental error in creating the illusion that the military and the government are two different things. In fact, the military is part of the government, and Mr Saleem’s column features almost no actual reporting but rather makes a particular political argument.

Mr Saleem’s column cites troubling statistics from the flood, “One out of every eight Pakistanis is at risk of severe diarrhoea, asthmatic attacks, dysentery, meningitis, hepatitis, skin diseases or a whole host of food and waterborne diseases”, and then accuses everyone in the country not presently wearing khaki of “playing politics” with the disaster, mostly without citing any actual events.

For example, the author states that “in Punjab, PPP and PML-N are playing their own politics”. But the author fails to tell readers what this has to do with the flood response or anything else. PPP and PML-N being rival political parties, one is reasonable to assume that they will be engaging in politics. Birds sing, political parties play at politics.

More curious, however, are Mr Saleem’s statements with regard to the military. His concluding paragraph reads:

On a much broader canvass, generals of Pak Army are winning ‘hearts and minds’ and thus capturing more and more of the Pakistani political space—all at the cost of the political class. Pak Air Force has diverted 5 C-130Bs and 7 C-130Es, its tactical transport aircraft, for picking and delivering flood relief to wherever it’s needed the most. Pak Navy’s boats are speeding through floodwaters delivering food and saving survivors still floating just above the water level. Right is winning by doing while the left talks. Generals are also winning by doing while politicians talk. Would the khakis take over? Answer: They did that several months ago.

There are two major problems with this conclusion. The first, and most obvious, is that it takes a clear editorial stance, and therefore does not appropriately belong as a news report.

Second, Mr Saleem makes several claims that bear scrutiny.

1. “…generals of Pak Army are winning ‘hearts and minds’ and thus capturing more and more of the Pakistani political space—all at the cost of the political class”.

Politics is not a zero-sum game in which positive feelings about the military necessarily mean negative feelings about politicians and vice-versa. Furthermore, Mr Saleem in no way demonstrates that the military is “capturing more of the political space”. This smacks of wishful journalism more than actual reporting.

2. “Right is winning by doing while the left talks.”

This statement attributes to the military a specific political ideology that is not necessarily true. This may be partly wishful journalism, but it also falsely equates the military’s role in the government with “right-wing” politics. Consider the example of “doing” cited by the author:

Pak Air Force has diverted 5 C-130Bs and 7 C-130Es, its tactical transport aircraft, for picking and delivering flood relief to wherever it’s needed the most. Pak Navy’s boats are speeding through floodwaters delivering food and saving survivors still floating just above the water level.

This is an entirely apolitical exercise in which the military is simply doing its job. During the Soviet era, Russian journalists could very well have written of their own military exercises as “the left is doing”. The truth is, though, it is simply “doing”.

3. “Would the khakis take over? Answer: They did that several months ago.:

This is so blatantly editorializing that it is shocking that the editors allowed it to be published as a ‘top story’ instead of an opinion column where it belongs. Moreover, Mr Saleem at no point explains what he means by “taking over”. Clearly, the nation is still in the control of the elected government – the same elected government that recently extended the appointment of COAS Gen. Kayani and the same elected government that funds the very military exercises that Mr Saleem praises as “doing”. In fact, you cannot have one without the other.

And this is the most important point of all – the khakis are able to do their jobs because of the politicians in the same way that the politicians are able to do their jobs because of the people. There has been no coup – soft or otherwise – and the military and politicians are working together to address the flood crisis. Certainly one can make the argument that the politicians are taking more of the blame than the military, but this is the nature of politics. To reprise the analogy above, birds sing and people blame politicians.

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