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Bringing the hidden powers to heel

Trial of army chiefs is a victory for democracy

Bringing the hidden powers to heel
An officer
Silent Thinker, Lahore

November 2, 2012

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When Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy Party swept the by-elections earlier this year, the Nobel laureate and her colleagues inspired the whole world -- especially Pakistan. Now, following a landmark verdict last month, Pakistan’s Supreme Court has directed the government to take action against former generals and politicians for meddling in the 1990 general election. This is the first time military personnel in Pakistan have been held responsible for their actions by a civilian institution. Investigations are now being carried out against nine army generals in cases involving corruption, violating the constitution and even murder. Probably for the first time in their lives, three former generals were given a hard time while responding to harsh questions from the media as they headed to the National Accountability Bureau yesterday. “No comment, no comment,” barked a retired general as a reporter pressed him about corruption charges. “Shut up… idiots,” said the former federal railways minister as he angrily pushed aside intrusive microphones before entering his vehicle. These unprecedented scenes were aired on national television exactly a week after a video showed a former army chief getting physical with a journalist. Such behavior from high profile military officers says a lot about the psychology of an elite class; the notion of civilian accountability is alien to our average military officer. The 1952 Army Act legally justifies military detentions which clearly contradict constitutional rights. Civilians, on the other hand, cannot challenge a verdict handed down in military courts. I remember our driver posing as an army colonel to avoid paying road tolls when we used to go on long journeys. We used to burst out laughing after successfully passing through a toll booth free of charge. Things are changing at a fast pace in Pakistan where a democratically elected government has almost completed its full five-year term for the first time in the country's history. The young unbridled media, although immature at times, is notorious for initiating “media trials” long before the accused steps in the dock. This calls on the ever-compromising coalition government to take a hard line against those in the military. No matter how inept or incompetent I may have called it in past opinion pieces, there is no denying that an almost full term of office has boosted the confidence of civilian institutions that help support the government, including the media and judiciary, to question this unified state within a state. Times are changing and possibilities are diminishing for repeated decades of dictatorship in Asian countries like Myanmar and Pakistan. However , their politicians have to capitalize on this opportunity and emerge as genuine leaders in guiding their countries away from corruption, terrorism illiteracy, and other challenges. Justice is equal for everybody, and that is the best message the ruling Pakistan People’s Party can deliver. Silent Thinker is the pseudonym of a Catholic commentator based in Lahore. Related reports Scandal clouds another institution A fumbled attempt at democracy
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