Saturday, April 12, 2014

National security, indeed!

Published in The Nation, November 03, 2012
October 12, 1999, was a fateful day. Those involved in the mechanics of the military takeover did not argue about the mission, or even the consequences. They were soldiers trained for the battlefield, taught to obey. They did not ask “why?”, only “when?” There could only be the inhibition of a legal nature - the prohibitions of the constitution. However, when those who had created it and also sworn to uphold it, did not consider it sacred and violated it at will, the soldiers did not think they were making any greater mischief.

Yes, there was the issue of the death penalty for such violation; that was daunting. But soldiers are also taught to take great risks. And, contrary to general belief, they are also trained to think, at least within limited and defined parameters. And they wondered why only the shaking of the throne entitled one to the gallows, while every other violation is overlooked - the abuse of power, plundering of national wealth, oppression of its citizens, killing sprees on streets, desecration of the corridors of justice, and all else that suits the appetites of the rich and powerful. At that level, mercilessly, there are no qualms of morality or ethics. Even divine laws are irrelevant. The only question is: “Can I get away with it?” And the soldier thought he could. And did!

When national security is at stake, the soldiers are alerted. After all, it is our bread and butter. And for the soldiers, their commander defines national security. And aren’t the people the nation? So, with the given promise of our Chief of throwing away the shackles of this rotten political system and replacing it with a better democratic structure, we took it upon ourselves to go for it. The immediate concern proclaimed was saving the army - the prime institution safeguarding national security - from being politicised and thus ruined. Little did we realise how vigorously an insider politician will politicise it. So our Chief became the ‘number one’ politician of the country. And once in those shoes, as opposed to the black boots, he came to relish the liberty with which he could now wield power. The army, in comparison, was limiting. But our political system was designed for unlimited liberty to the ruler, as long as the minions are allowed their pieces of the national cake - you know, the one you get after you bake the nation. But he had more guts, because he still had boots on, and guns, and powerful agencies to terrorise, and later a powerful friend in Bush.

Consequently, he exercised this liberty with greater freedom. And little did we realise that our commander will fall from the high pedestal of a soldier and become a politician. So, the army got politicised and bruised, since the supreme ruler defined “loyalty of ideas” as the highest form of loyalty - standard sovereign mindset. And, eventually, the same rotten system got more deeply entrenched, with greater public support for its continued sustenance. Military rule wrecked what it came to save.

The military is a closed society, with its own parochial interests to safeguard - structurally compartmentalised and layered. And mama knows best. It does not show you its wounds. But alas, does not even lick them. So, they don’t heal. Four dictators and half a country later, when national sovereignty has shrivelled to the person of the sovereign, regretfully, some are again looking towards the army for a solution. Don’t! The army is already out of its barracks, fighting someone else’s war, and has no more patience to indulge once again in this political pandemonium. And no solutions for our malaise.

Someone once said that politics is too serious an affair to be left to the politicians. A soldier, however, should be the last person to comment on it, particularly if he is the one who helped bring in a politician in uniform. But national security is another issue. One wonders, if our constitution provides sufficient safeguards against breach of national security. In every military takeover, the issue hyped was that national security was at stake, be it in the form of political mayhem, economic meltdown, corruption or threat to critical national institutions. (Every time the decision was that of the Army Chief and never an institutional decision, although the brunt is borne by the entire institution - for generations. Today’s young soldier carries the stigma of losing half the country, at the time when he was not even born.)

Likewise, the dismissal of every political government, even where the military had remained in the background, was motivated (so to say) by similar concerns of national security - retention of nuclear capability being one of them. True, that national security has never essentially been the reason for military takeovers, but also equally true is that national security is always at stake. However, we have no institutional method of defining national security or the threats to it. In our environment, power structures being what they are, those in power pick their own definitions that suit the moment and their intent.

Certainly, this is too serious an affair to be left either to the politicians or the soldiers. There has to be a constitutionally created mechanism, which suits our setting, to define national security and means to safeguard it. Short of a total constitutional overhaul, which is inescapable for our national security, it is essential that for the time being such a mechanism be created before it is too late and some bizarre definition of threat to national security derails the entire system.

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