A General in Davos

A rare window on the military mind has been provided by former Chief of Army Staff General (retd) Raheel Sharif speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Tuesday 17th January. This is a prestigious platform and the General was part of a panel discussion titled ‘Terrorism in the modern age’ at which participants acknowledged Pakistan’s efforts to curb terrorism. There is indeed much to laud in the efforts of the army to roll back what could have become an existential threat — but there was an undercurrent to what the general had to say that bears closer inspection.

General (retd) Sharif spoke of the success of the military courts as a tool to combat terrorism — failing to mention that the courts were not transparent, never open to public scrutiny and delivered their verdicts anonymously. The government is currently mulling whether to extend the life of the military courts their mandate having expired on 7th January. It will be recalled that the courts were established to give the government time to enact revisions in the justice system — which it has not done — and now the state hovers between opaque military courts and a justice system that all sides admit to be flawed.

The hole in the General’s argument that ‘unusual times require unusual arrangements’ and that human rights and freedom of speech can be an impediment to the fight against extremism, is that a balance must be struck between civil and military needs and that those freedoms of expression and human rights are at the core of state values and must not be eroded whatever the supposed justification. Once lost they are difficult to regain, their dilution is to the detriment of wider society and the integrity of the state and if necessity does require a suspension of those rights then it must be temporary. Very temporary. The General (retd) is entitled to his views and their robust expression and we entirely support his purely military perspective in a long, complicated and costly battle. That said there must be no surrender of the fundamentals of mature statehood, and military imperatives are not the only paradigm in play.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 19th, 2017.

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A General in Davos

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A General in Davos

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