Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on Monday set the cat among the pigeons with a speech that sought to stem the criticism faced by the country’s military and to define boundaries for state institutions, though he refrained from naming any institution in particular.

Since his speech came at a time when the Army is under the Supreme Court’s scanner for its role in politics — a fact established by the Asghar Khan case in which the then COAS and Director-General of Inter-Services Intelligence were found guilty of having tried to prevent Benazir Bhutto from being elected in 1990 — the consensus was that his words were directed against the Supreme Court.

‘Not missiles and tanks’

With Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry asserting elsewhere on Monday that national security could no longer be defined in terms of number of missiles and tanks in a country’s possession, speculation was rife that the two unelected institutions were on a collision course. Add to this President Asif Ali Zardari on Sunday describing the assaults on Parliament as “the dying kicks of an old order”.

Addressing a group of officers at the General Headquarters, General Kayani said: “No individual or institution has the monopoly to decide what is right or wrong in defining the ultimate national interest.”

The Army has often been criticised for defining national interest and tailoring state policy to further that cause. In fact, many of the problems facing Pakistan today are attributed to the narrow definition of national interest through a security prism.

‘Right way forward’

Further, General Kayani said: “We all agree that strengthening the institutions, ensuring the rule of law and working within the well defined bounds of the constitution is the right way forward. Weakening of the institutions and trying to assume more than one’s due role will set us back.”

Stating that the armed forces draw their “strength from the bedrock of the public support”, the COAS added: “Therefore, any effort which wittingly or unwittingly draws a wedge between the people and the armed forces of Pakistan undermines the larger national interest. While constructive criticism is well understood, conspiracy theories based on rumours which create doubts about the very intent are unacceptable.”

In an indication that recent investigations into the role of some retired generals in different scams was playing on his mind, General Kayani said: “While individual mistakes might have been made by all of us in the country, these should be best left to the due process of law. As we all are striving for the rule of law, the fundamental principle — that no one is guilty until proven — should not be forgotten. Let us not pre-judge anyone, be it a civilian or a military person and extend it, unnecessarily, to undermine respective institutions.”

The COAS’ remarks left Pakistan’s “chattering classes” wondering with author Mohammad Hanif tweeting: “Did General Kayani just mumble a threat?” Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif said: “The first time I see hope. Extra-constitutional powers on defence. Augurs well for a strong, democratic Pakistan.” Politicians — the daily target of attack from the courts and the media — did not miss the opportunity to point out that the Army was bristling with anger over criticism for coming from some individuals while the political class was being vilified in toto for the misdeeds of some individuals.

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