July issue 2006

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 15 years ago

It should have made front page news. But it didn’t even make it to the inside pages of most newspapers. Why?

Possibly because it involved sleuths of Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency. Ten ISI men, led by a major, kidnapped and beat up an 80-year-old man, his daughter-in-law and two teenaged grandsons, who had dared to take on an ISI official’s son in an innocent playground brawl.

Fortunately, the 80-year-old was a retired brigadier, with a Sitara-e-Jurat to his credit, so the army swung into action swiftly, but two other boys who were also thrashed badly by the ISI in the same incident were not even approached for their version of the story.

Incidentally, this is just one of many incidents involving the country’s intelligence agencies. The kidnap and subsequent murder of Frontier newsman Hayatullah Khan in Waziristan is also being blamed on intelligence agencies, as also the disappearance of several youth in Balochistan and elsewhere.

Precisely what task has the army assigned to its security agencies? Is it to ensure the security of its citizens or is it to harass, intimidate and silence the voices of dissent?

Held in the highest esteem once, as the guardians of the national frontiers and the torchbearers of law and order, the army is now coming in for a barrage of criticism for steering a different course altogether and furthering its own agenda. Once rarely seen outside the barracks, today its ubiquitous presence dominates all realms of life.

And we’re not talking about the plum civilian posts they now occupy — reams have been written on the subject. One is talking of the army’s burgeoning economic interests: banks, leasing and insurance companies, dairy farms, cement plants, gas stations, fertiliser units — and their current obsession, real estate.

Despite denials to the contrary, the army has acquired prime property at throwaway prices and distributed it amongst its own. In a country, where the majority do not even have a roof over their heads, and 30 million peasants are still landless, how do the generals justify the acquisition of 8 to 10 plots each? How come the general masses are not offered such sweetheart deals? What have the generals done to deserve such largesse? Why should we, the overtaxed citizens of this country, be subsidising an institution that has overstepped its mandate and is possibly one of the richest groups in the country?

Conduct equally unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman, is the sight of the Chief of Army Staff travelling the length and breath of the country lobbying for votes for a party whose leading lights were involved in one of the biggest scams in the country’s history that deprived hundreds of their lifetime’s savings.

Meanwhile, who’s minding the barracks, General?

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.