Babar Sattar, The News, December 28, 2010
Disclosure of information is a good thing not because it is an end in itself but because free flow of information results in greater transparency, debate and accountability. Frequently disclosure of information only confirms what people already know. But it is significant because once backed by facts, conjecture becomes reality. And while no one ought to be held to account on the basis of speculation alone, can an entire nation look the other way when stark facts stare it in the eye? In this regard our response to Wikileaks has been extremely instructive. The ruling elite - civil and military - has conveniently responded to the former US envoy’s cables simply with denial. What they are denying is unclear. Are they saying that the reported conversations never took place, or that they do not reflect the context and thus the whole truth? Or do they believe that Shaggy’s “wasn’t me” is a perfectly legitimate response even in statecraft whenever confronted with incriminating facts?
Would our civil and military leaders have us believe that the former US ambassador was a fabler deliberately misleading her bosses in Washington for the fun of it or that the Wikileaks saga is a mischievous US conspiracy to make our rulers look bad in order to lower them further in public esteem? Equally disturbing has been our collective apathy to digging deeper and confronting the truth. Are we not vying for complete disclosure and accountability because we are now accustomed to leaders being caught with their pants down and getting away Scott-free, or do they manage to get away because of our exhibition of expediency, tolerance or even timidity in face of such unsavory conduct? The overall media response to Wikileaks has also been wanting in a fundamental way: the reporting has been partial in that it has beat down on politicians for nauseating sycophancy and shameful self-interest, without proportionately highlighting and scrutinising the role of the military and especially the army chief that might have waded into the domain of illegality.
The one unmistakable takeaway from Wikileaks is that the already hazardous civil-military imbalance in Pakistan has been further aggravated over the last couple of years. Let us address matters pertaining to propriety, policy and legality in that order. For propriety alone, we don’t even need the help of Julian Assange. The army chief might be the most powerful man in the country, but the protocol list doesn’t reflect that. But we are now past pretensions. Recently, the military guard detailed for the army chief’s security forced two federal ministers to wait for the cavalcade of the army chief to pass through (along with other civilians used to the inconvenience) and interestingly it was the PPP parliamentarians loath to discuss the issue when raised by the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly. It is obvious that neither the ruling party nor the army high command feels the need to prop-up the fiction of civilian control of the military.
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