Understanding the language of silence | Pakistan Today

Understanding the language of silence

The ISPR is overlooking the fact that one of the basic principles of (the subject of) public administration is that the institutional behaviour remains domain specific. That is, change the domain, change the behaviour.

Generally speaking, it is not only that there are present certain sycophants attending ISPR’s press conferences to ask questions of ISPR’s choice to offer the ISPR a leeway to comment on political developments in the country, it is also that the ISPR itself is inclined to speak on national politics.

The army is speaking through the language of silence. Perhaps, this is the most offensive statement issued by Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) through its spokesperson Director General (DG) Major General Asif Ghafoor at an ISPR arranged press conference in Islamabad on October 5. When the ISPR is speaking, the army need not to speak through any language of silence. Nevertheless, when the ISPR is speaking, the army is breaking its silence. By the way, Pakistan army is not known for observing any silence.

A few days ago, COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa visited Afghanistan and held meetings with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. In the wake of his visit, there took place a meeting of the Corps Commanders in Rawalpindi on October 3. The ISPR was supposed to inform the public about the outcome of the visit and the way Pakistan army looked at the emerging situation in Afghanistan. Instead, on October 5, the ISPR remained focused on the political domain which was not the realm of the army. The ISPR went awry. The strategy of the ISPR is now obvious. Read out a statement to seek relevance and then open the house for answer and question. This session is now the linchpin of ISPR’s activities. Contrived questions are asked to offer answers publicly not otherwise mentioned in ISPR’s press release. This is how the statement remains military oriented whereas the question and answer session becomes political.

During the question and answer session of the press conference, Major General Ghafoor commented on three major areas.

First, in the context of the recent conflict between the Minister for Interior and the Rangers, Maj-General Ghafoor said, “Sometimes it happens that the police ask the Rangers for assistance, and they [the Rangers] take action. When the NAB court had its first hearing, there was some trouble when the former prime minister was appearing for his hearing. A letter was subsequently written to the Rangers, and there was some coordination in the night as well, so the Rangers reached the court at 7am [on Monday]”. This is a wrong answer. On the first hearing by the NAB court, there was no such trouble which could have invited the attention of the Rangers to take upon itself the duty of guarding the NAB court. It was the duty of the city administration to gauge the nature of trouble and make pre-emptive arrangements for the next hearing. Similarly, it is known that the police does not ask the Rangers (verbally) to assist and the Rangers are not supposed to comply with the request or the orders of the police. For instance, in Punjab, it is the police that are resisting the relevance of the Rangers against criminals of any type. The police are of the opinion that the justification of their presence in Punjab would be over the moment the Rangers offered a substitute. This is the level of inter-uniform rivalry that the Punjab police do not want its space to be monopolized by the Rangers. Space once lost is lost forever. Nevertheless, it is now on record that the SSP Operations Islamabad did not make any direct request to the Rangers to assist the police.

Second, in the background of the same conflict between the Minister for Interior and the Rangers, Maj-General Ghafoor said, “No institution, including Pakistan Army, is beyond the supremacy of Pakistan. Even chief of army staff would have been stopped by Rangers if he had tried to enter the Judicial Complex without [security clearance] card.” This is another wrong answer. The ISPR is overlooking the fact that one of the basic principles of (the subject of) public administration is that the institutional behaviour remains domain specific. That is, change the domain, change the behaviour. It is not that the public has to change themselves as per an institution, it is that the institution has to adapt itself as per the need of the public. This is why during the martial law, the army projects itself as an institution most concerned about democracy. All military dictators take pride in introducing local bodies into the national political domain. The Rangers knew well that they were being deployed in the civilian domain and their behaviour should have been changed accordingly. Similarly, the Rangers knew that they were not around the NAB court to meet any chief of army staff but politicians. On the other hand, the Minister for Interior was not a trained soldier or an army general to follow certain protocols known exclusively to the Rangers. Instead, the Rangers had to know how civilians work and how to be acceptable to civilians. The Rangers failed to do so. The Rangers set an example of inefficiency and incompetence: the Rangers are not yet trained enough to work in the public domain.

Third, in the background of the same conflict between the Minister for Interior and the Rangers, Maj-General Ghafoor said, “If a soldier is doing his duty and is told not to allow irrelevant people. It is possible that someone who is not carrying a [authorised personnel] card is [in fact] a relevant person, but Rangers personnel do not know this. We need to appreciate the personnel for their [commitment to their] duty.” This is another wrong answer. Maj-General Ghafoor made a deliberate attempt to divert the attention of the attendees. He laid an unnecessary focus on the personnel to save the person in charge of the Rangers. Who was the officer in charge of the Rangers? Who ordered the Rangers to lock the gate from inside? If the uniform force such as the Rangers was there without any in charge, it was an example of irresponsibility: the personnel of the Rangers are left on their own and hence are uncontrolled and unaccountable.

Generally speaking, it is not only that there are present certain sycophants attending ISPR’s press conferences to ask questions of ISPR’s choice to offer the ISPR a leeway to comment on political developments in the country, it is also that the ISPR itself is inclined to speak on national politics. Whereas it is now known that the ISPR holds its briefings on army’s operations, it is also known that the ISPR avails itself of the opportunity of speaking on national political developments through its question and answer session. Press briefings on military operations are just a formality, the session after it is the real objective. In short, the ISPR has been using the guise of military operations to comment on the (political) domain not meant for the army.

The ISPR should avoid promoting the culture of planted questions. On the occasion of the first visit of General Pervez Musharraf to Washington after 9/11, he held a meeting with US President George Bush. Both came out to issue a joint statement. In the question and answer session, President Bush snubbed a Pakistani female journalist publicly for asking planted questions. The world around cannot be duped into believing that questions asked are original. Unfortunately, the ISPR is always ready to respond to politically loaded questions, whether or not asked by its own cronies.

To the utter dismay of the ISPR, no one is fearing any martial law in Pakistan. The age of martial law is over. The foremost challenge to a military dictator is not to run the country but to run its economy. A martial law dictator has to have the company of a Shaukat Aziz to run the country’s economy. Nevertheless, what most Pakistanis are fearing is that the mistakes committed by the ISPR will boomerang on them as well. The past offers a testament to this phenomenon.



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