Martial law by other means


Muhammad Ali Jinnah was always clear about the subservient role of the armed forces

“Military coups,” Alexis De Tocqueville warned more than 200 years ago, “are always to be feared in democracies. They should be reckoned among the most threatening of the perils which face their future existence. Statesmen must never relax their efforts to find a remedy for this evil.”

On August 14, 1947, we took democracy, supremacy of law, supremacy of civilian rule and the independence of the judiciary for granted. Jinnah’s Pakistan was to be governed by law, not man. Very soon, events were to prove how wrong we were.

Jinnah was aware of the threat posed by the army to Pakistan’s fledgling democracy. On the day of Pakistan’s independence, August 14, 1947, Jinnah — who had just become Governor General — scolded a young Pakistani officer. The officer had complained that: “Instead of giving us the opportunity to serve our country in positions where our natural talents and native genius could be used to the greatest advantage, important posts are being entrusted, as had been done in the past, to foreigners. British officers have been appointed to head the three fighting services, and a number of other foreigners are in key senior appointments. This was not our understanding of how Pakistan should be run.”

Jinnah was deliberate in his answer. He warned the officer concerned “not to forget that the armed forces were the servants of the people and you do not make national policy. It is we, the civilians, who decide these issues and it is your duty to carry out these tasks with which you are entrusted.”

Months later, during his first and only visit to Staff College Quetta, he expressed his alarm at the casual attitude of “one or two very high-ranking officers.” He warned the assembled officers that some of them were not aware of the implications of their oath to Pakistan and promptly read it out to them. And he added: “I should like you to study the constitution which is in force in Pakistan at present, and understand its true constitutional and legal implications when you say that you will be faithful to the constitution of the Dominion.

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