Military’s barrack language ordinarily is a mix of directness, officiousness and many a times of incomprehensibility. Possibly it is a logical result of the environment of apprehension and anxiety that surrounds the soldiers in the face of direct danger to life during war and hard-driven competence for war during peace. Amongst the whole inventory of this earthy military language, the term “part worn but serviceable” (PWS) belongs to the vocabulary of the Ordnance Corps responsible for equipping, clothing and enabling Pakistan Army to move.
The Ordnance Corps are also required to conduct periodic inspections to ensure that combat clothing issued to the soldiers is in usable condition. It is during these inspections that descriptions such as condemnation, unfair wear and tear and part worn but serviceable are used, in that order of descending severity. If declared condemned, the item is considered to have been worn out “beyond economical repair” and is to be replaced by the State. “Unfair wear and tear” verdict entails not only certain payment by the user but may also require penal action depending upon the degree of neglect so established. The great via media (“middle way”), the most meaningful and generally welcomed by the soldiers, is the phrase “part worn but serviceable.” This verdict is self-explanatory, to the extent that it recognizes the depletion caused to the item and its remaining useful life without determining blame. Eventually all parties to the transaction are happy and usual business of soldiering proceeds along merrily.
The politics of survival
Militaries in the world can claim only few patches of brilliance, whereas a genius is rare as a rule. In Pakistan Army two such gems so far identified are the legal genius who conceived the phrase good order and military discipline and converted its breach into a punishable offence. The other should be the logistics genius who invented part worn but serviceable. On a second thought, this logistics genius appears more a visionary and an intellectual thinker of a much superior sort. In our case, my suspicion is that he had a touch of political foresight also. Otherwise he could not have coined a phrase which is applicable to a soldier’s pair of socks with holes in the heels, as well as equally appropriately to what we have done to our society, the country and the national future.
Take for instance our Constitution, the Parliament and the political institutions which are so indispensable for a country’s political life. Of a number of them, which version of the Constitution in our country was really framed with a view to develop a healthy political body of the nation and, more importantly, to be observed in letter and spirit? Since they were invariably documents of constitutional expediency for retention of political power by the incumbents, they were not exactly meant to be followed. Also, as these documents were self-serving to begin with, they hardly had the popular approval. That is why political lightweights, from Ghulam Mohammad to General Pervez Musharraf, could abrogate, mutilate or suspend them with impunity. Successive parliaments and political parties meanwhile developed a remarkably pliant and politically profitable culture. Gradually politics of survival took precedence over politics of principle, a debilitating virus that has paralyzed our entire body politic and placed the country in such a continuing jeopardy.
The politics of survival
Watch the arrival of the nimblest dancer of them all on Pakistan’s political stage, just as the country broke up without the inescapable political bonding of a just constitution. It was late Mr. Bhutto. He was a consummate politician, brilliant orator and a great political survivor. But even he fell to the lure of political expediency and lost a once-in-centuries chance to place Pakistan on an honorable constitutional and political course. He also had the rarest of an inside opportunity to rip out Bonapartism in the wake of the defeat in the 1971 war. In his quest for self-perpetuation he floundered both the historic opportunities, to the lasting regret of Pakistan and its people. Look at the Constitution (1973) he helped frame for the country and claimed as unanimously approved albeit under the threat of continuation of a civilian martial law. No sooner was it passed that it was amended.
The sorry tale does not end here. He almost sank with it, but for the shrewd yet politically edgy late General Zia, who ousted him in the wake of widespread protests after general elections during 1977. Sadly and catastrophically, Mr. Bhutto, the ablest and most popularly acclaimed political leader, was dismissed and later hung without a significant public protest.
General Zia was a different breed of military coup makers. He invented the clever technique of “suspended Constitution,” as he could not rule in its effective presence. Every time the elected Parliament was packed off and kicked out by the Army, the Superior Judiciary was further compressed. No department of the government machinery faced a greater dilemma for its survival in the face of the soldiers’ gun than Pakistan’s Superior Judiciary. As also none was more ingenious, barring a few noble exceptions, than our Justices to wriggle out of this dead end. They had the rare distinction of inventing the infamous “Doctrine of Necessity,” under which military takeover was legally sanctioned. It was absolutely a stroke of judicial genius that paved the way for all subsequent military coups and political devastation of our country.
Justices had to hunt with the hounds and run with the hare. However, their judicial improvisation led to a very grave loss to the people of Pakistan. An extremely important organ of the state responsible for the custody of the Constitution and the rule of law became partisan and almost utterly failed to dispense justice on vital national issues brought to its notice. Proverbial long arm of the law was amputated, leaving the field open to the criminal, adventurer and the raw power. Vast majority of citizens has been driven first to helplessness, then to despair and finally to the widespread but explosive collective frustration as is prevalent now. Critically, the very soul of our society lost its faith in the last civilized recourse to correct a wrong—the Superior courts.
Part worn, still serviceable
On the other hand our political leadership whose fundamental responsibility it was to plant and nurture a healthy and robust political culture in the country failed to do so. It is always the first compromise in matters of governance that exposes the rule of law to mutilation. Doors of the state have been thrown open to all kinds of highwaymen, sorcerers and swindlers, leaving the country and the people to suffer the consequences of their pillage. Starting from Indus Basin Water Treaty in 1960, Pakistan was pushed into treaty after dubious treaty, unwinnable wars, foreign policy adventures, fatal centralization of federal power, inequitable distribution of natural and financial resources and a terribly exploitive power elite.
A blessed country we are. Thousands of holes in the entire national canvas and our sails still catch the winds? It is not as astonishing as it looks. There is a reason and a very strong one at that. It is the resilience and pluck of our people which makes our country work. It was the same ragtag people who snatched an independent Pakistan from the jaws of combined British and Congress power. They rebuilt the country after being broken up in two in 1971. It is them who are carrying out business as usual when a suicide bomber, a maniac Taliban or a sectarian killer lurks behind every tree. These salt-of-the-earth, robust and generous common people are our real hope for the future. We may be partly or, for that matter, completely worn out, but yet again we will pick up pieces and reassemble a nation. We are still serviceable.
This article was originally published in the Pakistan Daily Times on Friday, July 22, 2011.