This seems to confound us. Why was the Dawn leak a breach of security? There are two versions of how the issue is perceived and both are important to note.
The first version takes in the content of what was reported: that Shahbaz Sharif told the military off for duality in policy; of being selective in conducting its operations against terror groups acting against some while saving those that it considers useful for the future. What else was left to be said beyond what the US and its CIA, and Afghanistan and its NDS, and India and its RAW had been saying for long which the mercurial Shahbaz Sharif had laid out to the military?
If indeed the exchange occurred – for there exist two opinions again on it: one says it was fabricated, the other says it was embellished – this was a real killer with multiple objectives. Firstly, the brother of the PM, in the presence of the PM, was telling the DG ISI that the military’s alleged policies of using irregulars indeed was the primary cause of isolating Pakistan in the region; and that it had become the source of persistent affliction with the neighbours who complained incessantly of such recourse.
By doing so he also absolved himself of any likely allegations of saving his guys of the same hue by denying the Rangers an operation on the lines of Karachi which had been sought for long to seek similar gains. It was loudly proclaimed that the Punjab government had its own set of extremists, also its voters, who sought relative freedom to operate on their sectarian agenda for political favours. One particular minister in Punjab is popularly known to openly hobnob with these elements, who practised their crime in the name of religion without reproach. Since then the Rangers have indeed gone into Punjab, albeit under serious constraints compared to their more empowered colleagues in Karachi.
And the second derivative of this one-sided spat was the politicos finally holding the military ones to account. A grand day in the journey of democracy indeed. That under the PML-N, by the brother of the PM, in his presence. It could not have gotten any better, politics wise.
Now if it indeed was a farce, or a contraption, or an excessive embellishment of a minor exclamation but asking questions off the military, when it appeared in the way that it did, it bordered on a fabrication. A story exaggerated for effect. The only military guys present in that meeting chaired by the PM were the DG lSI, and the NSA, a former general. The civvies may have found this an opportune moment to score some brownie points since the presence of then army chief, Raheel Sharif, usually imposed its own constraints.
This then was the prevalent mindset which forced a situation in an already tense civ-mil culture. One where your own government confirms the negative perceptions of its military and goes open on it with language that enemies of the state have frequently used and resorted to while maligning Pakistan and its institutions. Characterising this as an act of betrayal in an atmosphere already reeking of distrust would have only further deepened the fissures of divide between the military and the politicos. Which government in the world does this to its own military? This was the question in the minds of those who were fighting the battle of Pakistan’s existence against perpetual internal and external threats wanting to undo the state and its society?
Yet some wizards ended up conceiving the unthinkable – contrived, embellished and propagated. The whole six yards of doing in your own. If the purpose was to one-up on the army, the path chosen was insidious and malignant. Even for a military that has erred frequently in the past and was instrumental in throwing the Sharifs into exile. From your own government, to its military, it was unacceptable. Despite all denials, we instituted a JIT to probe something. So assume that something did happen, something was said, possibly built upon with excessive embellishment which the newspaper and the writer were willing to carry under their banners. Credibility be damned, at least the story sounded good.
Onto the next breach then. Someone crafted a story; someone raised the newspaper and the writer; and someone decided to publish the story showing the military in poor light and even more damagingly confirming to the world it’s apprehensions on Pakistan’s and its military. If it was intended for the politicos to be shown in good light, it was at the cost of nation’s military. Constitutionalists should balk on such blatant violation of what is preserved in it as sanctimonious – not only the military but the judiciary. Contextualists will see the inappropriateness of the whole episode when your military is the lynchpin responding to national challenges and international obligations. Either way the thought was vile and its fallout obnoxious. It led to another excess – the tweet. Rapidly, we descended the depths of ignominy.
But for all this to happen from within the prime minister’s closest circle, those who tend to national security as a prime function and are vested to run this country’s affairs, it amounted to an exceptional misstep. If it were a leak it called into question the fidelity of those that work around and with the prime minister. It led to another concern: whether the PM Office was a safe place to conduct business of the state? Perhaps this was even bigger than the intent to discredit the military because this is where the state comes together, and this wasn’t safe enough a place, apparently. There was redemption though if however, the act was deliberate, planted and willful; the fear of the precincts being unsafe was unfounded. Small mercies.
The military kept with seeking to bring the investigation to its logical conclusion because the matter had assumed such huge proportion. It was huge, let there be no doubt, for all the above reasons but its consequence may not need to have been as vile or incriminating to upset the applecart of the state and its systems. Both sides did well to step back from the edge of a confrontation and sought to coexist under saner mutual disposition. Will the wounds heal as quickly? It depends on how we proceed from here. The path of normalcy in every aspect of our functioning as a state is tenuous and responsibility lies at all ends to make it succeed. The space for playing around is no more.