My dear Sabri, I know we haven’t met for a long enough time for me to write you this letter. I also know that one cannot keep living in one’s school days while judging people’s character but I believe one should trust people’s core nature, especially those close friends about whom even your fading memories still testify you kind of know them well. Although we did meet briefly at an airport a few months back when we were harried and pressed for time as our respective flights were being announced, yet lots of things remain unsaid to say the least. Believe me I’m not writing an open letter in a newspaper to embarrass you or the much venerated institution that employs you which has rich traditions and proud history of soldiery. I still remember and often recall with fondness our mutual penchant for sports and — at times — prowess during our teenage years, which more often than not veered towards you extolling the virtues of joining the army and how magnificent the profession of soldiery was. In that your brigadier uncle was your role model whom we all considered as a perfect soldier in those days. In fact right from those memorable times you had, following your uncle’s footsteps, brought about some vital changes in your lifestyle in order to get yourself ready to learn the art and science of war in the years ahead. My dear Sabri, if you care to recall, even after a grueling cricket match or a debilitating game of squash, we never missed an opportunity for an impromptu cricket session in the vast and perfectly manicured lawns of your father’s official residence which could be measured in a few acres if my memory serves me right. Five thousand years of common civilisational bond must make us think in terms of co-existence and not as the victor and the vanquished — Zulfikar Ali Bhutto That colonial structure that you called home which, amongst other features, had thick walls and huge verandahs was probably the largest villa available to the department where your father worked. I remember we also used to laugh off your father’s jealous colleagues and their families on the usual bitching that inevitably occurred in the form of whispering and murmuring campaigns bordering on, albeit innocuous, resentment against you being allotted such a palatial house. Although the setting was unmistakably and outrageously colonial which denoted class identity from the outside, yet the values of morality, hard work, honesty and discipline drilled into you by your father and aunty (your mother) meant that your feet were firmly on the ground on most occasions. Your father’s manner (not your mother’s) of bringing you up as a strict disciplinarian had a few down sides to it, I may add. For instance, we used to relate with relish the cock and bull story you had to concoct when your friends at the swimming pool had seen marks of a ‘mild’ belting you had received from your father. To your chagrin, your story of insect bites all over your body had met with guffaws of sardonic laughter and jeers when your younger brother had spilled the beans. Aside from your fascination for military uniform and the mannerism that was associated with it, you normally had harsh words for the then military ruler, General Ziaul Haq whose un-general-like physique and demeanour always irked you not so much for his portly and podgy appearance but more so for his hanging of ZA Bhutto. The sobriquet of music drill master when he wore ceremonial uniform comes to mind amongst many other unmentionable titles that we used to bestow upon him. Although obedience not rebellion was your mantra while in the army but yours and your father’s disdain for and rejection of Zia’s strong arm tactics was an open secret amongst your peers. That rebellious streak (which may not sound the right expression) ran equally strongly in your mother’s side of the family too. So much so that Zia “stabbed” your uncle in the back by not promoting him to a major general just because he had expressed his dislike for Zia and how Zia lacked ‘personality’. Enough of the past, let me mention the present now. Over the past seventy years our country has stumbled from one military rule to another after having been left in a precarious and perilous state, at least politically, to be mended by the popularly elected governments. Every time we wriggle out of military rule we tend to think that Pakistan is being ushered into a golden period of democratic rule. In fact we as a nation start to harbor a faux confidence that all the key players — your organisation included — have learnt their lessons and would, as Aitzaz Ahsan would say, allow democratic institutions to mature and attain a permanent personality which is so important to gel a country like Pakistan together. The 1973 Constitution gives a near perfect framework for a country like ours that lacks ethnic and linguistic homogeneity to function smoothly. And yet it seems clear that the ethnically and linguistically diverse Pakistan is being taken for a ride as the sanctity of vote is not totally accepted which creates huge hurdles in the country’s path to progress. A country which has a frighteningly low literacy rate apart from its social and economic woes like, food and water shortages, lack of health facilities and no jobs especially for the youth bulge, a country which needs to wean its youth away from extremism by radically changing the school text books and bringing in the much needed madrassa reforms, what is required is not keeping the public mesmerised on what your DG ISPR would say on Dawn Leaks, for example. I don’t want to go as far back as PTI’s 2014 dharna but there is credible and corroborated evidence on some of your retired colleagues being hyper-active during and after the Panama Leaks hearing before the Supreme Court audaciously propagating an accountability agenda to whoever came within their earshot. Let me just say that they were contacting people from the whole spectrum. I say it with great sadness that the sense of euphoria that the nation goes through every time a military ruler decides to give way to an elected dispensation turns into a major nightmare and an unmitigated disaster once reality dawns upon us a few years later that the tools of operation may have changed according to changing times but the bottom line remains the same; Pakistan is a security state and rule of law and constitutionalism are viewed with suspicion in that overarching paradigm. It’s the age of the uber-nationalist TV anchor who lambasts all and sundry except your organisation in the name of patriotism. It’s time for that to change which will require serious institutional introspection. Are you ready for that? I say it with great sadness that the sense of euphoria that the nation goes through every time a military ruler decides to give way to an elected dispensation very quickly turns into a nightmare. Once reality dawns upon us a few years later we realise the tools of oppresion may have changed but the bottomline remains the same; Pakistan is a security state and rule of law and constitutionalism are viewed with suspicion in that overarching paradigm My friend, Sabri, a lot of water has gone under the bridges ever since we parted ways to pursue different careers but our loyalty to our country is what binds us together. Let’s have a national dialogue on what path this country is going to take because time is running out. An enduring military rivalry with our neighbor cannot and will not sustain us as a 21st century modern nation nor can it define our path to progress. Please don’t take any offence if I quote the great Zulfikar Ali Bhutto when he prophetically said, “five thousand years of common civilisational bond must make us think in terms of co-existence and not as the victor and the vanquished”. I, like millions of my countrymen, consider a strong military vital to our survival as a country. I acknowledge its professionalism and high standards of natural and acquired fighting skills. So much so that a few years ago it was a moment of great joy and pride for me to learn Pakistan Army soldiers winning an international endurance challenge involving extreme and adverse conditions beating several highly professional armies in the process including the Israeli, US, British and Indian. In today’s digital age it’s not very hard to see through emerging patterns while watching memes and video clips on our smart phones as I sent you one such clip a few days ago. The young PMLN supporters during the NA-120 by-election campaign can be seen in the video raising slogans of ‘Mian sb I love you’ and ‘Mianji tunn kay rakho’ while gesturing towards a military vehicle whose passengers seemed frightened and helpless while trapped in the melee`. Such scenes do not inspire much confidence in a fighting force that is supposed to protect me from foreign aggression but which seems inextricably embroiled in national politics. Your organisation must stick to its constitutional role and leave it to the citizen who they want to vote in or out. As an important institution of the state it must make a break from the past, move on and bid farewell to the days of contrived and manufactured realities. Yours truly, Hazari The writer is a Lahore based lawyer. His twitter handle is @Tariq_Bashir Published in Daily Times, October 1st 2017.