The Pakistan Army’s spokesman was almost forced by the developing situation to speak out on key security and political matters on national TV channels. What the ISPR director general said on Wednesday night must serve to open some foggy eyes. Maj General Asif Ghafoor of the ISPR did not mince words. He stated what was needed to be said, especially when issues are being deliberately confused. He was obviously referring to failing politicians, caught for their crimes of omission and commission, who are using their right to freedom of speech to protect themselves from the long arms of the law. The salient points of the army spokesman’s statement were: – There should be no selective application of the Constitution. – The spirit of the Constitution must be implemented. – The Army will keep the Constitution, and its spirit, as its foremost objective. – The Constitution gives the right to freedom of speech but it also stops use of derogatory and insulting language for two prime institutions — the Supreme Court and Pakistan Army. – If these two institutions are weakened, the country will be weakened. – No person is bigger than any institution. – No institution is bigger than the State. – The Army has achieved successes against its enemies and these successes will not be allowed to be undone. – The Army follows orders of the government and in the current situation of a dharna, it will do so when the time comes. But he said army hopes a peaceful resolution of the situation will be possible – If the Army is asked to intervene in the dharna, the Army chief will make his proposals to the government at the right forum and at the right time. These points were made when probing interviewers asked him about criticism by the ousted Prime Minister, his family and use of official resources in personal criminal trials. A smooth democratic transition to a new elected set up would have been the best solution of the crisis created by the fallout of the Panama Papers, as it happened in several other countries Gen Ghafoor’s straight talk means, and he said so many times, that the political situation as well as other developments were being keenly watched but the Army is, and will remain, focused on its primary task of fighting terrorism and making the country safe. Analysed objectively, Gen Ghafoor is saying that the law will take its course, the Constitution will be followed, and there will be no interference either for, or against, anyone. Simply speaking, there will be no NRO for either the deposed PM or those who may in future come in the grip of the law for their actions. After these lines have been clearly drawn by the Army, including some unspoken red lines, it will now be on the politicians to understand where the khakis stand and what they might or might not do. The unspoken red lines are also not difficult to understand. When Gen Ghafoor says the “selective application” of the Constitution must stop, he means the manner in which institutions are being targeted should, and possibly would, not be allowed. He is also hinting at the use, or misuse, of Parliamentary strength to protect, glorify and promote persons who have been disqualified and are being tried for a long list of crimes. This is not the spirit of the Constitution, he is saying in so many words. When he says categorically that there is nothing larger or higher than the State, only dimwits and dumb minds would not get the message clearly. The interests of the State, he is making it clear, are supreme and the Army is committed to protect these interests. It has been speculated several times that the strategy of the ousted Prime Minister and his family has been to bring the Army into the ongoing fracas so that leaders caught in financial crimes and illegal acts could become political victims and could claim some kind of martyrdom. General Ghafoor is simply saying this will not happen as the Constitution and the laws will play out their course. It is obvious that this will increase the desperation and sense of defeat among the guilty parties, whether in power or out of it. They could double their efforts and magnify their provocative acts to challenge the State. A smooth democratic transition to a new elected set up would have been the best solution of the crisis created by the fallout of the Panama Papers, as happened in several other countries. But Pakistani democracy has not yet graduated to that level as leaders equate their personal interests with the interests of the country and even the State. The Army, after so many bad experiments over the years with running the affairs of the country by diktat, is trying to stay behind what is legal and constitutional and this attempt must not fail. It is also imperative for the politicians to set their own interests aside and follow the universally accepted and followed norms of democracy. People come and go but good traditions and precedents once set guide nations through all types of crises. As Gen Ghafoor repeatedly pointed out, the Army has its plate full to counter threats within the country and from enemies outside. It is a fulltime job and the khakis do not want to be distracted by political instability at home. But having said that, if some disgruntled people, who got caught by accident or default and failed to prove their innocence, feel they can bulldoze the State into accommodating their selfish interests, the Army is not closing the door on doing ‘whatever may be needed’ to protect the State and its interests. The message is clear and those who fail to get it may regret their decision for a long time. The writer is a senior journalist Published in Daily Times, November 24th 2017.