By Tanvir Ahmad Khan
In our stage of nation-building, real political parties, as distinct from those that are cobbled together overnight to legitimize a coup d’etat, need mass mobilization. This need is the source of the din of democracy which has traditionally jarred the military mind addicted to decorum and order
It is a testing time for Pakistan in which a deep existential anxiety within the country is matched by widespread speculation abroad about its future. There are some sympathetic voices in the big wide world that still testify to the resilience of the people of Pakistan and their uncanny ability to bounce back from crises. But many more see it hurtling towards self-destruction like Yugoslavia and even suggest that the powers to be are not particularly averse to the implied fragmentation of this sixty-year-old state.
In such a stressed environment, it is never helpful to brush the dangers under the carpet. They are better brought into the open so that the nation has a correct measure of them. It was, therefore, fit and proper that this newspaper discussed the question of the historical strains between the PPP and the military as warranted by the extraordinary assertion made by President Musharraf in a Newsweek interview that late Benazir Bhutto was “unpopular, very unpopular” with the Pakistani military. There are several implications of this precipitate judgement that may negatively influence attitudes in the difficult days ahead and shape events. We will do well to arrive at a cool and dispassionate understanding of these implications now rather than later.
It can be argued that this unfortunate observation was made in an interview (since published in full by this paper) that did little good to President Musharraf’s image here or abroad and that the best course in the larger national interest would be to forget about it. Indeed, the interview reveals more than anything else the wear and tear that the president has undergone during the trying circumstances of the last ten months. What else would explain his unconvincing narration of qualities that make him a more effective fighter in the war on terror than the slain leader of the PPP, the strange references to Hillary Clinton and the claim that his power comes not from the constitution but from an undefined ‘influence over everyone, over the political leaders, over the coalition’?
Before one turns to the history of PPP-military relations, there is the important question if the military should have such final opinions on political parties and personalities as implied by President Musharraf. After all it is expected to work under the oversight of elected representatives of the people both under the national constitution and the custom of democratic states .If there was such a strong taboo against the leader of the PPP, why did he go and seek her cooperation in building a new coalition to fight religious militancy better? Is the military being misrepresented in the Newsweek interview or was the entire exercise of national reconciliation a sham that Benazir Bhutto fell for and for which she paid with her life, a precious life taken presumably by a fanatic outraged by her resolve to fight his demonic creed? A similar bias of the men in uniform can be cited as the reason for putting Nawaz Sharif down and for the ritual ridicule heaped on some other politicians who have a considerable following amongst the people.
At a time when a widening cleavage between the people and the armed forces threatens the very foundations of the state — a national security state for six decades — a public articulation of the impermissible prejudices of the military does not augur well for the hopes of a democratic revival in the country. One would have thought that the president would be aware of the gradual but sure evolution of more harmonious civil-military relations in his favourite country, Turkey. As a result of that evolution, politicians who were once jeered at as the unacceptable children of Erbakan are today leading a government acclaimed all over the world for coming to grips with some of the most difficult national issues including that of joining the European Union. Why does the president want to prevent a similar evolution in Pakistan?
Historically, there has been an important reason for the general distrust of political forces in our armed forces. In our stage of nation-building, real political parties, as distinct from those that are cobbled together overnight to legitimize a coup d’etat, need mass mobilization. This need is the source of the din of democracy which has traditionally jarred the military mind addicted to decorum and order. The fear of the mob running away with decision-making has been a major theme of European politics too since the Jacobin terror in the wake of the French Revolution. But surely we have left that stage far behind. I will, on the strength of opportunities for a free intellectual interaction with the officer class in the elegant training institutions of the armed forces, like to bear witness that the military has pondered deeply and sincerely on the national issues, be they of security or national integration or economy, and developed a corporate thinking by no means different from that of the rest of the nation.
All over the world one hears of a civil-military dichotomy that would make Pakistan sink. And yet there exists a strong base for a future consensus. The military has a natural dynamic that makes it aspire to the title of a national army loved and not feared by the people. Professor Michel Chossudovsky’s article “The destabilization of Pakistan” referred to in the perceptive editorial run by this paper the other day has a very dark prognosis of Balkanization for Pakistan because it believes that powerful international forces are at work to destroy the unity of the people and the army in Pakistan. This may be unduly alarmist but would it not be better to let the new army command take fresh stock of the situation and repair such damage as has been done in the past. After all, some of the greatest gains made by the armed forces in building a credible defense potential were made under PPP governments.
The writer is a former foreign secretary