Why you should think twice before embracing Zaid Hamid

Pakistan’s current conditions are far from encouraging, as the government struggles to combat extremism and continues to fall short of addressing the needs of the common man. Citizens can even be forgiven for embracing revolutionary doctrine in hopes of changing the fortunes of the nation. However, when hyper-nationalism aligns itself with ignorance of history, we are led to an ideology that is flawed, distorted but most importantly tried and tested.  Zaid Hamid has persistently advocated for the dissolution of the elected government in favor of a caretaker government selected by the Supreme Court with the military’s backing.

A brief analysis of our nation’s history shows Zaid Hamid’s philosophy to be far from revolutionary. General Ayub Khan held the same values when he (along with Iskander Mirza in 1958) dismissed the elected government, dissolved the constitution (with the blessing of the corrupt judiciary) and established the infamous “basic democracies” system. This political structure’s shining moments included a vicious election campaign against Fatimah Jinnah and the eventual disintegration of East Pakistan.  Zaid Hamid’s caretaker government in all likelihood would only prolong military rule, reduce political participation amongst the people and corrupt a judiciary that is currently redeeming itself from its past sins.

Zaid Hamid also wants the Supreme Court to handpick “Good Muslims” that would satisfy Article 62/63 of the Constitution. The judicial system did address this proposal in the Punjab Disturbances Report of 1954:

“The sublime faith called Islam will live even if our leaders are not there to enforce it. It lives in the individual, in his soul and outlook, in all his relations with God and men, from the cradle to the grave, and our politicians should understand that if Divine commands cannot make or keep a man a Musalman, their statutes will not.”- Justice Munir

The judiciary refrained from endorsing a theory of a Nation-State that catered around subjective Islamic morals and standards. It is no coincidence that a military ruler was responsible for invoking such subjective morals into the constitution. The judiciary and the military cannot work synonymously over stretched periods of time, as General Musharraf’s demise in 2008 showed. The military has been unable to select a lawmaking branch that has satisfied the people’s needs over a stretched period of time (Basic Democracies and the Majlis-e-Shoora).

Zaid Hamid desperately seeks the creation of a political structure that established itself long before any organic political order developed in Pakistan. Allowing such an order to establish itself yet again would eliminate any lingering hope of sustained democracy in Pakistan.

Military Accountability: The Role of Political Parties

The presence of Osama Bin Laden in Abbotabad has led to an opening of a Pandora’s box. The Pakistani military has had to pick and choose from limited options; that is either complicity or incompetence. The civilian government, already incapable of influencing any foreign policy, has once again chosen to side with the military and the intelligence agencies. On the surface, however, they have tried to act tough by establishing an “independent” commission in charge of analyzing the Osama Bin Laden mishap. The likes of Najam Sethi, Nawaz Sharif and Asma Jehangir have already called the commission useless. Nawaz Sharif was upfront about labeling the Osama Bin Laden a “security lapse.” He also criticized the PPP for not trying hard enough to ensure accountability within the military.

It is fair to assume that Nawaz Sharif has been bitter with the military since he was ousted in October 1999. His second tenure as the prime minister was marked with him trying to decentralize the military’s power in the political sphere. General Jehangir Karamat was nice enough to resign in face of civilian aggression, but Musharraf pounched on Sharif’s ego and ultimately ousted him. Sharif finally has seen an opportunity to once again engage in a verbal war with the military( and the election campaign of 2013). This time, the military may have found a more schrewd Sharif, and a public that is more aware of the military’s alleged incompetence. This situation is much similar to 1972, when army dictatorship collapsed.

The creation of East Pakistan sent shockwaves across Pakistan, as it lost 52% of its population within a matter of months. Martial law ended with Zulfikar Bhutto becoming both the Chief Martial Law Administrator and the President of the nation. While the public raised furor over the military’s policies, it was not fully aware of its atrocites in East Pakistan. Zulfikar Bhutto chose to keep it that way. In order to appease the military and ensure his future Presidency, Bhutto decided to conceal the “Hamoodur Rehman Commission Report” from the public. The report was also questionable in nature, as it did not indict General Tikka Khan, a military figure complicit in the army’s lawless actions in East Pakistan. General Tikka Khan went on to serve as the chief of army staff for four years under Zulfiqar Bhutto. The military, after a brief interruption in politics due to unpopularity, reinserted itself back into politics in 1978. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto missed the chance as Chief Martial Law administrator by not conducting a thorough investigation into the incompetence of the army. The result was the reinsertion of Martial Law in 1977.

Today, the PPP has once again allegedly decided to take the easy route by protecting the incompetence of the military. In fear of retaliation and possible aid withdrawal from foreign nations, it has decided to conduct an investigation in accords with the military’s wishes. Now, it would be foolish to assert that the military’s present blunders are remotely comparable to the atrocities of East Pakistan. Similarly, it is also unwise to assume that today’s PPP government is as strong as Zulfikar Bhutto’s government in 1972. Far from it, actually.

The morals of these two situations remain the same though. Public perception of the military is changing, just as it did in 1972. The PPP needs to act together with other civilian parties in order to ensure accountability in the military. It similarly needs to establish a proper independent commission in accord with the consent of the opposition parties. Najam Sethi, a distinguished Pakistani scholar, has critiqued the commission for catering towards the military’s needs. A commission needs to be established for ensuring justice within the military, not one that should be used by a party for political security from the military.

Three years ago, political parties were able to join together to restore the Chief Justice from a military dictator through unity. MQM President Altaf Hussain has already critiqued the alleged extremism within the army, and has demanded swift action within the military. Nawaz Sharif has called for a proper investigation into the blatant “security lapse” of Abbotabad. Imran Khan also wants a re-evaluation of military policy on the war against terror. This is the time for political parties to join together for a cause. Otherwise, public frustration with the military will frustrate itself to passiveness, and parliamentary democracy might once again meets its deadliest foe; martial law.


The Trial of the Military

The Pakistani military establishment has had to contend with its fair share of strategic blunders in the past. The ones that immediately come to mind are 1965, 1971 and Kargil. The fact that the general public is not aware of the military blunders (or refuses to believe them) shows testament to the strength or rather the “myth” of the military. This myth has haunted Pakistan in the past, and it has come back to haunt us again with Osama Bin Laden. Several Pakistani military operations of the past have led to criticism and strategic failure, yet the Pakistan military has always been able to deflect blame towards civilian governments. This time, however, it may not be so easy for them.

General Pervaiz Musharraf shrewdly explained the strategic blunder of the Kargil Operation in 1999 by alleging Nawaz Sharif (then Prime Minister) as the major culprit of the debacle. Sharif, however, in 1999 was actively engaged in reopening diplomatic channels with India through then Indian Prime Minister Atul Vajpayee. General Musharraf, who was then Chief of Army Staff, refused to greet Vajpayee at the border ceremony. When the Pakistani army got caught infiltrating in Kargil territory, Nawaz Sharif went to Washington to seek clemency for an action that the military was responsible for. A few months later, Sharif was ousted and Musharraf gained power. Till this day, the Pakistani public refused to digest the fact that the Pakistani military’s Kargil strategy failed due to the military’s lack of prudence.

Fast forward to 2011, and you have a fragile political structure in which the PPP is trying desperately to hang on to its power. Coming into power after 8 years of unpopular military rule, it is remarkable to note that the public as has once again dismissed the civilian government as incompetent. The civilian government, simply put, has no control or say over Pakistan’s military policy. In 2008, President Zardari tried to put the ISI under the control of the interior ministry. However, ISI chief General Athar Abbas rejected the notion within 24 hours, and the matter was never discussed again. Wikileaks also have shown this apparent sensitivity and mistrust between these two entities. In November 2009, Interior Minister Rehman Malik conveyed his paranoia of an ISI takeover of the civilian government to then US Ambassador Anne Patterson. Similarly, Wikileaks have also shown mistrust between General Kiyani and President Zardari, with reports alleging that Kiyani in March 2009 was contemplating removing Zardari with ANP leader Asfandyar Wali Khan for the Presidency. This paranoia, if true, would not have existed in the first place if the institutional political structure were strong enough to resist army pressure. The threat of army intervention in the political sphere is real, and with Bin Laden’s death, it has become even more possible.

Knowing that the PPP is fragile, the military (and the ISI) have collectively been silent over the Osama Bin Laden issue, which can only be described as deeply embarrassing for the Pakistani military establishment. As the United States media has put it, the military has either been complicit or incompetent in this whole fiasco. The military’s silence is eerie, and there is every reason to believe that they will never discuss this issue in public. They might be contemplating ways in which they could eventually deflect the blame upon the civilian government. However, this civilian government is not that of Zulfiqar/Benazir Bhutto or Nawaz Sharif. This civilian government has rarely interfered with the institutional structure of the military. Zulfiqar Bhutto appointed notorious Tikka Khan as chief of army staff and then Zia-ul-Haq as well. Nawaz Sharif sacked a Chief of Army Staff, and Benazir Bhutto actively tried to change ISI’s structure in 1990. This civilian government has no serious charges in terms of manipulating the military structure, which is why the military for the first time may be caught in a predicament.

From the perspective of the military though, the silence is the best policy they can advocate towards. Already, the opposition parties and the public are deflecting most of the blame on the civilian government for being “corrupt” and for selling its sovereignty. Few in Pakistan have asked the military to provide answers, and even those questions are mostly deflected by the public assertion (including Najam Sethi) that the military was in the know-how of the U.S. raid in Abbotabad. Even worse is the public answer that asserts that the military knew where Bin Laden was hiding, which shows that the public is willing to incriminate the military at the cost of them appearing incompetent. The myth of the military has scarred the public mindset to the extent that we the people refuse to protest or seek active questions against the strategy of the military. The “myth” ensures that the public never thinks of military as an entity that can be incompetent entity that can harm Pakistan’s interests (speaking strictly from a strategic sense). The military is in a tough predicament, yet the “myth” will ensure that the civilian government once again takes its share for most of the blame in Pakistan.


What Pakistan can learn from Afridi’s observation of “Indian rivalry”

Shahid Afridi and Mahendra DhoniPakistanis are still healing from the loss against India on Wednesday, but what has perhaps caught most people off guard is Pakistan cricket team’s captain Shahid Afridi’s recent statements in regards to the match . At the post-match ceremony after the loss against India, Shahid Afridi congratulated the Indian crowd and the nation for their fifth consecutive victory over Pakistan in the World Cup format. Furthermore, when he came back to Pakistan, Afridi expressed dismay over the fact that both the public and the media were so obsessed over the “Indian rivalry,” when in fact both nations shared similar cultural traits. Many in the public have unfortunately misplaced Afridi’s statement, with some going as far as accusing him of being unpatriotic. However, careful examination of history shows that Afridi’s observations are not ill founded.

Pakistan’s difficulty of maintaining a civil relationship with India finds its origins right after its creation in August 1947. The rapid transition of becoming an independent state was met with much hostility from the Indian National Congress, with some predicting an early demise of the nation. Furthermore, partition left Pakistan with a highly inferior economy due to India inheriting most of the cotton and jute mills. Perhaps the most damaging factor for Pakistan was the fact that it had to create a new central government, whereas India had inherited the British parliamentary system.

Pakistan was engaged in a war over Kashmir only six months after its independence. This changed Pakistan’s political ideology forever, as it spent 70% of its expenditure towards military defense in its first year after independance. Insecurity, Kashmir and a weaker military led to policies that were focused more towards strengthening the military, thus political institutes and provincial understanding immensely suffered. Non-elected Generals and bureaucrats (retired and serving) ruled Pakistan till 1971.  Ayub Khan in 1959 did propose for a “Joint Defense” Program with India that could have strengthened ties between both nations. However, Indians simply did not trust the Pakistani military due to the 1948 debable, and thus the proposal never materialized. Ayub Khan never looked back, as 1965’s “Operation Gibraltar” focused on regaining Kashmiri territory. This strategic plan was a failure, as it left East Pakistan exposed, and with it further division within the nation. By 1970, the ripples of non-elected military Generals left Pakistan in a state of confusion, as provincial politics decayed. Anti-Indianism only grew stronger in the 1970’s with the instilled notion that India was “solely” responsible for the creation of Bangladesh.

Even though Pakistan continuously witnessed the decay of politics through military rule,  the late 80’s and 90’s showed that with democracy came a shift in attitude towards Indian relations. Both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif have represented the opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, yet both displayed similar progressive stances towards healing relations with India. Benazir Bhutto, after getting elected in 1988, urged for normalization of relations with India, along with the decrease in the support for the proxy war against India in disputed Kashmir.

Nawaz Sharif similarly in his second term (February 17th, 1997-October 12th, 1999) emphasized on normalization of relations with India (via trade). It was during this term that then Indian Prime Minister Atal Vajpayee made the famous visit to Lahore’s sacred sites, along with the bus ride from Lahore back to India, which was seen as a goodwill gesture towards Nawaz Sharif’s diplomatic efforts. However, both Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto would meet their demise due to their Progressive stance towards India. Benazir Bhutto was removed by the military for being too soft and lenient towards India, as well as allegedly revealing secrets about Pakistan’s uranium program to the United States. Nawaz Sharif similarly was met with contempt from the army when Indian Prime Minister Atul Vajpayee came to visit Lahore.

General Musharraf refused to greet Vajpayee at a ceremony held for the Indian Prime Minister. All hopes of reconciliation deteriorated with the chaotic mismanagement of civil-military relations with the infamous “Kargil” operation. A few years later oddly enough, Musharraf(as the military head of state) was actively communicating with Vajpayee at the Agra Summit. Musharraf also tried to initiate dialogue with India on Kashmir and alleged Jihadist infiltration, however all efforts deteriorated after he got a dose of his own medicine as he was forced to resign from office in 2008.

The ever-changing forms of political rule along with the military’s emphasis on defensive expenditures have largely been responsible for the lack of a consistent relationship with India. Infact, conservative estimates show that for a significant period of the Siachin conflict, the Pakistani army spent more than half a million dollars a day trying to match Indian firepower. In spite of the alliances with the United States and the mind-boggling defensives expenditures, the military has not gained any significant territory for Pakistan. Most unfortunate though has been the dissolution of political institutions within the nation. Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto were destined to not be able to succeed due to the military interference in the political sphere.

It was heartening to see Pakistan cricket team’s captain exclaim puzzlement as to how we have come to a stage that the nation only thinks of enmity when India is mentioned. Both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were able to raise questions in regards to how Pakistan should see its relationship with India. One can only hope that sustained civil leadership (without interruption from the military) brings forth these questions once again on the political platform. As a nation, we have been robbed of sustained political rule over the past 64 years, and this has led to a fragmented depiction of our neighbors. Let the future make us seek more deliberation and fewer judgments.