2016 has been a historic year of global change. First there was Brexit, then the surprise election of Donald Trump. There are now expectations that the far-right Marine Le Pen could win national elections in France as well. However, for the next few weeks, all attention in Pakistan will be on the changing of leadership at GHQ.
Quiz: Without using Google or doing any other research, for how many countries can you name their Army Chief?
Maybe you knew Dalbir Singh? Anyone else? Now ask yourself how many of those countries are successful democracies?
Here is the point: For almost every major power in the world, close attention is paid to elections for who will be the next person to lead the country. In Pakistan, we treat elections like a TV drama. Serious attention and commentary is only given every three years when we await the appointment of a new Chief of Army Staff.
Discussions about extensions dominate newspaper headlines and TV talk shows, then predictions about leading candidates and who would make the best Army chief. This year we have even seen campaign-style posters and billboards lining the streets! Does this happen in any other democracy?
In the world’s successful democracies, Army chief is an important position, but it is a hired position to serve under the elected leadership. Outgoing Army chiefs do not go on victory tours, and not taking an extension is not considered as an example of extraordinary leadership, it is expected behaviour.
Issues of Foreign Policy and National Security have always belonged to the military. During the last few years, Law and Order has been handed over as Rangers have taken increasing role in policing and military courts have taken over from judiciary. With CPEC, military is taking an even greater role in managing the economy (nevermind that they are also taking an increasing role in the economy through their various business interests). Our obsession with changing Army Chiefs exposes the truth about our democracy: It is, for the most part, a facade that hides the fact that we live in a military state.
They say trouble always comes in threes. First India elected Modi. Then UK voted for ‘Brexit’. So maybe we should have predicted that America would follow suit and elect Donald Trump. What does this mean? Nobody really knows, though everyone seems to have a prediction. Some are saying that this will finally bring the downfall of America. Some are predicting that it unites the Ummah against America. Many are worried about their overseas family members, and some are predicting that all overseas Pakistanis will now come home. The only thing anyone knows for certain, is that no one knows what will happen, but it will probably not make anything easier for us.
There is one interesting thing about the election, though, that I want to mention. It is what happened the next day after the election. After losing a very close election to Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton went on TV and gave a speech and said this:
“Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead.”
President Barack Obama who is the leader of Clinton’s party also gave an official statement where he said this:
“We are now all rooting for his (Trump’s) success in uniting and leading the country,”
No dharnas. No long march. Clinton did not file cases with the Election Commission. She didn’t make any accusations of rigging. There’s no ‘Go, Trump Go!’ Clinton’s party lost, and then she told her workers and activists to ‘give Trump a chance’. The leader of her party said he was rooting for Trump to succeed. Can you imagine this happening here?
If this is not shocking enough, let me tell you something else: Clinton is accepting the election results even though she actually got more votes. How did she lose if she got more votes? American elections have something called the ‘Electoral College’ which is a complicated system that allocates votes based on the number of seats in the Congress. The winner is usually the person who gets the most votes, but sometimes, like in this election, the person with the most votes can actually lose. Sounds like it’s not fair? Maybe it’s not fair, but the system still works because politicians accept the results because they respect the law.
American democracy works even though it is obviously not perfect because politicians and people respect the law, even when it works against their own interests. Even when it seems like it’s not fair, they still respect the law instead of trying to cheat it. This made me think: Instead of trying to predict what the American election means for Pakistan, maybe we should take a lesson from it – Even when democracy is flawed, it can still be successful if only we will accept and respect the law.
Days of 111 Brigade climbing the walls of PTV are over. Modern coups, it seems, are not carried out with guns, but with keyboards. Sophisticated psychological operations have replaced occupations just as national ‘narrative’ has replaced national ‘security’. In our post-modern version of democracy, we are told that terrorists have no base in Pakistan on the same day that terrorists kill our soldiers. We are told that practices like honour killings that kill 1,000 women every year have nothing to do with us, and jihadi terrorism which kills 50,000 Pakistanis has nothing to do with religion. So would we even notice if government officials began wearing khaki instead of civilian clothes?
The answer is obviously ‘no’. Few months ago, National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz was replaced with Lieutenant General (r) Naseer Khan Janjua.
Now, PM has appointed Lt Gen (r) Muhammad Alam Khattak to replace Mehtab Abbasi as Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The word ‘terrorism’ has already been carefully redefined in our society to allow exceptions for ‘pro-Pakistan’ militants like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. Now we can add another new definition to the dictionary: Lieutenant General means government official. Welcome to Democracy*, Pakistan style.
Much has already been said about the Prime Minister’s secret $1.5 billion deal with Saudi Arabia – mostly questions of what was promised in exchange for such a dear sum. However, equally important is to look at the secret deal as part of a larger reorientation of the country away from partnerships with the West, and what the new partnerships could mean for our future.
In May, national elections were held and people elected a government. In democracies, elections are supposed to have consequences. When a party wins a mandate from the people, they are given the right to enact the policies they believe are in the best interest of the nation. In Pakistan, however, we have a topsy-turvy situation in which an opposition party is dictating policy and, in doing so, undermining the very democracy that so many have sacrificed to obtain.