Pakistan’s military messiahs

Pakistan's military dictators

Since its independence, the Pakistan Army’s generals have disturbed the democratic system of the country various times in the name setting the country on the right path. Awam always looks towards a change every time they get fed up of rulers and that gives a chance to a new messiah.

First such messiah was General Ayub Khan, Pakistan’s first military dictator from 1958 until his forced resignation on 1969. After the death of Liaqat Ali Khan in 1951, the country was engulfed in political turmoil that further destabilized it. In 1958, retired Major General and President Iskander Mirza took over the country and declared first martial law on October 7, 1958. President Mirza personally appointed his close associate General Ayub Khan as the Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan Army. This closeness would later turn into a rift and

General Ayub Khan’s downfall was his policies of concentrating political power in his own hands, his rule over the press and media, imposing state of emergency in the country, and his interference in religion. Demonstrations and agitation swept the whole country and law and order got out of hand as well. He was also despised by East Pakistanis and as the public resentment against the Ayub’s regime touched a boiling point which forced him hand over charge to his loyal officer, General Yahya Khan.

The second Messiah came in shape of General Yahya Khan who brought with him the second martial law. But he too was responsible for further increasing the rift between east and west Pakistan. Yahya Khan ordered a crack down to restore the writ of the government after the elections of 1970 and thus started Operation Searchlight began on 25 March 1971 which later took the shape of Indo-Pakistan war of 1971. General Yahya is often “credited” with being the personal responsible for Bangladesh Liberation War within Pakistan the scars of which can still be felt till this date.

The dust had not settled from this tumultuous scenario when we saw yet another dictator rise to power. General Zia-ul-Haq was the third military dictator of Pakistan. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s reign was under increasing scrutiny by political opposition and people plus there were rumors fraud in voting ballot. This gave way to allegations and demonstrations by PNA, the allied opposition against Bhutto’s government.  This because the reason for Gen Zia’s coup on 5th July 1977. The then Chief of Army Staff General Zia-ul-Haq appointed himself Chief Martial Law Administrator in 1978. General Zia’s legacy speaks volumes. He gave us proxy wars against the USSR using the Mujahideen, a form of fighting that still haunts us till this date. He also further Islamized the country and his interpretation of Islam further contributed to the rise of fundamentalism, obscurantism and retrogression. It is no surprise that since this death in 1988, Pakistani laws have taken a turn for the worse.

Finally comes the turn of the fourth military dictator of Pakistan, General Pervaiz Musharraf most famous for his coup of 1999. It took Pakistan’s military just 17 hours to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and at 0250 on Wednesday morning, Gen Musharraf addressed the nation in a pre-recorded message, bringing the Sharif era to a close. There were no organised protests within the country to the coup and in fact, Musharraf was welcomed with open arms.

By 2007 it had become that people had had too much Musharraf. He was surrounded by controversies involving the using too much excessive force for Lal Masjib incident, his stance on war on terror but the thing that became his downfall was his orders for suspension of the famous CJ Iftikhar Hussain. He was also widely criticized in public and political circles and hence he officially resigned on 18th Aug 2008 bringing an end to his reign.

And now we see Tahir-ul-Qadri, a self declared religious cleric singing to the same tunes again. With Musharraf’s aide on his side for his long March, and having clearly stated in the past that Army needs to be present during elections, he too has the same message that the past four dictators had; that democracy does not matter. Should we stand for it? Let us not forget that democracy forces both voters and leaders to be more mature, because they have to value the system more than any particular result. Every few years we look towards the sky searching for an answer. Maybe the answer is right in front of us. And no, it is not Tahir-ul-Qadri.

Are Our Expectations Realistic?

Example of a Mandlebrot factal

As a boy I was naturally curious about everything around me. I was also fascinated with my parents who both read as if the words were their life’s blood. They seemed to know everything. Growing up in my house, I discovered a love of books at an early age. But I found that with the high point of reading a book or learning something knew also came with a low point of realizing that there was more to read, more to learn before I could ever have the answer. I fantasized about being a brilliant man, but for each book I read, that goal seemed to move farther away instead of closer.

If I read a book of poetry, I would become obsessed with deciphering the allusions and finding the influences of the poet. This led to more poets with more allusions that led to more poets. It was an infinite regression of poetry! By the time I was a teenager, I began to despair. I was never going to be able to read enough to learn it all.

It wasn’t until my late 20s that I realized that this was normal. That, true, I will never know it all. But that’s okay. I came to realize that the beauty is not in the knowing, but in the learning. Perhaps I tell you something about fractal geometry. But it’s not that a section of maths that I love as much as it is the process of learning about it. Learning is not an goal, it’s a path.

Two items reminded me of this yesterday. Both were fairly unremarkable in their own right, simply people expressing frustration with the very frustrating situation of society plagued by problems and government that is slow to provide solutions. But the more I thought about these items, the more I started thinking about whether or not our expectations of the government are fair? Are we being realistic about what the government can do, and how quickly it can do it?

The first item I noticed was a comment on a post by Agha Haider Raza that stated,

However, it would be interesting to read any viable recommendations you could make so as to hold the President accountable, or even the PM for their lack of activity “for the people.”

The second was the statement of PML-Q MNA Marvi Memon that government has failed to deliver.

She said people elected their representatives to have their problems solved, and since the legislators had failed to come up to the expectations of the electorate, protests and sit-ins had become order of the day. Decisions taken by parliament, she said, were not being implemented by the executive, as a result of which unrest was going up. She warned that the country could face Egypt-like situation in case the government failed to address people’s problems.

These statements have something in common in that they both communicate a frustration with the government being too slow in solving the problems of society. But I began to wonder if not just this government, but any government would meet our expectations.

One of the fundamental elements of democracy is that it is slow moving. Before some change can take place, different groups have to come to an agreement on the move. And these groups may not see things in the same light. The military has its wants, the business class has its wants, the poor have their own set of needs, and the politicians themselves have certain things that they want. Disagreements between these and other groups are natural, and finding solutions that meet everyone’s needs can be difficult.

Dictatorships are much faster moving, but that speed comes at the cost of the rights of citizens. A fast-moving dictatorship cannot tolerate a free press, popular dissent such as street protests, or even disagreement with his policies. You simply get what he gives you and if you don’t like it then he will be happy to hang you in a stadium as a warning to others who might think of crossing him.

Another issue is that I think that we have been conditioned to expect failure from the government. Why should this be any surprise? I am a young man, and already I have lived through a series of governments (some elected, some imposed) that have let us down at each turn. When we elected this government a few years ago, I found myself filled with optimism. Even though I knew better, I still thought that now that we had elected a democratic government, things would quickly fall into place. There have definitely been some improvements since Musharraf, but I can’t help but feel sometimes like I expected more.

But I also know that progress is slow. It does not come overnight. Winston Churchill said that ‘democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried from time to time’. He could have very well been talking about Pakistan. We have tried military rule under Gen. Yahya Khan that fractured our young nation. We have tried Islamization under Gen. Zia that bred the militant terrorists who bomb our shrines and our markets. Yes there are many problems that we must overcome, and yes it is frustrating how slow change seems to come. But until someone can think of a better form of government, democracy is the best way forward.

When you meet someone who is older and well read, it can become an easy wish to have that same wisdom that they do. But it takes time, patience, and hard work to achieve it. Just because you are granted membership to a library, still you cannot read all the books in one day. There are no short cuts to wisdom, and there are no short cuts to social progress also. We need to set our expectations on short-term goals that are realistically achievable in the pursuit of long-term goals that will take time. Like a Mandlebrot fractal, those small short-term successes will build on themselves and over time we will find ourselves further down the path of democracy.