Messy Transition to Democracy is Preferable to Military Dictatorship Romanticism of TV Anchors Should Not Dictate Intelligentsia’s Political Analysis


Pakistan is passing through an uneasy transition from a quasi democracy to a participatory democracy. This uneasiness can be witnessed in the governance as well as the larger sections of the society and the media.

Only a year back Pakistan was ruled by a military general who had introduced controlled democracy and ruled the roost for almost nine years. For the better half of the last year President Musharraf was sitting in the presidency despite losing all moral, legal and political justification to do so.

Hardly four months into a fully legitimate civilian democracy where every office is occupied by a democratically and constitutionally elected civilian, have the prophets of doom and gloom started to weave stories as if the old political game of 90s is back and president and prime minister can be pitched against each other. Going a step farther these stories also try to evoke the specter of military – civilian rift steeped in the narrative of patriotism, often misplaced and driven by irrationality.

The unceremonious dismissal of the National Security Advisor (NSA) Major General® Mehmud Ali Durrani created a perfect platform for this brigade to hit the airwaves with all kinds of speculation. This culture of speculation and intrigue worked really well in the 90s to destabilize the democratic governments and allowing the jihad romantics to benefit from a musical chair of governments and increased interference of intelligence agencies in the politics of Pakistan. Sadly for them in the year 2009 this game may not be workable as the geo strategic dynamics of the world have changed completely and the national security apparatus itself is abandoning the course that was followed by some in its past leadership.

In effect the difference of approach that led to the dismissal of General Durrani was the approach of a technocrat and politician to the issue. In policy terms the major stakeholders appeared onboard that it was time that Pakistan revealed to the world that Ajmal Kasab was a Pakistani. The prime minister wanted to take domestic political mileage out of this by placing the information on the floor of the National Assembly and thus taking the representatives of the nation into confidence. This would have created goodwill for the government.

General Durrani as a technocrat could not understand that a political government has its own compulsions and needs to take on board a number of stakeholders. He in his own judgment thought that once the decision has been made the information has to be revealed and it was immaterial who did it. His judgment cost him his job. But the media onslaught that was unleashed to target General Durrani was totally uncalled for and unjustified.

It appears that anyone who differs with those insisting on a worldview based on tribal code of honour, should summarily be declared unpatriotic.

So strong becomes the speculation that the media anchors start believing in their own theories and start pursuing some convoluted agenda. One of the theories that kicked in immediately after the dismissal of NSA was that United States was upset over the development. One does not know how the media reached that conclusion but for almost a whole day all the TV channels ran the story and many so-called experts indulged in US bashing. One venerable academic Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi when asked a loaded question on one of the TV channels about USA’s reservations conveyed to the Government of Pakistan, was taken aback and had to express his disagreement with the statement. But the anchor remained insistent that this was true.

Another classic of the TV channel reporting was the claim that Admiral Mullen the US Armed Forces Joint Chief of Staff has asked Pakistan’s COAS General Ashfaq Kiyani to allow Indian Air force to strike some targets inside Pakistani territory. Between the two of them who talked to the reporter is anybody’s guess, because media has quoted neither of them. But despite that this continues to provide basis of many interesting theories.

Over the last few weeks “The hawks and the doves” play of the 90s when the political governments were accused of being doves and the military man was the classical hawk seems to have caught the imagination of most of the media again. They help project this image and bring in long time retired army generals to play up the sentiment. Hamid Guls and General Hamid Nawazs come on TV channels and talk ad nauseam. None of them has the courage to admit that Pakistan today is suffering from the fallout of their ill-advised strategic thinking. These retired generals speak as if they are representing the sentiment of the armed forces.

DG ISI General Pasha’s interview to Der Speigel has clearly reflected that it’s no more about being a hawk or a dove. It’s about correcting the state’s strategic direction and understanding today’s world. Some politicians, media and so-called analysts are failing to understand that Pakistan can ill afford the playback of 90s or even worse follow the strategic path of those years.

Admittedly the governance under the current dispensation is not smooth and flawless, but from that to deduce that the state organs have policy differences is unfortunate. Moving away from the division of hawks and doves I believe Pakistan’s state organs are now pursuing a policy that can be called a policy of realism. This augurs well for Pakistan.
This article is taken from The News of Wednesday, January 14, 2009