Military Adds to Pakistan’s Mess in the Name of Order


As Pakistan enters its 77th year of independence and the country continues to face multiple crises, it will useful to look at the last decade to ensure that all political parties and the establishment reflects on lessons learned.

In a perceptive column, Shahzad Chaudhry notes that “ten years back we still held hope in the promise and potential as a nation. The first popularly elected assembly had completed its tenure successfully after a prolonged martial law of Pervez Musharraf even if PPP’s tenure was listless and smacked of abysmal governance. Power successfully transferred to the PMLN which had always carried the promise of giving a vibrant economy even if it was alleged to be relaxed on financial fidelity. The establishment, or more specifically the military, had kept itself strictly off political interference unless asked to be engaged in some areas for nation’s collective good.”

And then, Chaudhry points out, politics and politicians fumbled. “PPP bungled its political fortunes in Punjab ceding space to a waiting PTI under Imran Khan to capture the space. As PPP regressed the PTI progressed to become the second largest party in Punjab. Most PPP leadership filed into PTI to keep afloat their respective political prospects. Imran Khan reinforced his political credentials by joining Tahir-ul-Qadri’s long march into Islamabad in 2014 where the two held the capital hostage via a sit-in, itself a novelty in Pakistan’s political experience. And while Qadri backed off, Imran Khan built on it, continuing to sit in for 126 days, challenging the results of the 2013 elections which he felt were manipulated to give the PMLN an electoral success. He had come of age as a formidable political player. Imran Khan’s 2011 gathering at Minar-e-Pakistan had already been an unqualified success and announced his arrival on the political scene.”

Chaudhry notes that while “many allege establishment’s patronage in the rise of PTI’s fortunes” but “PPP’s failure at effective governance and abdication of space were the two most prominent reasons for PTI’s rising fortunes. With PMLN in the government, two uncharted events arose and PTI slowly became Establishment’s preferred horse, not before that. It is illustrative to understand how and why a smooth functioning relationship sours and instability ensues. We need to go beyond the rhetoric of civil-military divide and understand how and why institutional face-off instead is the most debilitating cause of political instability. The specific is more critical than its generic cousin.”

Next, under Nawaz Sharif “the PMLN government initiated the trial of Pervez Musharraf – ostensibly under the orders of the Supreme Court – for abrogating the constitution carrying the penalty of death if proven guilty. Regardless of how the PMLN framed it, it smacked of the unfinished business between the two beginning with the Kargil episode of 1999 and the overthrow of Sharif government by Musharraf. Musharraf may have been wrong in each case but to let an event deteriorate to a point of spite in resorting to a corrective remedy is liable to invoke institutional sympathies initiating an unnecessary stand-off – especially when most had tried to convince Sharif to keep away from an untimely strife. Sharif succumbed to his baser impulse and ill-intended goading from his circle of cohorts instead.”

Further, “dissonance translated into ‘Dawn leaks’ following willful disclosures by the prime minister to a reporter of a sensitive meeting with nation’s premier intelligence agency detailing how the latter was complicit in regional undertakings. It wasn’t a revelation – most world intelligence outfits undertake operations supporting national cause, internally and externally – but country’s prime minister chose to publicly acknowledge such undeclared and sensitive operational information to an unauthorised individual to malign his military became an ignominious and unbridgeable bane between the two. Dissonance turned into a divide when the need was for the two to work in unison as two important pillars of the executive.”

Finally, “rebuked and framed the Establishment fell on the alternate option of Imran Khan as its horse to replace Nawaz Sharif after he was fatally sullied by corruption revelations in internationally acclaimed Panama Leaks and disqualified by the Supreme Court to hold public office. The 2018 Elections brought Imran Khan to the saddle allegedly with significant sympathy within the Establishment. Over decades the failure of the political establishment has left space for other arms of the state to interfere in its functioning and hence the refrain of institutional meddling. As stories of politicians’ unchecked loot and plunder abounded the military invested itself in with an assumed responsibility to check the decay. In a desperate search for stability and fidelity in governance, it embedded more and more in political matters and functions of the government. It was only a matter of time before establishment’s image was to come under contestation over its ingress in the political domain.”

Turning to how Imran Khan and PTI fell out, Chaudhry argues, “proves the level to which institutional affray can descend. Politics in Pakistan reeks of crass opportunism and personal and familial favour yet it will have no qualms to cry altruism and democratic fidelity when it wishes to frame the establishment. The decay today is so deep that judiciary too stands comprehensively embroiled pitching all against all.”

Chaudhry warns “Order is critical to military functioning but stability in a nation is a sum of multiple interacting factors around economics, politics, society and culture. Order does not endow stability, rather stability brings order and predictability. Leadership across the entire spectrum of national existence – economy, politics, society and culture – must have its chance to forge stability. Order is transitory, to flourish stability is essential. The military will do well to realise that come the crunch they will be dispensed with by any political partner and thrown under the bus at first chance, always at the cost of its image in popular perception. It is time to shed what the military has assumed as its added national purpose and let all others stand up to theirs and not find convenient subterfuge laying blame at others’ footsteps. Politics itself will need some iterations before it too equips itself better and deliver and perform to the benefit of the people and the state. Yet it is their domain and cross to carry. People should be the final arbiters to determine if they fail. It is time to trust their collective wisdom. Let each do its own work.”