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Humayun Gauhar | 29 MARCH, 2015

Of Army Generals and Bonsai Politicians

Arms Length: The Army’s New Paradigm


I said last week that just because our politicians are atrocious doesn’t make generals geniuses. The politicians are more dictatorial than generals anyway: each has tried to become the other in his time, one politician actually trying to emulate Napoleon Bonaparte and all generals trying to become popular political leaders, all failing for one doesn’t know the role of the other. Yes, Generals gave us whatever little infrastructure development and industry we have as well as a more free press and electronic media.

The point is: atrocious, ghastly and dreadful politicians only make generals less bad, no difficult thing, but certainly not the best of choices to rule a country as we should have learned by now. Call generals the lesser evil if you will, certainly less than army-begotten politicians given life by our hugely flawed Constitution and its decrepit man-eating political, economic, judicial, educational and healthcare systems.

We don’t want the least bad choices but the best choices, not the lesser evil but the greater good, rulers born of an ongoing, representative political system with regular, peaceful, democratic succession geared to making Pakistan rise towards progress and prosperity whose fruit is equitably shared between the people; a system that begets a society that is balanced, just and egalitarian, the income gap not shamefully embarrassing. “Choose the best amongst you,” says the Almighty but in our system the choices on offer are from amongst the worst. What to do? Change the system stupid, not just governments. Improve the Constitution, morons. Else you will get another from amongst the worst. This is what happens to a people who are Muslims by accident of birth, not Muslims by understanding the Word, for they know not what He in whom they believe wants of them.

Whenever there is political failure, as there is now, the most powerful force automatically gets sucked in – some wiseacre called it “suckered in” – by the vacuum cleaner of historical forces to fill the void – armies where they exist or ideological brigands where an army doesn’t. It becomes rule by the last man standing, as it used to be throughout human history till the last two centuries or so. This is what is happening in the Middle East right now: with useless Arab armies we have bands of brigands of various Islamic sects and movements on the rampage fighting it out for supremacy, backed overtly or covertly as proxy of one powerful country or another for geo strategic and economic advantage. For once, please take decisions for Pakistan’s good, not the good of others. Don’t make ours an army for hire and stay clear of dousing the conflagrations of others, not least because we have so many of our own fires to fight, fires that were lit by fighting the fights of others without regard to our own good and getting nothing in return except opprobrium, poverty and degradation, to the point where the existence of the State is under threat. Enough.

The army getting sucked in by political failure has happened to us four times. Each general, while starting well, particularly the first and fourth, eventually came a cropper because lacking an ideological compass all four generals fell victim to becoming politicians for international acceptability through ‘democratic’ legitimacy yet not shedding the uniform and making a mockery of themselves. A dictator is a dictator and a democrat is a democrat and never the twain shall meet, nor one try and become the other. But that is what they always do in Pakistan: democrats trying to become dictators and dictators trying to become democrats. What a joke with democracy and dictatorship. The generals thus return Pakistan behind square one, leaving it to the mercy of the same politicians they had come to exterminate, politicians they had created in the first place for illusory short-term gain that become our long-term pain and degrade the country continuously. All today's important non-religious political party leaders are army creations, so it shares the blame as much in Pakistan’s precipitous decline as the Bonsai politicians it created in it’s nursery: the Bhutto progeny and spouse, Altaf Hussain, Nawaz Sharif, brother, wives and children… Dynasticism is rampant in all parties whose leaders are products of the army and even those who are not, including all religious parties except one. And we are asked to proclaim that his is democracy?

I asked last week that now that the army is getting sucked in again by political failure into realms unknown that are not necessarily their domain, they should pause and think, indulge in ruthless introspection and self-analysis and identify where they went wrong so that old mistakes are not repeated – which doesn’t mean that they should invent new mistakes and create new liabilities and Bonsai politicians. It means that what is good for Pakistan should be done: correct the constitution and craft a truly representative and democratic system that delivers to the people and not get comfortable and complacent in the cold engineered statistics of economists or accountants and bankers masquerading as economists. Human beings are human beings, not statistics.

It seems our generals have been doing some thinking and learning since the advent of General Raheel Sharif as army chief. He tolerated the delay in launching the war against terrorists and looked on as politicians held bootless ‘negotiations’ with them to buy time. Their intent was obviously poor for they empathized with the terrorists, which is reflected by the composition of the government’s negotiating committee. By the time it came to naught the element of surprise was lost and many terrorists got away. Only then did General Raheel launch the anti-terrorism operation in North Waziristan himself, after ‘democratic’ niceties had been met, but made a glum Nawaz Sharif own it in parliament for appearances sake, to make it seem that it was the ‘elected’ government’s decision, not the army’s. When the Peshawar Army School atrocity took place last December in which 132 children, teachers and others were brutally murdered, the army’s anger boiled over. The politicians called two All Parties Conferences to save themselves and agreed to launch a 20-Point ‘National Action Plan’ against terrorism and legislated it with alacrity, including the formation of military courts. Simultaneously, the army chief quietly slipped into the de facto roles of foreign, defence and interior ministers and partially the judiciary. General Raheel visited Afghanistan, the US and the UK where he was received like a head of government. He gets the same respect and treatment in China too. Only the tottering economy remains with Nawaz Sharif, but for how long, with farmers starting to agitate?

Obvious is the army’s new paradigm: arm’s length rule, probably incremental, with the politicians allowed to continue playing government-government like spoilt brats to keep the ‘democracy’ show window going to placate the hypocritical West, for a time at least, unless they try and perform surgery with a real knife, like Nawaz Sharif did against General Musharraf on 12 October 1999.

Having uprooted and killed many terrorists in the tribal belt, the army has started cracking down on the militant wings of political parties, starting with the MQM in Karachi. The other parties know that their turn will come soon. Their fear is palpable because after cleansing political militancy the army will turn to corruption of which it has incontrovertible evidence. The People’s Party has its militant wing in Lyari, Karachi. The ‘turning’ of the erstwhile Zardari crony Zulfikar Mirza, the confessions of PPP’s killer Uzair Baloch and the arrest of model Ayan acting as courier with half a million dollars cash for laundering in Dubai are not jokes. There are many more girls also involved, as too a Karachi supermarket owner. No joke is the confessional video of MQM’s killer Saulat Mirza either; the prime minister has ‘advised’ the president to delay Mirza’s execution for 30 days, obviously at the behest of the army that doesn’t want such a key witness dead, as the MQM would love to see him swing. The ANP is suspected of militancy in Karachi too. Then there are Bihari, Bengali, Afghan Taliban and TTP Mafiosi and militant gangs dealing variously in murder, extortion, racketeering, money laundering, kidnapping for ransom, land grabbing, big heists and small robberies, prostitution and gambling dens, bootlegging and making hooch… the list is endless…all with political and government patronage for a price while a criminal police force looks on and shares in the loot and plunder.

The ruling PML-N’s militant wing is the Punjab Police whose performance we saw in the Model Town Lahore massacre last May, killing 17 men and women in cold blood. Murder cases were filed and are pending against Nawaz Sharif, his Punjab chief minister brother Shahbaz, their cronies, minions and murderers. There are so many registered cases against all these guys backed by so much evidence that if the judiciary were to do its duty they would be finished. Lacking that, ‘media trials’ have begun, again a case of filling the void created by the judiciary’s incompetence, politicization and failure.

It is entirely possible that when things get impossible the army will provide backbone to the judiciary to take up these cases and bring criminal politicians to justice instead of doing an outright coup. All the judiciary needs is confidence that comes from support. This is arm’s length intervention, not a ‘creeping’ or ‘soft’ coup, a new experiment for Pakistan: CLEANSE THE CRAP WITHOUT SULLYING YOUR HANDS.

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