Pakistan swung in many directions last week, not knowing whether it was moving towards a safe and secure future or going back to its dark and troubled past, under the illusion that it was going somewhere.
Remarkable things happened and when combined, these can be described as attempts by all stakeholders to bulldoze their way and direct the events the way they wanted. None probably succeeded, compounding the confusion bordering a shade of anarchy.
The army chief, with his top generals, moved in the political domain cautioning politicians to get their own house in order. He said all the right things but also gave all the necessary warnings.
The bottom-line he set was that Rawalpindi does not want to intervene, if it is not forced to do so. Who decides that?
The politicians probably did not take the cue. The ousted PM, using irrelevant comparisons of his case with others, announced a movement against his own country, its judiciary, its army and anyone who does not agree with him. A movement going nowhere from zero-point.
He needs slogans and props to keep him alive politically and to keep his party intact, fearing that if a strong line did not come from him, a combatant narrative, his slippery followers will, like the past, disappear leaving him alone.
The Chief Justice of Pakistan was almost forced to respond in a non-judicial speech as all judgements of his associates were being politicised. But he also went a bit too far, giving the impression that every judge was on his own and the judiciary as such was fragmented. He called it independence or devolution but the same law cannot be interpreted in so many ways like a junior court over-turning a higher bench order.
Almost like a scripted policy, Raza Rabbani blasted those who ‘leaked’ the words of the chief, as if he did not know this would happen. Actually he wanted it to happen but he wanted this gun to be fired using someone else’s shoulder
When he took oath of his honourable office, CJ Saqib Nisar had been shown by the media to be a very favourable person to the ousted PM. However, it appears that the CJ Saqib Nisar is fast moving into the Iftikhar Choudhry mode of activism. His visit to a hospital made that clear and his statements that he will do more indicated he was frustrated and changing tracks.
The army chief’s gesture to the elected politicians was unprecedented but was also the result of a desperate effort to keep his institution out of the political mudslinging race. Yet he admitted that when things were considered to be going out of control, he had to even accept frivolous demands such as putting the signature of his senior officer on an agreement that was not in his domain in the first place.
The clear message was: we would not do what we should not. But, we will do what is needed if you cannot handle the situation. That makes things clear. Army does not want to come in. But if inevitable, that option remains an option.
A non-repentant Punjab law minister, Rana Sanaullah, confirmed on media that if a similar situation developed again, “we will again ask those who can control it, to do so.” Meaning we can’t and we don’t care.
The Senate Chairman tried to upgrade his political profile by inviting the army chief, as a political move, which could be a win-win for politicians. If he came, he would be grilled and his statements leaked. If he refused, he would be attacked to be an anti-democracy, anti-civilian confrontationist.
That scheme backfired badly. General Bajwa and his associates are people who know they have to move in when absolutely inevitable and they will. But they will not let politicians make a monkey out of them. So they came, answered the questions as frankly as they could and except some defeated PML-N activists in the Senate, none of the senators tried to embarrass the generals.
What was the result? Almost like a scripted policy, Raza Rabbani blasted those who ‘leaked’ the words of the chief, as if he did not know this would happen. Actually he wanted it to happen but he wanted this gun to be fired by using someone else’s shoulder. Now his huffing and puffing is nothing but mere defeatist politicking.
As Chairman and next to be President of Pakistan, he received a Grade-22 officer as if he was ‘more than an equal’. That was his first surrender. It was not a Senate Committee hearing like the US Congress where senators sit on the circular stage and the witness sits below on a chair to answer questions for hours. If Rabbani was serious, how could he make the whole Senate a committee knowing there are elements who will never abide by his rules?
He wanted to embarrass the army leadership and he simply failed. He may now try to probe who leaked what. It may just be eyewash. Likewise the sympathetic media immediately picked up the threads and attacked the military. A major newspaper wrote an editorial: ‘For a dialogue to be successful, it must be genuine…. If the security establishment does want parliament to have a greater role in the formulation of national security policy and strategy, it has to demonstrate that it is willing to listen and implement ideas it may not necessarily agree with… Perhaps one of the gestures that the military could consider is to have civilian representatives present in the meetings that the army chief routinely has with foreign leaders’.
The paper, in a simplistic partisan style, exonerated the civilians of how they have been handling security matters like unscheduled visits of Nirendra Modi to Jati Umra or adviser Jindal’s secret stopover in Murree. It only said, “Certainly, the civilian leadership must also learn to analyse and speak about national security matters in a more sophisticated manner.” What these advocates forget is that when push comes to shove, even on small matters like handling a few hundred mullahs in a dharna, the civilians abdicate their responsibility and call the army. But on matters involving monumental stakes, they deal with Indians secretly, like a business meeting. Is that right?
So the past has defined the future and everything has been publicly, clearly stated. Now it is for us all to move towards the future or go back to the past.
The writer is a senior journalist
Published in Daily Times, December 22nd 2017.