The civilians at odds with the military
On the face of it, the army doesn’t have to do a coup to topple this government. All that is needed is for its coalition partners to desert. So what is Prime Minister Gilani going on about? Did he feel a sudden need to proclaim his impotence, admit his incompetence? Or is it the usual desire to commit political suicide? Is he preparing the ground for his own coup against the army, as another tried before him? Or is he preparing the ground for life after power as a political martyr? So angry has the military become at being made scapegoats that it is, figuratively for now, up in arms. Dread the day when they start saying it with real arms.
To be sure, militaries and civilian administrations have often been at odds over perceptions and policy. The US administration, the Pentagon and Congress are on different pages about Afghanistan. With the passing of the ‘National Defense Authorization Act’, the Pentagon has silently taken over without anyone realising it. No need for military coups when constitutional coups can do the trick. Now do you understand what I have been saying for years, that it is the politicians that prepare the ground for army intervention? You are seeing that unfold before your eyes again today. Don’t forget this time. But would the army want to take over the mind-blowing mess that this incompetent government has taken just four years to craft? Not if it can help it. Not if it has any sense. Not surprisingly, the army chief made a mature response to the mind-boggling speech of the prime minister last Thursday, saying that the army had no intention of intervening. So what is all the noise about?
For one thing, this “we have no intention of intervening” jazz we have heard before when the three service chiefs gave such an assurance in writing during the riots against Z A Bhutto in 1977. Not long after Bhutto’s handpicked army chief General Zia-ul-Haq took over. Two years later, the appointee hanged the appointer. That’s how the cookie crumbles in this country.
For another, the problem with this ‘in-house change’ scenario is that the next coalition government would inevitably have Nawaz Sharif calling the shots and he is the last person either our or the US establishment wants. They don’t trust him because they think, not totally incorrectly, that he is unpredictable. You never know with him. Worse, they more than suspect that he is a closet Taliban sympathiser and, thus, cannot be risked. So there may well not be an ‘in-house change’, but Gilani had better watch it, unless he himself thinks its over and he should make his place in history.
Desperation makes people do desperate things. When Gilani thundered in the National Assembly that the army is a “state within a state”, he didn’t realise that he was making a spectacle of himself because he didn’t see the contradiction in terms: the army is part of the government, under the prime minister and the ministry of defence and answerable to parliament. If it has gone out of control, whose fault is it? Who is required to keep it under control? The chief executive and parliament, no? By saying what he did, Gilani admitted his failure to discharge his constitutional duties. Now the air is pregnant with possibilities.
Will the army and ISI chiefs be sacked? Will they act before they are? Will the politicians gang up together for the first time? Where does that traditional legitimiser of constitutional deviations, the Supreme Court, stand today? How will allies react, how will our traditional master America? If functionaries are not under the government’s constitutional command, it is normal to replace them. Ah! But therein lies the rub. It’s not easy to pass the buck for the current mess exclusively on to one of the government’s own organs thinking that it might mask its own horrible governance and corruption. Sadly, the public perception of the PM’s honesty and competence is not an epitome of probity. So when, instead of discharging his constitutional duty of removing the “state within a state” the prime minister decides to bleat on about it in parliament, he only proclaims his government’s impotence and makes a sorry sight of himself. Has this just dawned on him after four years? Why did he not act earlier? Or has the army only just become a “state within a state”?
What conclusions is one to draw then? That Gilani is reacting to intelligence that the army is about to act? Many a government has bitten the dust because it placed too much trust in intelligence. Is he preparing the public mind for action by the government? Or is he preparing the ground for his role after losing power and becoming a political martyr? One cannot be sure and no one knows what the future holds. So don’t blame Pakistanis for being on tenterhooks. Any normal person would.
Gilani cannot be sure that the army will not ‘react badly’ to its chief being humiliated. Nawaz Sharif had once caused an army chief to resign, which the army never forgot. Sharif tried it again and committed political suicide. The point is: in any normal country that is run constitutionally, sacking an army chief would be done according to laid down procedure. Follow the procedure and woe to anyone who ‘reacts badly’. It is none of their business. Sharif sacked his army chief by breaking procedure, as the Supreme Court later found. Take action, sure, but don’t be an imbecile. Follow the constitution.
Gilani’s problem is that the people have little love lost for him and his government, so bad has their performance been, is reeking not just of incompetence but mal-intent as well. So bad is our condition that virtually everyone from any station in life is praying for the government’s demise. Chances of people coming out on the streets in this government’s support are limited. And in all this talk about following the constitution, let’s not forget that the spirit of the constitution is already being flouted by the president exercising power beyond the constitutional limits placed on him and by his continuing to hold party office when he is required to be politically neutral. So who is calling the kettle black?
I have been thinking and learning and have come to the conclusion that the political process, such as it is, has to be allowed to run its course, that parliaments, presidents and governments must complete their terms and only change constitutionally. Else we the people will never learn. My conclusion has nothing to do with ‘liberalism’, fake democracy or West aping. It has to do with learning from history’s evolutionary processes and its political and social forces. Abort or divert them and the pain lasts longer because you end up slowing evolution. The seeds of self-healing and self-destruction are inherent in every organism and nations are political organisms at the very least. Allow the system to self-heal or self-destruct so that we can naturally arrive at a social contract that gives us something better.
The writer is a political analyst. He can be contacted at [email protected]