The cleansing process is a good thing
You can’t be making money in UAE and London and acquiring property and offshore companies and then saying that we should decide who should rule this country — soldiers or civilians. That can’t happen. They have to improve themselves
Question: 70 years old, still in search of its bearings; Pakistan’s struggle for supremacy of constitution, rule of law continues. We know our past and our history. What lies in our future?
Ayaz Amir: We are not struggling to find our bearings, our bearings are very much there. The search of right political mix can take a long time, though. It took some countries a very long time. There are many things that Pakistan has achieved, and many things we are not very sure of, but what is emerging from our travails is a more realistic, a stronger Pakistan. We have lifted the militarism that was associated with regimes like Zia-ul-Haq’s and fought successfully against terrorism. Terrorism was created by so many forces and much of that was beyond our control, but we did not create the turmoil in Afghanistan.
There is a better appreciation of what kind of political system suits Pakistan and what is currently happening, which is the deposition of one Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The basic problem with Pakistan is we have a very strong military, which is holding the country together, while we have weak political class. Now, you can’t have corrupt political class who then raise the banner of democracy. That cannot happen. Hopefully, we’ll get out of it too. We have got out of so many troubles, we’ll find a way out of this as well.
Q: On our country’s 70th birthday, our elected prime minister, after getting disqualified by our apex court, is on his way back home. Is this sight symbolic of the Sisyphean struggle democracy is condemned to in our land? You take?
AA: The ex-prime minister is making a fool of himself by marching down the GT Road, what is he hoping to achieve and what is in his mind? Did he think that he’ll come out and the masses will pour out on the GT Road and everything would be paralysed? Was he expecting cries will go up demanding the PM to be brought back to power? It has all boomeranged, it has gone the other way. It was as a very foolish decision on his part.
He may have been deposed on a technicality, just as Al Capone was imprisoned on a technicality, but there are various corruption charges against him and his entire family and with this kind of huge plunder, you would find examples of it on other countries. And this plunder has been going on for long. The two biggest champions of democracy, the PPP leadership and the PML-N leadership, both have history of mega corruption, so this is no Sisyphean struggle.
Q: Has the judicialisation of Pakistani politics replaced the martial laws and much-dreaded 58-2b, modes that were historically used to send elected governments home? And will it open a Pandora’s box that will eat our political elite as well?
AA: See the judiciary, after a long process, has only managed to depose a prime minister. The description of judicialisation of politics would have fitted our circumstances better if the judiciary had initiated a purge of half of our political leadership. If they had put behind a hundred and fifty politicians in jail, then you could have said that judiciary is doing what military dictators used to do.
They have done nothing of the sort. No, the judiciary hasn’t replaced the martial laws and 58-2b, although the Pakistani politicians have proved time and again that they need something like 58-2b. If they don’t have that on their head then they start acting irresponsibly.
That would be a good thing if this decision acts as a precedent, if Asif Zafar is put behind the jail for his crimes, and iqama holders, etc.
The only reason is that once you have a UAE or an Arabian iqama, questions are not asked when you make deposits over there. That is the only reason. If all the iqama holders were put in jail that would be a good thing.
Q: During the past seven decades, we’ve been waiting for some ‘hint from heaven’. Where does the fault lie? In our stars or in ourselves that our ordeal refuses to end?
AA: We are now becoming realistic, I mean the hope for our future once upon a time was people’s party and that is gone. Then the people of Pakistan, specially the people of Punjab, said Nawaz Sharif is our amplifier and saviour and now his reality is being exposed.
These are good things. Perhaps once circumstances have taken care of People’s Party and N-league, we might have a more realistic perspective on what our politics and our circumstances are. We may make better choices, hopefully.
Q: Being a former army man who has also served in foreign office, a former elected representative and one of the most widely read columnist, you’ve experienced both sides of the aisle. My question is what causes the perennial friction between civil and military institutions?
AA: I hinted at this before. The military is very powerful, it has kept its internal autonomy which means it is not like Punjab province, no one can interfere in the internal dynamics of army like other services. The armed forces have kept their autonomy intact, no prime minister can say that make so-and-so subedar major of this unit, that they can’t do. They are powerful, they are cohesive.
Now, if somebody thinks that by making speeches and by brandishing rhetoric they can tame the armed forces, they are wrong. The civilians have to improve the civilian structures, they have to improve their own performance, they have to deliver, they have to stand on a higher moral ground only then they can contemplate bringing civilian control over the army.
Unfortunately, our political parties have not practiced internal democracy, the major parties are dynastic affairs, like kingship, power handed down from father to son and daughter. They can’t stand open debate
You can’t be making money in UAE and London and acquiring property and offshore companies and then saying that we should decide who should rule this country — soldiers or civilians. That can’t happen. They have to improve themselves. Also, the caliber of the political class is not as good or high as it should be. I have seen myself and it is my personal observation that when a civilian sits across the table with their military counterparts the kind of intelligent conversation they ought to have on India, Afghanistan and USA or foreign relations, they find themselves at a disadvantage.
Politicians must be equipped with superior knowledge, superior understanding; their knowledge of Afghanistan should be greater than generals’ knowledge of Afghanistan, they should be able to tell the general where they are wrong. Which they can’t do.
It is not a one day process, it is a long process and civilians should have it. For some of the people in power today, it would be hard to hold even a four-minute conversation, and I am not exaggerating. Our politician should know the international arena better than the general.
Q: Some quarters of society have developed utter repulsion towards democracy and view it as the source of all evil. What role have intelligentsia and media played to dispel this impression or they too are complacent in it?
AA: If the politicians are only known by the SUVs they drive or by the qalaf they put on their clothes then people, the middle classes and intelligentsia, will have this attitude about them.
Unfortunately, our political parties have not practiced internal democracy, the major parties are dynastic affairs, like kingship, power handed down from father to son and daughter. They can’t stand open debate.
There is more of a frank conversation in a corps commanders conference than there is in the leadership. Political parties and politicians have certain attitudes, these are stereotypical images of political parties. This has to change, parties must encourage open debate. If this is not done the middle class will stay away from politics and resort to criticism.
Q: One last query, what according to you was the watershed movement that led us to where we presently are?
AA: Two events. First the 1965 war which derailed Pakistan and dragged it into unnecessary conflict which subsequently led to militarisation of Pakistan that you see currently. The second was our involvement in the affairs of Afghanistan. The Pakistan of today is the product of these two events. The 65 war goes back a long time but it utterly changed the character of Pakistani state. And the Afghan adventure and our involvement in it, our trying to shape their destiny, our talking of strategic depth, etc, are ways we imported outside problems. And this is the legacy that, I think, has shaped Pakistan.