Are things falling apart? | Pakistan Today

Are things falling apart?

  • The extension of the Army Chief’s tenure has had unexpected results


Perhaps the worst thing Water Resources Minister Faisal Vawda could have done was take a boot to a TV show. He probably thought all he was doing was taunting the other guests on the programme, stalwarts of the PML(N) and PPP, but he managed to taunt the armed forces too. In a way, it symbolised how his party, the PTI, is now so rocky that doubts are being expressed about its survival. The political parties have shown that if needed, they can come together, but only if the military says so, not the PTI. The PTI is not shouldering the political responsibility for the present system. It is also proving feckless at governing. It has not been able to get a handle on the economy, even after the induction of an IMF-approved team. Virtually the last card up its sleeve is the FATF blacklisting. If that blacklisting occurs, the PTI will find sponsors wondering why they tolerate it. Tolerating it also means Vawda and his shenanigans. Worse, it means tolerating the whole culture of the PTI, which is fast-and-loose rather than spit-and-polish.

The passing of the service act amendments had significant political ramifications. The most obvious was the desire of the opposition parties not just for relief for their leaders, but for a turn at the high table. The opposition may have posed as champions of civilian supremacy, but their track record shows that they have never learned from their experience in opposition. For example, both the PPP and the PML(N) have loudly proclaimed their desire for more freedom, for the press, the judiciary– you name it, they want it free. While in the opposition. Bring them to office, and then they exert all possible measures to get a favourable press. All measures.

The parliamentary model is favoured. It leaves the possibility of in-House change. But it means that those now out of favour, will always be trying to get back in. The establishment thus causes the very instability it decries

The parties are not going to insist on civilian supremacy so long as the establishment is willing to prop them in power as it is doing the PTI. One reason the PTI is being persisted with is because the establishment has painted itself into a corner. There is so much invested in the PTI, and perhaps more importantly into the distaste for the parties, that turning towards them might merely mean shaking the faith of national institutions into their leaderships.

That raises the question of where do those institutions derive their strength from. It should be remembered that India has got national institutions, but they have never tried to take over, even though India has a tradition of military rule. (The Raj, it should not be forgotten, was essentially a military regime, as were earlier native dynasties) One reason has been that it is assumed that the civil servants of the governments wouldn’t obey. It is an assumption that has never been tested. On the other hand, it has been tested four times in Pakistan. Each time, the civil administration has obeyed without a murmur. Indeed, there has been approval.

That approval has been based on the disappearance of the need to obey uncouth and unpolished politicians, and their replacement by civilised and cultured officers. But why are civil servants so ready to obey? They will obey any authority. They see their raison d’être the prevention of chaos. They therefore look to their seniors, to the heads of their profession. Unlike in India, in Pakistan the seniors in 1958 were relatively young and inexperienced. Then, as Chief Justice Munir pointed out in his monumental judgement in the Dosso case, in which he enunciated the Doctrine of Necessity, the choice was to obey or go home. This was supposed to be a choice for judges, but it applied also to other civil servants. To a man, all chose to obey. In the three episodes of martial law after that, a precedent existed. Indeed, the Musharraf martial law was almost smothered by precedent.

People are ready to obey. Some are even ready to celebrate, which is why martial laws are greeted by the distribution of sweets. That can be arranged, but what cannot be arranged is the feeling among a wide class of politicians that they have been pushed to the wall. PPP opponents welcomed the 1977 Martial Law; PPP supporters welcomed that of 1999. In short, the military needs civilian political allies. Some become permanent, like the PML(Q), the ruling party of the Musharraf Martial Law, now apparently fallen on hard times.

Its Punjab chief minister, Ch Pervez Elahi, is now Punjab Assembly Speaker, and could once again become CM, such is the balance in the Punjab Assembly. If the establishment was to smile on the PML(N), and if Ch Pervez was to be made CM once again, the position of 1993 could be replicated, when then Speaker Manzoor Wattoo became CM, with his PML(J) a minority in a coalition that included the PPP. Ch Parvez, interestingly enough, was Deputy Opposition Leader, and ended up carrying much of the burden of leading it, after Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif went abroad for medical treatment. Back then, it was his own, not his brother’s.

However, to expect Ch Pervez to move without a signal would be as unrealistic as to expect the MQM (P) to ditch the PTI on its own. All of those minor parties which had joined the coalition were following instructions, and would not desert it without further instructions. That the PML(Q)’s problems with the PTI have included Punjab CM Usman Buzdar indicates two things: first, Buzdar has not enabled the PML(Q) to get what it wants: obedient police and district administrations in certain key districts. Second, the establishment has given it the go-ahead to gun for Buzdar. Of course, the PML(Q) has an obvious motive, in Ch Pervez, but the fact is that Buzdar has been a disaster. If the PTI loses the next election, Buzdar will get the most blame. Probably worse, even if it wins, it will be said that this was despite him.

The emergence of a Forward Bloc in the PTI is intriguing. It may be ironic that it has emerged mostly among South Punjab MPAs, Buzdar’s own area, but it also is among those South Punjab members who had merged with the PTI just before the 2018 election. They are probably enough to make the PML(N) not need the PML(Q), and thus seem as aimed at Ch Parvez as Buzdar.

One problem has been that the establishment is more like Western political parties than existing parties. Western parties are not hereditary possessions, but meritocratic institutions that are controlled by persons who have risen to their top on their own merits. However, while institutions are headed by men who have come up the ladder, the public decides which party to support. Chief Justices of Pakistan, for example, are not succeeded by children; the PPP is in its third generation.

Another factor has been the devotion shown by the military to the 1973 Constitution, which it has restored after the 1977 and 1999 takeovers. That is essentially the same as the 1956 Constitution, which was abrogated in favour of a presidential constitution, promulgated in 1962, and thrown away in 1969. Therefore, the parliamentary model is favoured. It leaves the possibility of in-House change. But it means that those now out of favour, will always be trying to get back in. The establishment thus causes the very instability it decries.