The Coup That Never Was

A dangerous narrative going forward…

The events of May 9, in the aftermath of the PTI’s public reaction over the arrest of the PTI chairman by NAB in Islamabad, were met by a sort of ‘swift retort’ by the entrenched deep state. It left the dysfunctional civilian order in a state of shock and consequent inaction; to say the least.

In the process, it did not leave any doubt in the minds of the average average person in Pakistan as to who was calling the shots. For all practical purposes, the events of the day can at best be called an unguided reaction, which was counterproductive for the ones who undertook the action. A reacting group of isolated political activists only bought for the polity, economy and society, a greater intrusion of the space by the established order from the civil society domain.

Pakistan might need to learn from many instances in recent history, where the will of the people, either swept away the ‘order’ or forced a change without shedding blood. Metaphorically, it is the time to think ‘out of the box’. It can be a long night or a quick dawn; much rests on the mood of the masses. People still matter in the world of 2023, not this or that weapon system

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The issue has been quietely debated in the print media with the electronic media simply following the lines as defined in the ghost stories, tickers, captions as fed to the ‘news desks’ in the dead of the night! A few editorials published in weekly magazines have tried to suggest that it was a coup of sort by the PTI to turn the tables on the order, which has been hounding the party since April 2022.

That is also evident from the way the unsuspecting ‘radicals’ are going to be tried by parallel judicial setups. It sounds from the narrative that as if they were all Pakistani versions of ‘Che Guevara’. However, a closer look reveals that it was a desperate reaction, which could not be controlled by the instigators. The result of that organizational incompetence was that the whole structure imploded from within in the matter of weeks, not even months, to baffle any student of political movements.

Students of political movements will tend to agree with the fact that such coups or counter coups (readers can have their take pick) work on a few basic assumptions. They are unity of the ranks; a popular movement; better coordination between the executors and securing of the system by the party or political group seeking to wrest control.

A brief run through the events, which took place around Pakistan, can be a learning experience. To begin with, the election of Erdogan in 2002 on the Islamist list in a deeply Kemalist Turkey, where the armed forces had a history of interference and propping up favorites, was the beginning of a new game. Earlier experiences of Islamists getting the prime ministerial slot has been either marred by hanging; like that of Adnan Menderes, or by a coup as witnessed in 1980 against the civil order where Islamists had a say; and again in 1997 when a sort of hybrid coup was organized against their PM. To find another Islamist winning the PM race in 2002 was itself a news for all the stakeholders.

The Islamist ascendency was supported behind the scene by the followers of another Islamic movement led by Fatehullah Gulen. The Gulenist provided the new PM the sort of ground intelligence to neutralize the equally nervous established order of Kemalist generals in Ankara. The discovery of ‘Sledgehammer’, an attempt by the deep state to upstage Islamists in Turkey, was the handiwork of these Gulenist supporters of Erdogan. Erdogan was also helped by impressive growth rates in the Turkish economy, which put the establishment there on the back foot.

Here, it may be noted that the same infrastructure, which helped Erdogan to neutralize the establishment, was to strike him at the opportune time. The July 2016 coup, whether an attempt by the Kemalist element in tandem with the Gulenist element, was neutralized again due to the sound network put in place by the Erdogan political organization. The rest is history, as the Turkish leader continues to erase whatever is left of the Turkish Kemalist state.

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Take the example of the Mossadeq debacle in 1953 against the Shah and the success of Khomeini against the same forces in 1979. The Mossadeq political organization was in disarray. The forces loyal to the Shah were organized under the watchful eyes of Kermit Roosevelt. They had in place clerics, street vagabonds like Hajj Tayyab who were able to organize demonstrations in support of the Shah. Further, the coup maker General Zahedi had neutralized the administration to the extent that he was able to issue administrative decrees on behalf of the then exiled Shah, when Mossadeq has not been formally deposed.

In 1979, the stakes were equally high for the Shah Generals as well as revolutionaries. Ten days into his return to Iran, his confidante Murtaza Motahari informed Khomeini that a dawn-to-dusk curfew had been imposed in major cities of Iran on 11 February 1979. Khomeini issued a swift decree to oppose that order as a religious duty and ordered people to be on the streets. Much has been reported on the events of the day. The generals had no other option but to issue a statement that they stood ‘neutral’ between the people of Iran and the ‘Shah’.

The Sovietization of the Afghan armed forces in pre-1979 Afghanistan created a cadre of Army and Air Force Officers who were used to new Marxist ideas and thought they could change the political course of the country. First used by Sardar Daud against King Zahir Shah in the 1973 coup, they felt they could team up with the People Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) to launch a coup against Daud too; in April 1978. Much has been chronicled by the Pakistani leftwing authors about the minute details of that coup. That narrative speaks of excellent coordination between the army units, air force sorties and the civilian party cadres in launching a coup.

Instances can be dug out through Google in the case of similar coups, which took place in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, among other places. The debacle of Egyptian President Morsi in 2013 at the hands of General Sisi all suggest a deep coordination between the various components of the coup, which were sought to succeed.

All these game changing events in the history were characterized by unity of cadre, defined command lines and ability to seize the moment as required in a fast changing situation. Compared to that, what happened on May 9 was not even a faint attempt to challenge the established order. The PTI crowds were foolish enough to burn the Peshawar Radio Station to the ground, instead of securing it for any announcement; if they were clever enough to do that. After the 2014 storming of PTV Islamabad in the follow-up of the Dharna, all the creativity which could come to the minds of the unruly crowds was to loot and plunder; be it food item, animal, book, or decoration.

The crowds were at most made up of angry youth. The other tragedy was that they were acting like misguided, rather unguided, ammunition, which is hazardous to handle. Consequently, these so-called revolutionaries did not bring about any successful coup, rather only brought trouble for themselves.

In the backdrop of awaited trials of the people lined up for purpose, the country unfortunately stands at a crossroad, where unity of purpose is the only recipe to get out of that position. That thing is found missing. People tend to think of living with the system, which has lost its relevance and stands exposed; snd needs a redefining, rather rewriting. It is better that the people of Pakistan make their presence felt, not as arsonists, but people who are serious for change,

Pakistan might need to learn from many instances in recent history, where the will of the people, either swept away the ‘order’ or forced a change without shedding blood. Metaphorically, it is the time to think ‘out of the box’. It can be a long night or a quick dawn; much rests on the mood of the masses. People still matter in the world of 2023, not this or that weapon system.

Naqi Akbar
Naqi Akbar
The writer is a freelance columnist


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