The Army is in Islamabad, surrounding all significant government buildings. The Punjab chief minister’s house in Lahore has been secured by the troops. War anthems play on television. Politicians embarrassingly try to outdo one another in tireless sycophancy to the ‘Chief’. Remind me again, what is a ‘coup’?
All of this has happened before; however this time there is one major difference. The elected government has ‘requested’ the Army to come take over Islamabad. Article 245 of the Constitution is being invoked in Islamabad. The Army is to take over Islamabad. Yes, one can phrase it in any way one likes, called to ‘assist’, ‘support’, etc. The Punjab chief minister sometime back ‘requested’ the Corps Commander Lahore for military security to be provided to the chief minister’s residence.
All of this is for what? Is it for the ‘feeble threat’, ‘storm in a teacup’ of His holiness Dr Qadri and Mr Imran Khan? Mian Nawaz Sharif persists with the habit of creating disasters, pretending to ignore them and finally simply grossly overreacting; a habit which has cost him very dearly in the past. The motives of Dr Qadri are not questionable, they are unquestioningly anti-democratic and his methods unscrupulous. Mr Khan does not know what he wants, except for trouble, and all around, and yes, at some stage in life to be prime minister. However, Mian Sahib’s response to this, like his response to almost everything is curious; oscillating between denial and panic. Invoking Article 245 is indeed panic-inducing and dangerous. To deny that this is in response to the potential havoc likely to be wreaked by Qadri, Khan and other assorted mischief makers is disingenuous and not convincing. The motives and the antics of the marchers are admittedly unpleasant. However, it comes with the job, prime minister. Mian Sahib, leaders do need stronger nerves than supervising motorways and flyovers, tasks which most contractors are able to accomplish quite adequately.
It is not only the lack of nerve which is disconcerting. It is the fundamental confusion that surrounds Mian Sahib’s policy. Mian Nawaz Sharif came into government with the visible intent of setting the civilian-military balance right, and that was exactly the right thing to do. However, in less than a year, there has been descent into utter confusion and contradiction. The PML-N government maintains that the trial of the Commando is ‘nothing personal’, and it is about holding a usurper to account. Central to Musharraf’s trial is the question of civil-military imbalance and proceeding with it displays the determination to rectify it. It would have been grounds for some minor celebration and the triumph of democratic ideals; had it been part of any broader trend so as to make us believe that the Commando’s trial is indeed ‘just business’. Alas, it is not. Firebrand members of the Cabinet look to storm the Bastille and triumphantly fly the flag of civilian supremacy one day, only to eat their words and mumble excuses the next.
This government is strong enough to try a former army chief/dictator, yet weak enough not to handle political acrobatics in Islamabad? Mian Sahib’s model of opposition was to do nothing really. While, Mian Shabaz Sharif sat in tent offices in Lahore and lead protests against oppressive Islamabad. Since after all the power crisis was simply caused by the inefficiency of the previous federal government, right? The real opposition was being done by the Supreme Court and the Media. Well, now the villains are gone, and Mian Sahib has to finally do something, anything, do not hold your breath though.
Suspension of fundamental rights, military courts and troops on the roads of Islamabad, Mian Sahib has watched this movie, and perhaps will remember the ending with no fondness. The Protection of Pakistan Act was a sign of the government’s plan of dealing with problems, essentially to allow excess force to be used by the civil law enforcement and military and that will make militancy go away. Now, the same model is applied to political problems.
The military offensive in North Waziristan was the opportunity to set the civil-military balance on the right course. Mian Sahib was required to take ownership of the offensive, give out policy, rather than read the ISPR press release in Parliament, when clearly his heart and soul were not in it.
The businessman in Mian Sahib dominates. The businessman looks at finished products, marketing and visible deliverables, the glossy and the glamorous. A flyover is visible in a way that meaningful legislation is not. The Model Town debacle did not lead to any policy or legislative discussion on police and administrative reforms. The Waziristan operation is accompanied by no debate on amending the FCR. The wind out of Mr Khan’s sails could have been taken out somewhat by having an expedited and meaningful public debate on reforming the electoral process (which does not mean that Mr Khan would have stopped agitation and protests, he has the remarkable ability to find something to protest about; it just would have been less effective). No overhead bridge can fix Balochistan, engagement and policy reform just might.
Mian Sahib is ceding more space to the military by invoking Article 245 and the Protection of Pakistan Act than he is regaining for democracy by the Commando’s trial (the Commando certainly needs to be tried in any event). Mian Sahib displays weakness by trying to sit out the war, while certainly gaining piety points for sitting it out in Saudi Arabia. Mian Sahib is trying to buy survival at the price of weakening democratic institutions and the progress of the past few years. Dr Qadri and Mr Khan have less than innocent intentions, yet, the fight has to be fought politically. Unfortunately, Mian Sahib has forgotten how to do this, certainly, without the support of a belligerent media and a hostile judiciary. The Army is a fickle ally (nobody knows it better then Mian Nawaz Sharif), if it is an ally to Mian Sahib at all at this point.
Pick yourself up, Mian Sahib. The fight has just started. The legitimacy of your government and mandate is not the issue. Your willingness to defend it is, so Mr Prime Minister get to it, fight the fight politically, having faith in yourself and your government. In any case, Mian Sahib, if your approach does not change there is no motorway wide enough to make get your government out of this.
Tailpiece: The June 19 Judgment of the Supreme Court by My Lord the former Chief Justice Tassaduq Jillani on the rights of minorities is what deserves the government’s attention; an excellent judgment by an excellent judge. The recommendations in that judgment are what good policy advice looks like and one dearly hopes that the government listens and implements it.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th, 2014.
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