Dawn News

The consensus myth

EVERY so often, a new term enters the Pakitani lexicon. This is the season of ‘consensus’.

There can’t be a military operation in North Waziristan until and unless there’s a consensus. A political consensus. A societal consensus.

A Pakistani consensus that North Waziristan is a Pakistani problem that requires a Pakistan-endorsed solution.

The demand for a consensus is so innocuous, so innocent, so legitimate-sounding that it’s virtually irresistible.

It’s also a ruse.

For so fundamental is this political and societal consensus for a military operation in North Waziristan that … the army has done what exactly to help build it?

Y’know, stuff like putting senior officers before the cameras and microphones and explaining what the threat in NWA is and why it must be taken on.

‘North Waziristan is the de facto capital of the Islamic State of Fata and the militants project power from there. It is an intolerable and unacceptable state of affairs.’

Stuff like the otherwise-regular background briefings for movers and shakers in the media.

‘North Waziristan is the global hub of terrorism. There are Arabs and Chechens and Uzbeks and also folks from Sudan and Maldives — yes, the Maldives — and they have no business being there.’

Stuff like ISPR declarations that are oh so common on matters of lesser national import.

‘North Waziristan is from where they attacked Kamra, from where they behead our soldiers, from where the Bannu jailbreak was planned.’

Or just stuff the army says in private.

‘North Waziristan: we have the resources, we have the troops. We need to do it now; we can’t afford to wait.’

Heard any of that? Of course not.

Because this is what the army has been saying:

We need a consensus, Pakistan. Give us a consensus, Pakistan. But shucks, don’t expect us to do anything about building that consensus.

If only it ended there.

While the army is demanding a consensus, many in the security establishment’s orbit have been running around undermining the possibility of a consensus.

The Difaa-i-Pakistan Council has been running around decrying American agendas and embracing militants. But no one in the army has snapped his fingers and called them to heel.

Imran Khan is talking silly about drones and sorting out militancy with hugs and handshakes.

But no one from the security establishment has challenged his narrative.

So, neither will the army help out with the heavy lifting of building a consensus nor will it slap down those in its orbit working against such a consensus ever emerging.

But the army wants a consensus.

What are we to make of it?

The well-worn theories are well known. They want to protect the Afghan-centric assets. They are shaping the battlefield environment first. They want the American anvil in place before the Pakistani hammer comes down, lest the militant leadership escape across the border.

Leadership, though, no one wants to talk about. Leadership to know what’s necessary and then have the will to do it. Leadership to take on a threat and deal with the consequences, fearsome or not.

But the longer the facile consensus debate carries on, the more difficult it is becoming to avoid talking about the elephant in the room: Gen K and his will to get the job done.

It usually starts with the silly theories and the implausible conspiracies, of the kind being whispered already.

That NWA will happen but after the election, when the question of another extension will be on the table. That way the Indispensable will be indispensable again, a change in command undesirable in the midst of the mother of all battles.

If that sounds silly, it is. If another term is wanted, another term will be had — it’s in the nature of things here and battlefields, big or small, aren’t needed to win the argument.

But it’s telling that the conspiracy theory exists at all. Because it says a lot about the perception that has built up around the chief, a man who prefers the indirect to the direct, the convoluted to the straightforward.

Of the many myths that surround the army here, one is bigger than most: the army works by consensus, the high command decides what can or cannot be done and the army chief is perhaps only a first among equals.

But is it so?

What if a chief said, this is the policy from today, these are my orders, now carry them out or else.

A few may object; it will take a while to filter through the system, for the bottom to figure out the top means business — but altogether impossible?

Only if the chief is OK with it being impossible. Only if the chief is OK with vacillation. Only if the chief is OK with spreading the burden of leadership.

Forgotten now is the original reason the chief is the chief today.

When Musharraf picked his successor he thought he’d be around another five years presiding over the civilian side of things.

If you don’t plan to exit, what kind of person would you pick to occupy the most powerful seat in Pakistan?

A forceful personality, a man of searing conviction and with chutzpah, a straight shooter, someone who won’t let anything or anyone stand in his way?

Probably not.

When civilians have picked a chief to suit their purposes, they’ve made some compelling mistakes: Zia by Bhutto; Musharraf by Sharif.

But when a chief picks, he does so knowing the man better than a civilian ever could. (Ayub to Yahya was a peculiar set of circumstances.)

And so perhaps that’s why we have this silliness over a consensus. This vacillation and vacuousness. This uncertainty and drift.

Perhaps Musharraf did choose well. Except he chose for a very different purpose than what the country needs today.

The writer is a member of staff.


Twitter: @cyalm

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Comments (13) Closed

Oct 21, 2012 09:05am
Why Kayani? He has been the most composed and brave Army Chief Pakistan has ever seen. He has not only built the morale of Pakistan Army but also supported the Civilian Government. This has never happened in the past. He is the one who was fighting on ground with his soldiers and cleared SWAT. Pakistna need few Malalas' to replace coward leaders like Sharifs and Khans. And yes, consensus is important. There is a clear divide amongst Pakistani society and action that divides the society specially the case of millitancy where there apologists are everywhere in the country could be a disaster for Pakistan Army and the State. You need to build the consensus or should i say prepare the society for what is needed.
Oct 21, 2012 12:06pm
What the writer is forgetting is that it was a very DIRECT and ACTION ORIENTED Chief (Musharraf) that got us into this mess in the first place :)
Oct 22, 2012 05:17pm
One adventure in Lal Masjid divided the "Strategic assets" and the "Establishment". The strategic assets were divided in half, with some cracks left. The establishment has cracks. Another misadventure can lead into massive divisions and subsequent problems. Everybody will be the first to blame the "Chief" then. Islamism is in this country's roots. People who don't even pray once a day are roused to kill and die for the name of their religion. The idea of a liberal Pakistan cannot work in this situation. Its desire will lead us to anarchy and chaos. The best choice is to share the department of religion with the mullahs. Use intellectual, educated and islamic minds to develop a prosperous islamic state. The fight between the taliban style islamists and american style liberals is destroying us.
Uza Syed
Oct 21, 2012 09:37am
This a first staright and honest portayal of Kyani and a real good one. So Musharraf picked up some one to serve his purpose and we must deal with this useless sack and carry this national burden.
Cyrus Howell
Oct 21, 2012 07:19pm
Words have lost their meanings inside government.
Concerned Citizen
Oct 21, 2012 06:16am
Thanks for raising these issues and for trying to nudge the reluctant elephant - if only those who need to take the action could hear you and the rest of the nation who wants to get rid of this menace and move forward.
Oct 21, 2012 02:11am
there we go extension for the chief!! cyril you revealed the reason behind confusion.. well danger man is ready to set the tune for next government!!!
Oct 21, 2012 01:18am
Kayani should move out. Malala should be made the head of this insecure army.
Oct 21, 2012 09:15am
These days when i read articles of liberals it reminds me of the time of Red Mosque. At that time every one was saying operation, operation, operation. And once done the same people became against it. What you liberals want is Drones drones and more drones along with military operation. US could not do anything of Taliban in Afghanistan in 10 years. Why this simple thing doesn't goes into your stubborn minds ?
Oct 21, 2012 11:49am
You should not take the word consensus lightly. It has time and again helped the authorities in power to slither away from responsibilities.It is an integral part of their administration.
Oct 21, 2012 11:44am
Sigh...every word you have said is true... but is anyone listening?
m issa
Oct 21, 2012 10:42am
i confess that all are right but why no one is seeming right because things are known but could not be given prefrene when there is personal vested interests intervene.
Oct 21, 2012 03:06pm
I enjoyed the last few lines. These aptly sums up everything for us. Great writing Cyril. But what next? Since the Pakistani politicians and establishment have proved themselves to be inept (or the militant-infected Pakistani public opinion is all too powerful - for reference: Syed Saleem Shahzad Shaheed's book), I see US drones as the only way this monster can be brought down. Consensus or no consensus!!