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Civ-mil, again

April 13, 2014

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WHEN the chief spoke this week, folk fell over themselves and each other trying to figure out whether the Mush trial was dead and if the Nawaz government was on life support.

That made sense. Those questions were a lot sexier than the probable, and eventual, answer: the chief was talking to his boys and when boys talk, chests are beaten and silly things are said.

It would’ve been amusing if it weren’t for all that silliness about the democratic project being derailed and the transition being in danger.

Because a couple of ministers spoke impoliticly? You can imagine a bunch of folk wishing it were so, or even that it were possible. But could it be true? ‘No’ was the answer and it became apparent quickly enough.

As the dust settled and folk wandered off to look for the next crisis, no one really wanted to sift through the detritus of the present one.

Everyone knew what it had meant at a minimum. The boys could not — would not — allow themselves to look weak in front of the rank and file and the public at large.

That is well known and unsurprising. Perception is power and much of the boys’ power lies in others’ perception of their — the boys’ — power.

That makes sense. But only up to a point.

Lost in the kerfuffle was that a statement meant to project the army’s power had inadvertently exposed the army’s vulnerability.

The civ-empty, mil-full version of the civ-mil glass had the boys always opposed to a trial and waiting for the right moment to strike. When Saad Rafique and Khwaja Asif sneered, that moment had seemingly arrived. The boys made their move.

Even though they failed, another moment will arrive soon enough. You can always count on a politician to mess up.

The important thing, in this view of the civ-mil tumbler, is that the boys’ unwillingness to countenance a trial and sentencing has been established. All that matters now is the timing of the intervention.

But there’s another view of the civ-mil glass, which has the civ side, if not quite half full, possibly getting there.

And that’s this: Musharraf has been indicted. That was supposed to have been impossible. And before that, the formation of a special court was supposed to have been impossible. Before that, it was assumed the matter would be killed at the FIA investigation stage.

And before that, it was assumed an investigation was a non-starter because the government would not be allowed to act on the Supreme Court’s directions to have a special FIA team investigate the possible charges.

But all of that is known. Leave that aside for a minute.

Imagine — and yes, it may take a leap of faith — that there’s a super politician with craftiness, guile and sophistication sitting somewhere, strategising this entire process. Let’s call him Nawaz (leap of faith, remember?).

Nawaz has figured out the boys’ vulnerability: they are obsessed with image and perception. Image/perception can be power, but it isn’t a substitute. The two are not interchangeable.

Nawaz has figured this out. He has figured out that the army veto on a Musharraf trial will only be invoked when the trial process crosses image/perception red lines.

So, to begin with, Nawaz let someone else start the process. CJ Iftikhar obliged and obliged gladly. While CJ Iftikhar was around and the SC was pushing for a trial, Nawaz looked like the good guy: it’s not me, it’s the courts.

Next, with CJ Iftikhar on his way out, Nawaz decided to switch gears. And how. With the country reeling from Muharram violence in Pindi, Nisar announced the government was going ahead with a Musharraf trial.

Oh, that’s just the government trying to change the topic, everyone said. And so the government got it in the neck for trying to change the topic, meaning Nawaz avoided raising the temperature on what he had planned for Musharraf.

Then, the next step in our crafty Nawaz’s plan: the endless court hearings. One, two, three, five, ten, fifteen, twenty, more — and no indictment.

An immediate indictment would have instantly upped civ-mil tensions — because the government would have been perceived as gunning for a former chief and running roughshod over the boys.

But the longer the indictment process wore on, the weaker the government looked — and instead of the government being attacked, it was mocked.

Nawaz our hypothetical crafty politician was OK with this: after all, politicians are used to being pummelled; it’s the army’s sensitivities that he had to worry about.

Then, Musharraf is indicted. Next step achieved. But the wheels of conspiracy start turning once more. Folk start yelling about vendettas and personal agendas.

Again, our hypothetical Nawaz had anticipated this and planned for it. So he unleashes two of his big guns: go hunting, boys. Take down the biggest one you can find, Nawaz orders.

Nawaz’s loyal lieutenants do what the boss ordered — and they get the biggest and baddest of the boys to roar back.

The media loves it, the public is riveted — and amidst the chaos, folk are also reminded of who the boys are and how their world revolves around themselves.

Realising this, the boys quieten down again.

Wouldn’t it be great if there really were a super politician with craftiness, guile and sophistication sitting somewhere strategising this entire process?

Call him Nawaz.

The writer is a member of staff.

cyril.a@gmail.com

Twitter: @cyalm