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Playing both sides

Updated September 14, 2014

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The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

THERE are, really, only two possibilities: either there is a cabal or there isn’t; either factionalism exists or it doesn’t; either Raheel is in charge or he isn’t.

“Those understanding the Army’s structure and working cannot imagine this. Everyone is allowed to discuss their opinions in a free and frank manner but the army chief’s decision is considered final and troops follow his lead.”

No, the chief has said via ISPR, there is no cabal. Others may have opinions, but only he decides. Others may want; only Raheel decides what they — all of them, together — will have.

The intervention won’t quell rumour and conspiracy, but it was necessary. Because after the frenzy — the great frenzy in the political arena — the inevitable, and serious, questions would come.

Sir, was it you? And if it wasn’t you, what does that say about your army — and you? There are serious implications either way.

Either Raheel is sneaky or Raheel is weak — neither a reputation a year-old chief will want to grow.

One: there is no cabal. To anyone who knows anything about how the boys function, the idea is a risible one.

Everyone — everyone — serves at the chief’s pleasure. The army is not a debating club. You don’t go behind the chief’s back on something as big as this. Plus, the cabal is retiring in a few weeks.


If the chief takes over, he’s the reluctant dictator. If he doesn’t take over, he’s democracy’s hero.


Everyone who reports to the soon-to-be retired cabal is appointed by the chief’s office and all of them have records to protect and years of service to look forward to — why be more loyal to the soon-to-be defrocked and risk being cashiered?

Ah, but the cabal can do this on its own. And of course Pasha wrapped up his service in Abu Dhabi recently. Again — that means a group of generals meeting among themselves on the side to plot politics.

If that isn’t a sacking offence, one that a chief can materialise with the stroke of a pen or even just the words ‘go home’, then we’re in a lot more trouble than any of us thought.

More on that trouble in a minute.

If a cabal is a risible idea, why was it floated in the first place? Because the boys are yet again playing two sides: the constituency within and the public at large.

Internally, the cabal theory is mocked because the boys know how the boys function. Externally, with the public, the cabal theory has been lapped up.

See how the cabal theory has worked in the public arena. Raheel the good guy, only looking to put just and desirable pressure on a loose-cannon PM. The cabal the bad-bad guys or the bad-good guys.

Hardliners, who, depending on your point of view, are the bad-bad guys looking to overturn the still-fragile democratic system and grab power or are the bad-good guys who have the guts to do what’s necessary to save us all from a fake democracy.

Any which way, the army wins.

It’s a peculiar breed of strategy that is as risky as it is high-stakes: the chief gets others to do his dirty work, blame shifts to them, he stays clean — until he doesn’t.

We’ve seen this template before: memogate. Then, Kayani’s hand was being forced by — again, depending on your point of view — a righteous, ambitious or ballsy Pasha and the chief had to juggle opposing concerns: national security versus the democratic project.

Now, it’s Nawaz who’s the national security threat and it’s a bunch of no-name generals who are putting pressure on Raheel, and the chief is having to juggle the two.

If he takes over, he’s the reluctant dictator. If he doesn’t take over, he’s democracy’s hero.

It’s sneaky, sneaky as hell, and can work — until folk pause and ask, err, is the army really riven by factionalism? And then folk start thinking through the implications of that factionalism. On to those implications.

Two: there is a cabal.

On India, on Afghanistan, on militancy, even the chief knows he can’t do just anything he wants. The boys’ core constituency is the boys themselves and certain truths are embedded within. You can’t just order them to stop believing.

Every chief knows this — which is why, Zia or Musharraf, Kayani or Kakar, Karamat or Raheel, certain things are not attempted. Because no chief wants to issue the order he knows may not be executed.

Here’s the problem though — on Nawaz, we’re in a world far, far removed from core interests.

Let’s say that on every one of those things — India, Afghanistan, militancy, throw in the US and state restructuring too — Nawaz is at odds with the army.

Fine. But what has Nawaz got away with? Wanting to do something is different to being able to do that something.

And from here, post azadi and inquilab, what does Nawaz look like he’ll ever be able to get away with, even if he survives?

If factionalism is tolerated, if a cabal exists, on matters of dull politics, then who else may get what kind of loopy ideas in areas far, far more troubling?

Pick any of the contradictions. The enemy is the militant, but religion is in the fabric of the army. The secular authority of your leader is inviolable, but a higher power is sacrosanct. Do what you’re told, but believe in scripture.

Cabals and factionalism in matters of dull politics, when, as the naval dockyard attack depressingly recalled, terrifyingly bigger fault lines remain largely unseen, unheard and unspoken of.

You don’t want a sneak, you don’t want a weakling — we just really need Raheel to be in charge.

The writer is a member of staff.

cyril.a@gmail.com

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, September 14th , 2014