In just a couple of weeks, thousands of Pakistani youth will sit through one of the most rigorous tests of human memory, in the form of the annual Central Superior Services (CSS) examination. In the exam, they will be asked questions ranging from the absurd to the most absurd, and you can almost be sure that the name of the brother-in-law of the sister of one of the cousins of the premier of a small African republic will be on the paper.
But, sometimes, through sheer luck, you can be tested on a relatively easier topic, for instance say, the name of the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
Under normal circumstances, this would be an absolute freebie of a point; the ‘aspirants’ would only have to recall the results of the last election, promptly mark Mr Nawaz Sharif’s name on the question paper, and then start daydreaming about sticking it to others while sitting in big offices.
This time though, such a query is bound to be a loaded question. Let me explain why.
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In a parliamentary system like ours, the prime minister is usually appointed by the political party in majority in the representative assembly. Tradition dictates that the leader of the majority party be bestowed with this honour (though there have been significant diversions from this norm even in recent years).
The prime minister is supposed to lead his cabinet and the country through thick and thin, and ooze a shimmering aura of national unity, so much so that the hearts of the masses are supposed to fill with a warm glow each time they look at their leader.
The premier is supposed to be approachable, so that his/her constituents can share their problems and concerns.
The premier should also have an unblemished reputation of being not only uncorrupt, but also incorruptible. He/she must understand the nuances of the issues and cultures within the territory of the country, and present a clarity of vision in taking initiative towards national reform.
All this is fine and dandy. But now, let us take a small dose of reality.
True, Nawaz Sharif’s party was able to gain majority in the Parliament after the 2013 elections, and he became prime minister for the third time. But, is N. Sharif the man who represents all of these qualities?
I will not insult the intellect of the readers by answering this rhetorical question.
In the case that N. Sharif is not the man, who else comes to mind?
Imran Khan certainly presented a viable alternative, but personal qualities aside, his political acumen leaves much to be desired.
So, are there any other takers?
Enter Raheel Sharif.
The civil-military imbalance in Pakistan is an open secret, and multiple generals have intervened in the political setup throughout our history, each one presenting a better set of justifications than the last for doing so.
But what the current Army chief has been able to accomplish is a feat of remarkable genius.
All of the previous coups have been bloodless, but even then, they have been unable to stop the incumbents from leaving their offices kicking and screaming to the high heavens. This time, though, the overthrow has not only been bloodless, it has also, to an extent, been consensual.
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After multiple setbacks exposed the soft underbelly of the ruling regime, perhaps the odds became just a bit too much for N. Sharif.
First, he was straitjacketed on the issue of India.
Then, Musharraf became a no-go area too.
And then, Imran Khan mounted a worthy offense last year, in which he was ultimately unsuccessful. Battered and bruised from these attacks, N. Sharif somehow waded through.
However, surviving such battles leaves a mark.
So after the Peshawar tragedy, the final blow in a plan which had been so long in the making, finally materialised, and N. Sharif crumbled beneath the weight of his own ineptitude.
It is R. Sharif, and not N. Sharif, that commands the loyalty of the armed forces, as well as the nation now.
R. Sharif, and not N. Sharif, took the reins of the pan-national, counter-terrorism strategy, and proceeded to twist everybody’s arm just enough to make them agree to the proposed agenda.
R. Sharif was the one who attended the reopening of that fated branch of the Army Public School, an act no one else has quite been able to successfully pull off.
Also, it is now R. Sharif who goes to pay visits to important foreign heads of state, while N. Sharif is left to ask after the ailing Saudi king.
In turn, foreign leaders and their representatives come and seek R. Sharif’s audience.
Observers worried about a lack of civilian oversight aside, the Army chief has fast risen to be the star lighting the path to glory for a large segment of the population. Be ready to see his photo in a lot of newspapers, and on the back of a lot of cargo trucks alike.
As it stands, the important stuff – foreign policy, security, and soon, the economy – will be overseen by the better Sharif, while the lesser Sharif looks over the mundane administrative affairs. It is the senior Sharif who will now decide the fate of the country from behind the shadows, while the inferior Sharif sits helplessly on his ceremonial throne, entombed forever in its grandeur.
The cherry on the top is that R. Sharif has an unblemished reputation too.
Not that anyone could have criticised a general for anything; that kind of treatment is reserved only for the politicians. Even retired army personnel cannot be held accountable for their actions, as the Musharraf case has so aptly demonstrated, and R. Sharif is as clean as they come.
Part of the reason why we have a sitting duck in place of the PM, while someone else guides the way is because we as a nation put a lot of stock in everything just working, even if on its bare minimum capacity.
As it happens, the cries for reform are drowned in the cacophony of mediocrity on a regular basis. And then, when the country is hit by crisis after crisis, imperatives of democracy have to take a back seat to basic service delivery, which must then be actualised one way or the other, at any cost.
In such an atmosphere, we Pakistanis, prefer our heroes to be more lock, stock, and two smoking barrels than being just a beautiful mind.
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Furthermore, the reason Army personnel are called on to rescue the civilians in every crisis – natural or otherwise – is because of their discipline, which is inculcated through years of training.
Army men rise through the ranks after gaining experience in the martial-administrative affairs, and only after they have proved to be the best among their fellows. In comparison, think of what you really need to do in order to become an elected politician: the right ethnicity, the right religion, and the right kind of money.
So, if recent times are any indication, we can safely bid adieu to N. Sharif and welcome our new saviour. Worried about political vision and civilian oversight? You must be joking.
But as far as the ones sitting through the CSS exam are concerned, they should just stick with the narrative and circle N. Sharif’s name if the question is asked.
That exam is a test of memory, not intellect.