A new template

Published March 20, 2016
The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

OH no, he’s flown away. Oh hell, the religious lot is at it again. We’re doomed. We’re saved. Mumble, chatter, scream, hell.

It’s been another one of those weeks, so let’s get down to it.

Musharraf. It was a bad decision — going after him for the Emergency and going after him so early into the third term.

That bad decision has been set right in a predictably wrong way — but Nawaz is better off for it, whether he likes it or not.

The rest of us? The jury’s out on that. Because Musharraf is our past from another country.

Go back to 2014. Three big decisions, three episodes that made for a break from the past. It started with this Musharraf business.

Nawaz signalled he wasn’t willing to let go. Musharraf would be tried — and if he wasn’t going to be hanged or jailed, he sure was going to be made a spectacle of and harassed mercilessly.

It offered an intriguing possibility. Trying Musharraf for the Emergency and trying him so early into a third term were the wrong choices to make.

But decision made, the rest of us — ordinary Pakistanis interested in and affected by civ-mil — could piggyback on Nawaz’s obduracy. He’d get his man and we’d get our democracy and rule of law.

Then, the second thing happened: Zarb-i-Azb. That was the beginning of the change.

Until then, two successive chiefs had quit office under pressure and were widely derided. Get one of them, put him on trial for whatever, and a shockwave would be sent through the system, felt by chiefs for a generation to come. But Zarb-i-Azb put a stop to that. Musharraf was effectively a free man. There was no way in hell a former chief would be put on trial for treason in the middle of the most intense war the army has ever fought.

The break from the past had begun — and with it the value of getting Musharraf diminished.

What had been a faint uncertainty for several months had become emphatic reality. Musharraf would walk free, sooner or later.

If you’re Nawaz, you care deeply about a trial and a conviction. For the rest of us, Musharraf’s jailing was only instrumentalist: getting him was about sending a signal.

But the opposite signal was about to be sent — to the rest of us. Nawaz had let history pass him by that January, giving a speech in parliament that will go down in infamy. Nawaz wanted peace, the Taliban wanted war. Raheel saw that and put it right — giving us Zarb-i-Azb.

From there, a meteoric ascent was all but guaranteed. Do it right — and Raheel looked like he knew what he was doing — violence would drop and a grateful nation would hail its latest saviour.

And so it came to pass. The break from the past had begun — and with it the value of getting Musharraf diminished. Present and future chiefs were already being insulated from the shockwave that a Musharraf conviction would have sent.

Musharraf’s Pakistan, the old parameters of civ-mil, was vanishing. In its place, a new Pakistan with new civ-mil parameters was emerging.

The third episode confirmed it: Peshawar. APS added rocket fuel to what had until then looked like an evolutionary break from the past.

In double-quick time, the National Action Plan was birthed and a new reality had coalesced. Musharraf’s Pakistan was gone. No more was there need for a takeover.

Instead, we had a super-chief and his template for making his institution’s influence all-pervasive.

Get Musharraf, don’t get Musharraf, it would make no difference — the instrumentalist value in getting him, the shockwave it would send through the system, the signal chiefs for a generation to come would receive, it was all gone.

Because takeover was neither needed nor threatened anymore. Raheel had shown the way, embodying the new template.

The new template is three-pronged: fuse personal popularity with a hard-nosed identification of core interests and quietly expand indirect control.

It is a template that the next few chiefs, and perhaps chief for a generation to come, can embrace.

The personal popularity aspect can come through the long war that is being waged. Militancy will not disappear anytime soon and as long as there’s an enemy, there’s a hero waiting to be minted.

The core interests have now more or less been identified. Focus on national security, protect the institution, and let the pols manage the economy and soft stuff. That means the boys make all the decisions about the boys and their needs.

Finally, co-habitation must be owned and worked on. The N-League likes to brag about the rapport between the PM and the chief. The time and effort invested and strategy crafted is talked up privately.

But it works both ways. The time and effort invested by Raheel and the strategy crafted in dealing with the government is there for future chiefs to see.

It is neither carrot nor stick, but a steady focus on outcomes and, most of all, consistency. Mean what you say and say only the things you mean. Be patient, don’t frighten them — they want to like you and, secretly, want you to like them.

The three-pronged template — personal popularity, core interests and co-habitation — is already fairly mature. From here on, future chiefs may only need to tweak it a little.

The problem is at the other end — the civilians. They haven’t quite caught on to the past becoming another country. They don’t seem to understand that Musharraf’s Pakistan is gone.

And they sure don’t know what to do about what it’s been replaced with.

The writer is a member of staff.


Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, March 20th, 2016


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