Imposing order

25 Oct 2016


THE scope of success within three years is breathtaking. Criminals in Karachi, terrorists in Fata and militants in Balochistan have faced heavy defeats. Off the battlefield, the PML-N has been tamed, despite its huge assembly strength and hold in all-critical Punjab. That Punjab’s main political force lost so meekly to a security establishment drawn mainly from there reflects political power’s lowly status vis-à-vis military, soft and economic powers in Pakistan’s power architecture presently.

But this was merely the start of the political wins. The MQM stands miserably divided today and Altaf Hussain vanquished. Zardari stays abroad, unsure whether even Nawaz Sharif can protect him back home. Large parts of the media avoid negative reporting on security issues. Even the Supreme Court validated military courts and their judgements. Not even military dictators ruling for 10 years had succeeded in imposing such order as has the current military leadership in three years from behind the scenes without incurring the costs of a martial law.

For many analysts, Pakistan has finally found the ideal governance regime for it: the security establishment ruling from behind a façade of democracy. But the idea is as flawed as the other political quick-fixes which enthral those without the patience for democracy’s lazy gait. But first to give credit where it is due, Pakistanis must be thankful for the major decrease in terrorism nationally. This blow against extremism seems to have impacted national discourse too. Perhaps, I am hallucinating, but I see some roll-back in the hegemony of the religious-national discourse that Zia had imposed and the first faint stirrings of national normalcy seeping back.

This informal hybrid regime is not a panacea.

So, in the recent tiff with India, it was good to see this side of the border behaving less hysterically. So intense is jingoism in India now that to even ask for proof, an act of obvious rationality anytime, for the ‘surgical strikes’ is seen as an act of treason. Ah, but we have lost 18 soldiers in Uri which explains the highly emotional immediate reaction, Indian apologists say. But this sounds like a mass temporary insanity plea.

Asking for proof from our army is not so problematic now, even though it has lost thousands of jawans. So, I have a confession to make. Despite Kulbhushan Yadav’s capture, I am still not fully sold on claims about widespread Indian involvement in terrorism in Pakistan, and want more neutral evidence. The mere word of the government and the security establishment about what Kulbhushan has revealed is not enough for me. Loyalty to the truth trumps any other loyalty.

But I am also glad I have more space to question official claims here than available currently in India. I also felt surprised but happy to receive an email from an Indian journalist saying he wished Indian media had half the spine that sections of the Pakistani media, like Dawn, display.

These pluses aside, this informal hybrid regime is not a panacea for our governance problems. Let me first unpack what the current regime covers. The army has assumed broad authority for fighting terrorism and violence across the map, with the partial exception of Punjab. This high degree of delegation of authority to a theoretically professional subservient unit can still be rationalised given the levels of violence Pakistan faced and the dividends it has yielded. Even here, talks should have been pursued more in Balochistan.

Terrorists are also being tried through military courts which have so far sent to the gallows perhaps a couple of dozen convicts, very close to the end of their planned two-year lives. Thus, it is difficult to see what major dents these limited convictions have made against terrorism compared with actual anti-terrorism action. But their costs are evident in undermining our reputation and the mainstream judicial system, and the lost opportunity to strengthen it instead of having military courts.

The security establishment also controls key foreign policy issues. This is the most objectionable part of the new regime and its results justify the initial objections when this monopoly was slowly crystallising. This control of foreign policy has undermined real national interest and frayed relations regionally and globally. War is too serious a matter to be left to generals; foreign policy even more so since it plants the seeds of war.

But the main argument against seeing this system as a panacea lies in what it does not cover. So, the establishment has no role in matters dearest to the common person, like education, health, etc. It has not even bothered to monopolise these areas, recognising the limits of its capacity and expertise and the follies of overstretch. Thus, despite the initial excitement, good governance remains a distant prospective.

Will this imposed order continue under a new COAS? The ideal would be if the new chief continues the drive against terrorism firmly but hands back the very serious matter of foreign policy to civilians.

The writer heads INSPIRING Pakistan, a progressive policy unit.

Published in Dawn October 25th, 2016