ELECTED governments in Pakistan have less to fear from the Indian army than from their own — with good reason. For almost 60 years, since October 1958, politicians have lost every battle to gain the higher ground of civilian supremacy. Will they ever win the war?
After the fall of East Pakistan in December 1971, Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had the opportunity to send a demoralised army back to the barracks. Many assumed he would. Instead, he opted to become Pakistan’s fourth president and third chief martial law administrator. He could not resist imitating his militaristic hero Napoleon Bonaparte.
In 1977, Mr Bhutto, accused of rigging the general elections, was brutally reminded that, while political parties owe their loyalty to the electorate, the Pakistan Army owes its allegiance to the state. Political parties may hustle to present themselves to their voters as the better option. They may take turns on the merry-go-around of selfish governance. But the Pakistan Army — one of the region’s largest standing armies — stands also as the vigilant watchdog of the national interest, the muscular alternative to mismanaged democracy.
The public has nothing but the lowest expectations.
One word common to the lexicon of civilian governments and the security establishment is contempt. Civilian governments routinely display contempt for the public; the security establishment regularly betrays contempt for civilians. There is a view that elected governments are regarded as unwanted pregnancies, to be aborted whenever need be, to save the motherland. The latest still-birth is the ouster of a third-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif. It was done with a sleight of pen worthy of the late Sharifuddin Pirzada.
In time, books will be written on the way Sharif’s removal was induced. There will be tardy admissions of remorse, as there were after Z.A. Bhutto’s hanging. Many associated with this latest case may want, like Pontius Pilate, to absolve themselves. What no one in Islamabad will be able to escape is culpability for an unforgivable degeneration in standards at every level.
We know the army prefers to subsist within the boundaries of its own self-demarcated, well-defended political cantonment. Civilians envy its manicured order, its privileges like housing, schooling, medical facilities, preferential allotment of state lands, pensions (borne directly by the civilian budget), and gilded retirement. No wonder civilians feel like inferior ‘children of a lesser god’.
The custodians of our law have revealed a fragile fallibility. Many remember a former chief justice’s obiter dicta deciding Nawaz Sharif’s restoration to the prime minister-ship in 1993. “The law,” he pronounced, “is mightier than the King of Kings.” They have now seen his successors at the same Supreme Court stoop from that intellectual pre-eminence to quoting from an airport lounge novel The Godfather.
Many question why the Supreme Court has usurped the mundane functions of a magistrate’s court — that of investigation, prosecution, and judgement? By allowing the media to set up camp on its very doorstep and then live-stream the progress of the case being adjudicated inside, the dignity of the Supreme Court cannot but be demeaned.
From politicians, the public has nothing but the lowest expectations. Political debate has sunk to such abysmal levels that no one is shocked or surprised anymore by increasingly salacious, putrefying revelations. Scurrilous pictures of Mrs Nusrat Bhutto dancing with president Gerald Ford in 1975 were small potatoes compared to the present character assassination of the PTI leader Imran Khan. He is accused by Ms Aaisha Gulalai (a rebel PTI party member) of having sent her inappropriate messages four years ago. Only technology can affirm or refute her belated allegations.
The PTI has retaliated by fielding their own Ayesha — Ayesha Ahad, who alleges that she is the mistreated wife of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s son Hamza Sharif. With apologies to both, one is reminded of a poem — John F. Kennedy’s favourite — about a pet so elongated that “when its eyes were filled with tears of sadness, its tail still wagged from previous gladness”. With Ayesha and Aaisha on board, can the Sita White scandal be far behind?
Mr Imran Khan once boasted that he had been offered the prime minister-ship by Gen Musharraf. It seems he is now expecting similar largesse from his successor. Meanwhile, there is wounded Nawaz Sharif left to finish. Almost 175 years ago, on Sept 15, 1843, the Sikh Maharaja Sher Singh was murdered by his opponents at Shah Bilawal, outside Lahore. A Persian couplet described the tragedy: Ba shauq sagan shikar-i-sheran kardand (‘For their sport, curs hunted lions’).
An unburied Nawaz Sharif plans to wreak revenge. Ironically, both Z.A. Bhutto in 1977 and Nawaz Sharif in 2017, when ousted from prime minister’s house, repaired first to Murree, then made a triumphant journey to Lahore. Will Nawaz Sharif like Bhutto be arrested before he reaches Lahore? Or will his revolution succeed where Bhutto’s revolt against Gen Ziaul Haq failed?
The writer is an author.
Published in Dawn, August 10th, 2017