Coup talk

Published October 8, 2017

THERE’S a template for a coup and it goes something like this. The government is paralysed, Nawaz is on the warpath, the boys have had enough, the chief moves in.

Good enough for before, good enough for again.

Throw in a bit of anti-US and anti-India hysteria and you may even wonder why we haven’t already had a coup.

But the story has deviated a bit. No one seems to be cheering on the only chap who can pull the trigger.

It’s as if we still have a new chief; a fresher still finding his feet.

What’s really needed is an institutional intervention, folk are suggesting. This is bigger than any individual, folk are cautioning. Many will have to work together if the country is to be saved, they are advising.

It’s as if no one wants the chief to become chief executive.

Something is off. Rewind to Kayani and his ascent some 11 years ago; a reluctant transfer of military power by Musharraf in the midst of a desperate struggle to cling to political power.

It took a while for Kayani to settle in and assert control. There were the snide remarks about the son of a JCO not being the best fit for the most prestigious post in the land.

There were questions about whether a direct move from the ISI to GHQ was a sound idea. There were murmurs of favouritism for political reasons and debates about whether Musharraf had been conned.

Kayani eventually overcame all of that. But he had to work at it. Hard.

He declared a Year of the Soldier. He won over the troops with pay raises and focusing on military matters. He cultivated the media. He developed a professional mystique — the thinking soldier.

And he eventually figured out how to navigate institutional factions and political circles to the point that pulled off the greatest of cons, a second term for himself.

More than a decade later, the stain of the second term and political tumult at the time of his ascension have obscured the original reality: Kayani had an uncertain start as chief.

But then came Raheel. And the script was replayed.

Raheel too took a while to settle in and assert control. His pedigree was impeccable but his intellect was questioned. Why had a mediocre general superseded at least one perfectly good candidate and been picked ahead of a couple of quality options below him?

Was he the right man for the job? He wasn’t going to be Nawaz’s man, but had Nawaz figured out that apolitical was all that he needed in his war against Imran?

As the original dharna neared, the doubts deepened and the dissent threatened to spill out into the open. Rumours of a cabal of generals trying to pressure their boss into doing their bidding were unleashed.

Like Kayani before him, Raheel eventually overcame all of that. But he too had to work at it. Hard.

After an uncertain 10 months or so, Raheel figured out that to be king you had to make sure people knew you were king and feared you as a king. The cult of Raheel began to be born.

Operation Zarb-i-Azb was its crown jewel and ThankYouRaheelSharif its tagline.

And now to the problem. The same thing has happened with Bajwa. He came in under a cloud of suspicion. How had number six been elevated to number one? Why were Nawaz and co so sure he would be their man?

To the suspicions was added a bit of aggravation. There had been an heir apparent. He was thought to have Raheel’s support and was a favourite of the troops.

He had the right credentials, the right reputation and the right approach. But he was wronged; humiliatingly superseded for no other reason than civilian cherry-picking.

And perhaps most of all for the unlucky Bajwa, he’s had to deal with the shadow of Raheel and the seemingly never-ending strength of his faction.

Still, nothing that could not be overcome. And nothing fundamentally different to what Kayani and Raheel had to endure.

The problem: the chief doesn’t seem to be overcoming his uncertain start.

There’s a political war out there, a foreign crisis brewing in Afghanistan and DC, and institutions under attack. That’s the kind of stuff out of which reputations are made.

Even better, all the events have been slow-moving and relatively easy to predict. Ten months in, it was set up rather nicely.

Chief becomes more assertive, a fawning public and braying media exhorts him to do more and then — the chief either decides to let democracy continue out of the goodness of his heart or goes in for the kill.

Except, this time no one seems to be cheering on the only chap who can pull the trigger. It’s as if no one wants the chief to become chief executive. It’s as if we still have a new chief; a fresher still finding his feet.

Something is off. And it may not be good for any of us.

The best-case scenario is a chief who is sure he can’t take over, whether he wants to or not. We’re clearly no longer in that terrain.

The next best thing is a chief who is sure he can take over, but doesn’t want to take over. If we were blessed, that’s where we’d be right now.

But in the realm of a chief who everyone thinks is too soft to take over and in any case don’t want him to take over?

We may be tempting the gods.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, October 8th, 2017



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