An uglier reality

Updated 21 Nov 2019


The writer is an author and historian.
The writer is an author and historian.

OCT 31 has come and gone. The deadline British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave for a decision on Brexit has been extended to a general election scheduled for Dec 12.

The date Prime Minister Narendra Modi set himself for a vote by the Indian parliament on the absorption of occupied Jammu & Kashmir into the Indian Union has come and gone. It is now a constitutional finality.

The gurdwara at Kartarpur, resurrected with such fanfare, has been relegated to an over-regulated piety.

The cross-country dharna precipitated by Maulana Fazlur Rehman and his ‘now you see them/now you don’t’ allies has melted into un-mourned obscurity.

The ailing former prime minister Nawaz Sharif had evaded all the traps laid by the present government and been spirited out (ECL notwithstanding) for treatment in a UK medical facility.

India’s absorption of held Kashmir is slipping down history’s pages.

That leaves prime minister Imran Khan mired in a morass of political insecurity. Had he been made to eat his own words, by now he would have been obese beyond recognition. His repeated U-turns have given the public vertigo. His cabinet is indefensibly over-populated, bulging with 48 members: 24 federal ministers, four ministers of state, five advisers and 15 special assistants. (Prime Minister Modi by comparison has a total of 58 ministers, including 25 cabinet ministers, nine ministers of state with independent charge, and 24 lesser ministers of state.)

Their exertions remind one of Pope John Paul I’s reply to someone who asked him how many people worked in the Vatican. “Oh, only half,” he replied. If a review was taken to ascertain how many of our cabinet ministers actually work, the answer might be even less than half, except for those voluble ones who talk on every subject except their own failures.

For Imran Khan, now that the Sharif golden goose has flown away without laying any golden eggs, the critical decision left is the extension of the army chief’s tenure. It is an invidious responsibility, as discovered by many of his predecessors — Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif, even Gen Pervez Musharraf. “There are too many examples of men,” the poet John Donne wrote in his Meditations (1624), “that have been their own executioners.”

It is no secret that Gen Bajwa’s current tenure ends on Nov 29 this year. Over two months ago, on Aug 19, it was announced that the prime minister had approved his extension. A notification signed off by the prime minister was issued to that effect. Since then, there has been unnecessary obfuscation as to whether the prime minster was the competent authority to approve the selection of the new COAS (he wasn’t), whether the more appropriate recommendation by the prime minister had been approved by the president (it has), and most importantly whether that appointment had been converted into a gazette notification (apparently not).

If Gen Bajwa is given an extension of three years, his tenure will extend until Nov 28, 2022. It is rumoured that his immediate subordinate Lt Gen Sarfraz Sattar will be promoted to the innocuous post of chief joint chiefs of staff. That will leave 19 generals who can look forward to retiring before Gen Bajwa completes his second term. The last six will leave by September 2022, two months before General Bajwa does.

One mentions all this as a matter of public record, shorn of interpretations. Civilians know better than to fish in khaki waters. Nevertheless, it would not be impertinent to recall that the justification for Gen Bajwa’s extension by the prime minister in his ill-advised letter was the precariousness of the “regional security environment”. That is a diplomatic euphemism for Afghanistan and India-occupied Kash­mir, and the nuclear threat from India.

Afghanistan is another country. Its citizenry have been deafened by decades of bombs and explosions. They cannot hear nor heed Pakistani arguments. India’s absorption of occupied Jammu & Kashmir is slipping down the pages of history into a footnote.

Of the areas that were once components of the original pre-1947 state of Jammu & Kashmir, Aksai-Chin is with China, Gilgit-Baltistan is ostensibly a self-governing entity, and the southern part that constitutes Azad Jammu & Kashmir is a self-administered fiction beholden to Pakistan. Its very constitution prohibits anyone from questioning “the ideology of the State’s accession to Pakistan”.

Pakistan demands a restoration of the status of India-occupied Jammu & Kashmir ante Oct 31. India retorts that talks will be held with us “only on Pakistan-occupied Kashmir”.

Meanwhile, should India be tempted to attack Azad Jammu & Kashmir, how would Pakistan’s forces defend AJK?

It is time the prime minister and his fellow narcissists stopped admiring their own reflections and admitted an uglier reality.

The writer is an author and historian.

Published in Dawn, November 21st, 2019