Perils inherent in hybrids

19 Jul 2020


The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

THE utterly unfounded rumours, for what else could they be called, about an in-house change in Islamabad and the unfolding of some minus-one formula, have finally been laid to rest in the majestic Himalayas.

The photo opportunity this week was designed as a public demonstration of support by the military to Prime Minister Imran Khan as he went to the site of the planned Diamer-Basha dam and unveiled a plaque embedded in a black marble slab or tiles of at least a couple of square metres.

The ceremony appeared to be an inauguration of sorts but the plaque, which the cameras zoomed in on with gusto, itself was rather honest about what the occasion was marking. It said the prime minister was there to “survey the construction works” on the dam.

In marked contrast to the simple words on the plaque, the more important and significant message was the one delivered by the presence of the army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and the ISI DG Lt-Gen Faiz Hameed.

This seemingly scripted message was designed to serve another purpose.

The body language of the towering, uniformed figure of Gen Bajwa and the shorter, greying at the temples, man in civvies besides him, his right-hand and intel boss, was unmistakable. Even their masks couldn’t hide their smiles, as their eyes were shining with pride and adoration.

This public display of support and affection came at a ceremony to mark the day the prime minister ‘surveyed the construction works’ at the dam site, normally a bit of a non-event, if you ask me. No more than a damp squib. But demonstrably there was more to it.

In my humble, and admittedly often humbled, opinion, this seemingly scripted message was designed to serve another purpose and it was clear if that was not enough to dampen, in fact kill, once and for all, the change rumours nothing else would. And I think it did.

In any case, past experience tells us that such rumours are aimed less at effecting a change and more to be used as leverage by different centres of real and perceived power in the country when one finds the other ‘not open to reason’ — in short, part of an ongoing cat-and-mouse game.

And then suddenly they end up in the rubbish bin when the purpose that led to their birth in the first place needs to be served no further. I could have said more had I had the insights of some of our top journalists in the capital who have their ears to the ground and are plugged into the power games.

Whenever these suggestions/rumours first appear they seem to quickly acquire a life of their own and soon start being repeated as assertions of fact. Ergo, it is not always easy to take a step back and take a measured, possibly philosophical, look at things, as you get rapidly sucked in by the vortex.

That I see as driven less by anything other than the demands of 24x7 TV news channels and their talk shows, which are anchored by (reportedly) very well-paid, well-turned-out men and women, but where the content tells you how next to nothing is allocated for research, exclusive journalism.

So, a ‘threadbare’ dissection, mostly uninformed, on the latest flavour of the rumour to yet another controversy keeps them in business and many of us on the edge of our seats in often, let’s-play-along feigned excitement (let’s be honest, we have nothing better to do, it seems).

Nonetheless more informed Islamabad commentators are able to take a step back and deconstruct the ‘hybrid regime’ that has been created, following the ouster and banishing from power of a civilian set-up that had clearly found its feet and was asserting itself and its constitutional authority.

Yes, a set-up that was beginning to deliver on the economy and macro-planning, looking ahead at the same time as daily firefighting that governance must be in a resource-starved Pakistan where institutions have taken a battering because of the overreach of some institutions for decades.

But its assertion of its right to call the shots was found unacceptable and it met the fate of many governments of brave men and women who thought empowered by the Constitution and the rule of law they could do as they had been mandated to by the people.

What that set-up was replaced by was supposed to not only comprise honest, upright, compassionate, incorruptible leaders who, simultaneous with being gifted with such virtues, were also supposed to have the competence to deliver in the face of myriad challenges the country faces.

A bare 23 months down the line, many of those mythical virtues, with the exception of pliability, have proven to have come off a wish list compiled by a naïve dreamer or someone so blinded by an agenda they would not see reality for what it was; woods for the trees.

Now reality is manifesting itself in the NCOC to battle Covid-19 and NLOC to shoot down swarms of locusts headed by serving three-star generals, assisted by a bevy of others including a two star.

Even CPEC has now been handed over to, yes, another three-star, retired this time, as the planning ministry was said to be struggling with the onerous undertaking that our rulers describe as a lifeline to Pakistan.

As my good friend Ejaz Haider so eloquently pointed out in his latest, thoughtful and measured piece in The Friday Times, our armed forces, like their counterparts across the world, are trained to do something else and not this.

Let’s hope these multiple efforts as they support a faltering structure do not act as such a major distraction that they lose sight of the primary rationale for their existence. That is something we definitely can’t afford in a fast-changing and often hostile regional environment.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

Published in Dawn, July 19th, 2020