Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


Thick muck

Published Dec 23, 2011 11:06am


Your Name:

Recipient Email:

"The truth is, even if this is the most incompetent civilian set-up, it was elected and has the right to stand in another election and ask the electorate to judge them."– File Photo

The parameters and paranoia of the bygone Cold War just refuses to evaporate from the psyche of Pakistan’s military-establishment. That war might have folded with the folding up of the Soviet Union in 1991, but it seems Pakistan’s military-establishment is still largely stuck (albeit willingly) in the thick muck that this war threw up in this region in the 1980s.

One can understand why. This establishment and its ‘natural allies,’ such as the religious parties, the more militant expressions of political Islam and some upwardly mobile conservative outfits have for years ignored a number factors that facilitated the anti-Soviet forces to defeat the former communist empire on the battlefields of Afghanistan, sticking instead to a narrative that puts the Pakistani establishment and its allies at the center of the universe that undid the power of the Soviets.

Of course, all the major reasons behind the Soviets’ defeat - such as massive American financial and military aid to Pakistan and to the anti-Soviet Islamist groups, as well as the Soviet Union’s own rapidly disintegrating economic system - are conveniently bypassed and thus, one can still hear former military men, ex-ISI chiefs and members of various Islamic parties claiming how it was ‘jihad’ alone that decimated a superpower.

With almost all the wars that it fought with India going in the favour of the enemy, one can understand the need within the military-establishment to hold onto the many myths of the ‘Afghan jihad.’

A ‘jihad’ in which this establishment and its religious allies get goose bumps from a projected memory: i.e. of them being the brave figurative heroes on horsebacks vanquishing the forces of ‘kufar’ (infidelity) instead of merely being the well-paid intermediaries and suppliers between Ronald Regan’s anti-Soviet neo-conservatives, the American CIA and Afghan Islamist guerrillas.

It is these ‘memories’, constructed from some genuine exhibition of gallantry of the Afghan guerrillas, but filtering out the cynical fattening and baseness that the Pakistani military-establishment enjoyed from US handouts and support during the ‘jihad,’ that the military wants to jealously guard.

Haunted by its defeats at the hands of the Indians and the humiliation that followed, it found itself bestowed by a new-found prestige and political and economic enrichment during the ‘Afghan jihad’ and the Ziaul Haq dictatorship; a fact and piece of luck the military-establishment was now willing to protect at any cost.

In this it feared civilian set-ups the most. It still does. Announcing itself as the most competent and natural guardians of ‘national interest’, it continued to place its artillery on the Indo-Pak borders, but after the ‘Afghan jihad,’ it became more-than-interested in what takes place in Afghanistan as well.

But, of course, the economic and political perks and privileges that it now enjoyed within the country, also saw it being equally busy keeping an eye on civilian political set-ups that might threaten these perks.

Topping the establishment’s list in this respect was Benazir Bhutto and her Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). To the military the PPP was a remnant of ‘civilian authoritarianism’ that could (through the populist vote) begin to undermine the military’s post-Zia upsurge and economic interests. By the 1980s these economic interests had also become strategically and ideologically tied to those of the industrialists and the traders (especially in the Punjab).

So there is no surprise in the fact that the establishment decided to construct a right-wing anti-PPP alliance of conservative parties (led by an industrialist-turned-politician), Nawaz Shaif, and religious parties, many of whom had been the military’s partners in the US-Saudi-funded ‘Afghan jihad.’ These too had benefited handsomely from all the dollars, riyals and weapons that had poured in during the war.

Just before Benazir’s first government was left packing – for ‘corruption,’ but more so for undermining the military’s self-imposed and galvanized role as sole foreign and defense policy experts and guardians of ‘national interest’ – intelligence agencies, industrialists and sections of the press had gotten together to help fund the publishing of a series of press ads in national dailies against the ‘corruption’ of the PPP regime.

But then the establishment committed a mistake that it is yet to learn from, proving that it might fancy itself as being a clever political institution as well, but, really, its understanding of populist politics is as astute as that of a drawing-room ‘strategist’s.’

Buy facilitating Nawaz Sharif’s pro-military and pro-business (thus ‘pro-Islam’) Islami Jamhoori Itehad (IJI) come to power, the military-establishment did not (and still can’t) grasp the fact that once a leader and a party starts engaging with the politics of votes and populist fanfare, he or she is bound to attempt to create constituencies through policies that, in spite of being even slightly ‘pro-peoples’ or ‘awami’, are likely to go against the economic interests of a rich military.

Of course, that’s a very ‘corrupt’ thing to do. Not that civilian regimes have been clean, far from it; but what goes missing in the great debate about corruption in Pakistan is the fact that corruption had been institutionalized not during civilian set-ups, but mostly during military dictatorships.

One glance across economist Mehboobul Haq’s report about the ’22 richest families’ during the Ayub dictatorship (in the 1960s), or Ayesha Siddqua’s ‘Military Inc.’ (2006) or even the racy ‘Waiting for Allah’ by Chistina Lamb (1988), can easily confirm that as military dictatorships championed cleansing social and cultural ills and turn Pakistan into a military powerhouse and ‘bastion of Islam,’ the trade-off in this context has always been the institutionalization of corruption within the armed forces, as well as among those willing to support dictatorships, and eventually across almost all sections of the society.

Every time a civilian government has had to come in after a long military dictatorship, it has had to confront and address a long legacy of corruption, a severely dented political system and the resultant cynical, amoral social currents left behind the military regimes.

Then there is the media, parts of which have always happily compromised with the benefits that come along by toeing the establishmentarian line that associates the establishment’s narrative of ‘honor’, ‘faith’ and ‘national interest’ (i.e. political influence, empty sloganeering and meddling in the ways of civilian regimes) with ‘stability,’ ‘economic growth’ and ‘middle-class interests.’

The establishment’s gambit to put their own man in the shape of Nawaz Sharif as the leader of an elected parliament had to backfire. The backbone of Sharif’s power (in electoral politics) was bound to become the electorate, the same men and women on the streets that the military does not trust but is willing to instill in them an awe-struck passion and love for the armed forces.

This is a dichotomy the military just can’t seem to break free from. With a baggage and legacy of corruption and the issuance of draconian policies and laws of military dictatorships, the military-establishment sounds rather contradictory when exhibiting concern over a civilian government’s economic and political performance.

But perhaps grudgingly willing to concede the fact that an all-out military take-over is no more an option (perhaps the only post-Cold War reality it is aware of), the establishment has gone on to repeat the Ayub Khan formula of creating the military-establishment’s own civilian expressions by propping up parties.

Muslim League (Convention) during Ayub; Pakistan National Alliance (PNA), an alliance funded by industrialists but many of whose members were co-opted by the Zia dictatorship; Pakistan Muslim League formed by Zia; the IJI, formed by the ISI and remnants of the Zia era; the Pakistan Muslim League (Q), formed by General Parvez Musharraf; and now, most likely the propping up of Imran Khan’s Pakistan Thereek-i-Insaaf and a possible new ‘Islamic’ front in the shape of a revamped MMA.

But the Nawaz Sharif example in this context suggests that if Khan’s party is able to get an impressive electoral response (especially in the Punjab), Imran too is more likely to take the same populist route as did Sharif. Where will that leave those who are clearly propping him up?

Such are the dynamics of electoral politics, especially in a country with a vast ethnic and sectarian diversity. And such are the dynamics detested by the military-establishment that has continued to treat this diversity as something of a threat to national interest (and thus demonizing it with the help of an artificial ideological singularity and concept of nationalism).

Also, or thus, it has simply refused to come to terms with the fact that only a continuation of democracy is the only way to stop this diversity turning into a violent ethnic and sectarian monstrosity – a monstrosity that actually rears its head during military dictatorships and when a civilian regime is constantly harassed by the establishment to toe its monolithic, myopic lines at the expense of letting democracy flourish by handing this diversity by giving it the rights that it deserves.


Now we come to what has been happening between the current PPP regime and the establishment, rather President Zardari and the military-establishment. In a previous piece I had lamented that how just like Z A. Bhutto, and Benazir Bhutto, Zardari, as head of state and of his party, is perhaps the most overt addressee of the military-establishment’s dogmatic postures and arrogant whims.

Simply because he finally wanted to put to rest the establishment’s long-held perception of the PPP being a parasitic anti-establishment party always out to destabilise the nice little picture of ‘stability’, ‘strategic balance’ and ideological robustness the establishment has build for us ignorant civilians.

Nevertheless, as can be seen by the fast eroding pragmatic partnership between the military and Zardari’s almost four-year-old government, and the way both the new and old scions of Punjab’s power politics have been buzzing around a rather media-conscious judiciary that seems to be only eating, sleeping and breathing Zardari, one can safely suggest the attempts of yet another Sindhi leader to please the establishment has come to a naught. Reason? Corruption, of course. And ‘undermining the judiciary’ and possibly selling out ‘national interest and honour’ (to the Americans).

I’ve already talked in length about the corruption aspect that gets a tad overtly put on civilian regimes, but, really, the undermining of judiciary accusation is like saying one was trying to shrug off a bluebottle hell bent on sticking to a single leg in a sea of thousands of legs.

And if this regime is selling out national honour to the Americans, then I wonder what were military regimes under Ayub, Zia and Musharraf selling (to the Americans)?

The truth is, even if this is the most incompetent civilian set-up, it was elected and has the right to stand in another election and ask the electorate to judge them.

The day state institutions and the military stop becoming the judge and jury of civilian regimes and consequently of those who voted them in (and can vote them out), is when we will be able to claim that yes, democracy certainly has arrived in Pakistan.

Otherwise, Pakistan will continue being stuck in a vicious cycle and a whirlpool. This is the consequence of a self-righteous and contradictory display of cleanliness among its uniformed and judicial ‘saviors’ who, in spite of the continuous failure of the singular and myopic concept of nationalism and elitist morality, have gone on to impose it over and over again, even if it has triggered military humiliation on battlefields, the crashing of the Two-Nation Theory, ethnic and sectarian bloodshed and terror evoked in the good name of the Lord.

The establishment should be careful. Very careful, for Sindh has the seeds to become another tragedy like Balochistan. Calls for honor and action taken to defend national interest should be doing quite the opposite, instead of leaving province after province to violently shrug off the sense of humiliation they feel in the undemocratic and mischievous ways such calls and action are imposed by the military-establishment and their allies.

The writer is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and

*outside image illustration by Abro

Comments (27) Closed

Arif Q Dec 23, 2011 05:54pm
Noose is tightening around Zardari/PPP and this time once again it will be his favorite, the judiciary who will send him packing. I agree with NFP, we run the risk of alienating Sindh, but then again when did we learn our lesson!
Amjad Wyne Dec 23, 2011 06:01pm
The current round, if I understand correctly, was initiated by the civilian governmnet. It was to get the US control the Pakistan Army - now who would accept that.
N.G. Krishnan Dec 23, 2011 07:01pm
Nadeem, lay people like me are grateful for your crystal clear analysis of the grave issue of elected representative vis-à-vis military. Your approach to the complex issue is educative, deeply thoughtful and breath taking. Thanks you very much.
MAHMOOD MALIK Dec 23, 2011 09:10pm
It is very good analysis. The rot was started by Ayub Khan and the journey down the road was completed by Zia ul Haq. Now they are talking about memogate, What about Shabaz Sharif's meeting with high official in Washington in 1999 with request to stop pak military from takeover
Muhammad Dec 23, 2011 09:22pm
"But then the establishment committed a mistake that it is yet to learn from, proving that it might fancy itself as being a clever political institution as well, but, really, its understanding of populist politics is as astute as that of a drawing-room ‘strategist’s.’" This coming from a man who until six months ago used to claim that Imran Khan can not win a single election seat, including his own without a tacit understanding with Messers Nawaz Sharif or Zardari! The elephant in the room not mentioned by Mr. Paracha is that power abhors a vacuum and Pakistan will continue to see military establishment interfere in the workings of the civilian administration until and unless our politicians learn to handle their own affairs and start delivering results like a certain Mr. Erdogan who has managed to bring the military establishment in his country to heel!
Mohammad A Dar Dec 23, 2011 10:04pm
Constitution is statement of sovereignty and to defend sovereignty is domain of every citizen of Pakistan, not just the institutions. Every one is answerable to constitution including President, Prime minister and parliment, to certify compliance by all institutions and citizens is domain of Judiciary. Any one claiming otherwise is subject to questioning and consequences.
tim Dec 24, 2011 12:47am
NFP its high time you stop your pro zardari campaign. it is his fault to ask a foreign govt to rein in our army. Zardari thought haqqani's sacrifice as a pawn would save him but he's grossly mistaken. step out of this spell man!
Naveed Dec 24, 2011 02:35am
Once again an excellent analysis of the current political turmoil in Pakistan. Unfortunately we never learned from our mistakes and will continue to trot along the paths which no sane nation will do. I don’t know, why we as a nation, are always looking for shot cuts. How many military savours and pseudo-intellectual do we need to protect our nation and national interest? How many elected Govts do we need to scarify to protect national interest. The most hollow claim our military has so for made is the one on memogate.
farhan Dec 24, 2011 05:47am
I don't care about Zardari type democracy. If this is democracy, than I guess Taliban are better. NFP, playing Sindh card by you is empty rhetoric. Zardari is hated in sindh more than Punjab
Iqbal Khan Dec 24, 2011 07:57am
True that the Zardari government is corrupt and inept. The army had seized power before (by Ayub, Zia, and Musharraf). Has the army done a better job? If the answer is yes, it would have been in power right now. Instead the army has been thrown out of power by popular risings each time it seized power. Why is that?
elham Dec 24, 2011 02:02pm
Very thoughtful and daring article. Alas! all of the people of Pakistan could read and understand this article. The revolution will start by educating the people and that is only possible by increasing the budget spent on education and cut on Military budget.
Imtiaz Dec 24, 2011 05:59pm
An excellent reality article by NFP, which is usual.
Afaq Dec 24, 2011 07:01pm
Let the system of parliament work. Unnecessary interference bring things back to square one. Let the democratic system filter ill of the system and the bad politician. If you want to get it right use power of your vote in next election. Unless they who are in power do out of national interest. Military should stay completely out of this they are one of the institution which should be reporting to the Parliament not other way around. In Turkey we see they able to do that after long struggle.
alp Dec 24, 2011 07:06pm
Sindhis for PPP and Mohajirs for MQM always - for ever - all of them. Only Punjab has multiple voices, PPP, PML(N) and PTI. Who has democratic attitudes then?
Ahmet Dec 24, 2011 07:15pm
Another of NFP's deeply biased and one sided analyses. I donno how Dawn lets him keep writing.
Musthaq Ahmed Dec 24, 2011 07:34pm
Dear Nadeem, You went dialectical sir ! And consciously too ! I wish we had one like you in India.
Ghani Khan Dec 24, 2011 08:04pm
NFP - PPP with Zardari as head, does not need enemies from outside, the party is destroying itself from within.Playing Sindh card is is no longer option.
kausik Dec 25, 2011 01:54am
excellent analysis by NFP on contemporay politics and origin of foreign funding during cold war days and present paralysis of civilian govt.
Syed Dec 25, 2011 07:14am
I guess international conspiracy is being hatched to creat conflict between weak civil, Judiciary and strong military establishment. Foriegn power Uncle Sam playing dirty games trying to weaken the strongest Pak Army & ISI institution and finally to to control it with the help of so called democratic civil government. Pakistan Army needs to keep their eyes open and beaware of the dirty games going on.
Asifa Dawood Dec 25, 2011 10:05am
NFP - the past is debatable but mostly I tend t o agree with your analysis of the past i.e., the negative role in the past that the army/ ISI has played in the pakistan politics. However, in the present scenario of the memo gate scandal, the army/ISI's role has been very positive, democratic and most of all constitutional. The PPP, care of Asif Zaradari, role has been very negative, undemocratic and most of all unconstitutional.
Vinay Dec 25, 2011 10:49am
Bravo NFP,another excellent piece. The only thing which motivates me to get up early on Sunday morning is your post at stay in India so cannot buy Dawn)and as someone already said we would have loved to have someone like you in India:)
mlang Dec 26, 2011 03:01am
great article and an eye opener. They don't wanne let Zardari or any really political leader rule. And is there any real leader or party other than PPP..
Pakistani Dec 26, 2011 07:02pm
Why has the economy always performed better under the military? People keep talking about reducing the military budget for heavens sake focus on growing the GDP to increase the budget. National mind set has to change, fault lies with those not paying their share of tax . How can there be investments in education, healthcare and infrastructure when hardly anyone pays tax. That is why there is taxation on the consumption and things are getting out of reach. Pay your taxes country will get better.
Zubair Younas Dec 26, 2011 07:32pm
Great article... Things missing were ... Zulifqar Bhutto and Zardari couldn't have ever made it to power without the concent of establishment. Problems in Sindh and Balochistan are not due to the lack of democracy but its because of the slavery pevaling in those areas by the land lords. Establishment has done little to dilute it in a proper manner.
Ali Abbas Jan 01, 2012 09:30pm
I am not sure what statistics you are looking at? There is no clear evidence that economy has done better under martial law. Have you forgotten economies under Zia And Musharraf. They had no scrutiny from military, SC or media and billions of dollars in aid from US and Saudis which was never accounted for and they always left economies in shambles. Yes it true that state of the economy is discovered under elected govts.
Ali Abbas Jan 01, 2012 09:35pm
Not correct. , Military and establishment only reluctantly let PPP to come to power. They usually had no options, firstly they want to deflect attention from themselves and secondly they continue to undermine their govts when they are in power. I wouldn't call these people coming to power with establishments consent but despite their efforts.
Ali abbas Jan 01, 2012 09:47pm
You assertion is laughable that ISI and military are playing a positive role during memo gate scandal. Even a bling person can see that the whole scandal is ISI created. This is to be expected of ISI but they way SC is handling this is appauling. You do not see this happening anywhere in the world. Previously jurists have indirectly supported nondemo ratic and military establishments but current supreme court is actively destroying current de,ocratically elected govt. now they are even threatening to drag ministers to court who has dared to speak against their unlawful acts. What ever happened to freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is only applicable against current govt with right wing media spewing venoms against PPP and other parties but god forbid we criticize military, ISI or courts. What a joke. SC role in all this is completely disgusting. Unelected judges should never be allowed to conspire against elected people. Only people power should change govt if they want to. Having said that I am not surprises by t he actions of our courts, this is exactly what they have done throughout pakistans history ie provide legal cover for all illegal activities.