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The tale of civilian survival


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SOMETHING astonishing has just occurred in Pakistan, in case you missed it: nothing.

The army was poised to engineer the ouster of yet another civilian government, the plot was in an advanced state of execution and yet, somehow, incredibly, unbelievably, the political government is still with us, crowing about calling elections on its own terms.

In the inscrutable world of politics here, the non-coup — soft, hard, fluffy, whatever — seems to have come down to the choices of two men: Gen K and YRG.

Let’s start with Gen K. From most angles, the chief appears to have suffered another defeat. He upped the ante and came away empty-handed. That is not supposed to be the fate of army chiefs.

Three extraordinary public interventions on memogate — the Supreme Court statement and two ISPR ripostes — meant the chief had staked his reputation on getting a result. In this game, at this level, win and you win big; lose and your defeat hangs heavy, an embarrassment known to one and all.The more difficult question: why did Gen K lose this round? Part of the answer is YRG, but we’ll get to that in a bit. The other part appears to be the general himself.

For those with a pathological hatred of all things uniformed, the general’s reversal is barely comeuppance for an institution that is genetically programmed to refuse to share.

Arguably, no civilian government had given as much to the army as this PPP government has: pay raises, budget demands, foreign and national-security policies, extensions. And when the government had a chance to go for the jugular, after May 2 or PNS Mehran, it stood back and allowed the army to recover.

And yet this government found itself under withering attack. The army just doesn’t like to share, goes this theory. There’s a merciful corollary, though: the generals aren’t very bright. Failing to recognise that Pakistan had changed, that gone are the days a few tanks and a handful of soldiers were enough to take over, the generals used an old playbook.

They thought that if they roared, the civilians would scurry away and the army could rejig the system to suit its needs. Instead, like in a cartoon of yore, the lion roared, the ground shook, the leaves quivered but the mouse standing in front of the lion stared into its maw unruffled. And when the roar ended, the mouse poked the lion in the eye.

Vaulting ambition but not very bright — that’s one explanation for why the army tried and failed to get the government.

Another, less popular theory, is that Gen K is walking a tightrope. His commanders have been furious, demanding that a corrupt and incompetent government be sorted out and that Gen K do whatever it takes. But Gen K knows the unholy mess the army would be wading into: if it were that easy to fix Pakistan, someone would have done it by now. And maybe, just maybe, the general understands that it isn’t the business of the army to fix Pakistan.

The problem, though, according to this theory, is that Gen K’s commanders mock him privately, suggesting his hesitancy has everything to do with being a compromised chief who took an extension and has to return the favour. So when the commanders push hard, as they have in recent months, particularly over memogate, Gen K has to try and placate them.

But, in a tale of many, many twists, Gen K’s options were limited by his attempt to steer clear of the mud pit of politics during his tenure as chief. Folks like the MQM and the PML-Q have been kept at arm’s length, which meant that when it came to unravelling the government, the old dominos didn’t fall like they once would have.

So which is it: is Gen K the general who tried and failed or the general who didn’t really want to succeed? The answer, as with so much else, depends on what you feel about the army.

But there was another player, an unexpected protagonist: the prime minister.

Perhaps the army camp was so focused on AZ and breaking him, they didn’t anticipate a counter-attack from YRG. Here, after all, was a man derided for much of his tenure as a second-fiddle weakling content to pad the family nest and protect his base in Multan.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Whatever acts of defiance Gilani was known for before, nothing comes close to staring down an army high command looking to strike. The potential costs were obvious — see how Husain Haqqani has suffered — and the benefits nebulous at best — who has fought and won against the army before? And since YRG wasn’t known for being especially close to AZ, it made little sense to put himself in the line of fire when everyone knew the real target was AZ.

But Gilani’s stunning defiance opened an unexpected front with the army, one they didn’t appear prepared for. The PM did make one mistake, which allowed the army to push back a bit: the claim that the army and ISI chiefs had acted ‘unconstitutionally and illegally’ appears to have been prompted by Gilani’s limited understanding of proper procedure. Other than that, when the army roared, Gilani roared back louder, causing consternation and confusion in the opposing camp.

So, between the general who didn’t do what was expected of him and the prime minister who did what wasn’t expected of him, appears to lie the tale of civilian survival against army machinations.

There may yet be another round and the old order could find itself restored still. But savour for now the unexpected, if not near-miraculous. Pakistan doesn’t often produce pleasant surprises.

The writer is a member of staff.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (19) Closed

Aly Balagamwala (@Di Jan 29, 2012 02:32pm
Cyril, you never cease to amaze me! Thank you for that great sum up of the Lion & the Mouse.... :)
Atis Jan 29, 2012 03:31pm
Wonderfully explained
arbtep Jan 29, 2012 03:33pm
We want martial law, we are with our Army no matter what. Shame on this Zardari regime. total filth it is.
javaid Khan Jan 29, 2012 04:32pm
This is a brilliant analysis. It is written with great courage and honesty. Javaid
Javed Mir Jan 29, 2012 05:07pm
Cyril Almeida relevant as usual. Civilian government be given ample opportunity to prove their worth
bg Jan 29, 2012 05:23pm
this article is one of the very few good articles written in pakistani newspapers! keep it up! and keep writing with complete honesty.
Hammad Jan 29, 2012 05:23pm
Good. Great. Awesome work! Go civilians!
Avtar Jan 29, 2012 05:29pm
Cyril well done. It is another piece of your interesting analysis of Pakistani politics. I always look forward to reading your next column.
Mani Jan 29, 2012 05:30pm
who are YRG and AZ? if anyone knows....
Muthu,India Jan 29, 2012 06:42pm
Yousuf Raza Gilani, the honourable prime minister of pakistan is YRZ and Asif Zardari, the honourable president is AZ.
Amjad Wyne Jan 29, 2012 07:10pm
"One roared and the other roared back" is not what should have happened if indeed that is what happened. The government was not elected for roaring around. It was elected to do some good for the people and all it has done - roar, take it back, then roar louder and then take it back. It almost appears that the government has spent all its time roaring against the rest.
M Iqbal Jan 29, 2012 07:47pm
If there is one thing I admire about YRG it is that he does not waste his time in futile and petty confrontations. He gives the impression of being very approachable and compromising. Therefore when he decides to confront, the opponents know that they must have crossed the red lines. And that immediately gives the PM an upper hand. IK and the other politicians need to learn a lesson from him.
NeilT (Bangalore) Jan 29, 2012 08:18pm
You miss the point, buddy. The army shouldn't have roared. Stop blaming the govt for roaring back.
Zee Zed Jan 29, 2012 08:45pm
Hey Cyril. You're different Different from a lot of others in your field. you know how? you are a Journialist with a capital J. Keep it up!
Tauheed Ahmed Jan 29, 2012 09:26pm
Agreed. Pakistan will Inshallah finally find its way out of the woods once the generals realize they are no longer able to act like the inheritors of the British Raj.
ZJ Jan 29, 2012 09:35pm
Amazingly written. Gen K's incompetency exposed
Jolly From Canada Jan 29, 2012 11:29pm
Being an Indo-Canadian, I have been reading Dawn for a long time. Columnists like Irfan, Kamal and Cyril are great, fearless anfd objective writers who will do any Newspaper proud. And Cyril's this writeup is the best I have read for a long time! Keep up your good work, Cyril!
Mukhtar Ahmad Jan 30, 2012 01:05pm
Brilliant piece and analysis.
Adnan Jan 31, 2012 01:40am
Great Article Cyril. My Regards to you sir. Keep up the good work!!