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The pen and the sword

November 15, 2012

THE gloves were off. The pugilists entered the ring. The judiciary threw off its wig. The army tossed away its swagger stick. It promised to be a fight with bare knuckles. Instead, each used a microphone to deliver what it hoped would be a knockout blow. Not surprisingly, in the political circumstances, both contestants are still on their feet.

What the Chief of Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Kayani said on Nov 5 to a group of his military subordinates at GHQ was the one speech no Pakistan army chief ever intended to make. It was a veiled remonstrance against the judiciary, the army’s staunchest ally since the 1950s. One would have assumed that such remarks, made in camera before an internal audience of khakis, would have remained confidential. Instead, they were released deliberately to the press which invited what many saw as a riposte from the judiciary.

That came from an equally high level in the judiciary. Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s comments, released by the Supreme Court, had been made similarly in confidence before senior bureaucrats attending the National Management College Course, where, by tradition, all such speeches are deemed non-attributable. That is to encourage freedom of expression, the freedom a speaker expects even after the speech. That both the views of the army chief and the chief justice were released to the press was all the evidence many sections of the media needed of a growing schism between these powerful pillars of state.

Such differences are unusual. Throughout our history, the judiciary has been always forthcoming in its endorsement of any military takeover. It did not invent the concept of the doctrine of necessity (Oliver Cromwell marketed that), but it did perfect its use as a sort of magical cloak of invisibility that hid political realities from view.

The army in turn reciprocated by correcting the equilibrium whenever it felt necessary, as Gen Kayani was said to have done in March 2009 when he persuaded President Asif Zardari to restore Iftikhar Chaudhry to the chief justiceship.

Gen Kayani’s statement emphasised the importance of ‘trust between the leaders and the led in the armed forces’. His view is unarguable. But surely that applies to every organisation, whether military or civil or social. The army is not only about discipline. Its bedrock is more than discipline. It is obedience. No order can be disobeyed with impunity. The British demonstrated this brutally in the 19th century when they shot Sikh soldiers tied to the mouth of a cannon. Such a swiftly executed example was worth a thousand Orders of the Day.

Both discipline and obedience are required to coexist in every aspect of civilised society anywhere in the world, human or animal. Without it, there would be lawlessness and anarchy, the sort of anarchy that we see every day in Pakistan — at traffic lights, in the streets, at airports, in public departments, in government offices, within ministries, within parliament. Everywhere.

Ought we to blame the Quaid for neglecting to include the word ‘obedience’ as a fourth in his trinity of ‘unity, faith, and discipline’? We should forgive him that one mistake, especially since he has cause to forgive us so many.

The speeches made by the army chief and the chief justice appeared on the front pages of the dailies. A week later, those pages became wrappers for samosas. What endured was the reality of the state and the efficacy of its supporting pillars — the parliament, the judiciary, the establishment, the armed forces and the presidency.

US President Barack Obama, now re-elected for a second term, must be asking his aides for an update on Pakistan, the country he visited as a student and one that in his first campaign in 2007-08, he threatened to invade if we did not ‘take out’ Osama bin Laden ourselves. While our mustachioed walruses snorted and dithered between acknowledgment and denial of Osama’s presence in Pakistani territory, Obama sent in his Navy SEALs to do our job.

The State Department brief on Pakistan wending its way to the presidential desk will undoubtedly cover the sterility of parliament which, during its present term, has approved only 10 bills in the last year of which one was a compulsory finance bill. It will discuss the electoral pattern that is likely to emerge after the next elections — a coalition of PPP, PML-Q and MQM at the centre, with provincial parties dominating their respective fiefdoms. The PML-N will be allowed to keep Punjab or what remains of it after truncation.

The brief will describe the efforts of the Supreme Court to remind Pakistanis of their constitutional responsibilities and its well-meaning endeavours to clean the Augean stables after the horses have fled.

It will touch upon the once-all powerful bureaucracy that today a former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani still yearns to control from the sidelines, like Lady Thatcher planned to do after being ousted from power.

And it will second-guess what Pakistan’s policy towards Afghanistan will be after the US withdrawal in 2014, during the term of the next parliament.

What the briefing paper will not be able to contain is a synopsis of the election manifestos of the political parties. Those must be the best kept secrets in Pakistan, unlike the combustible speeches made interestingly on Guy Fawkes’ Day by the two chiefs.

The writer is an author.