24 May 2024 06:22 PM


Humayun Gauhar | 21 DECEMBER, 2015

Pakistan Army: Of Rotten Eggs and Looting Hens

Having fun!!

I wished to continue with international terrorism and give you David Livingstone’s view of it, but what to do with growing talk that “Pakistan is running out of time so the army must act now to stop its terminal decline”? The heat was ratcheted up by the army’s press release after the last corps commanders’ meeting that while the army was implementing its part of the National Action Plan against terrorism, governments were dragging their feet, implying that they are incompetent, have bad intent, still harbour sympathies for terrorists and are trying to cause failure of the army’s cleansing efforts because it has also started targeting economic terrorism incrementally, putting politicians in danger. Most frightening for them is that the army operation might soon move to the Punjab, putting the Sharif family with its many skeletons on the skids leaving them stranded in the deep without a paddle.

Frankly, if the politicians knew that they have never been corrupt they would welcome it instead of quaking. But then there are cases against the Sharifs that would sink them, like the Asghar Khan case and the mass murder of 14 innocents in Lahore, enough to put Nawaz Sharif and henchmen behind bars for a long time, unless General Raheel Sharif is as softhearted as General Pervez Musharraf. With these two cases alone the Sharifs and their party don’t have a leg to stand on. Its perversely funny considering that many piously say that fast bowler Aamir should never represent Pakistan cricket again because he did ‘spot’ fixing yet they have a self-confessed money launderer as their federal finance minister without a blush – the former has paid his dues to society, the latter has not. One could see the Sindh government trying to put an end to the paramilitary Rangers operation in Karachi but the federal government supported the army (did it have a choice?) so their remit was extended. They can delay the inevitable but they cannot stop it, for then natural and divine laws take over.

There is talk of not just martial law but “martial law plus”, whatever ‘plus’ means. Hopefully it doesn’t imply putting corrupt rulers and their henchmen to the sword, for instead of solving problems killing creates future problems by turning thieves and murderers into martyrs. We distribute the title ‘shaheed’ with great abandon for we don’t understand its meaning. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is a shaheed for he was wrongly executed after an embarrassingly gross miscarriage of justice; so too his daughter Benazir who was killed while striving for her cause by a terrorist gangster backed by powerful foreign terrorist gangsters to put Pakistan into disarray – killing two birds with one stone as it were.

My preference, based on the experience of four military/army governments, the first three of which operated under martial law, is that unless you have the correct solutions it is better to let the political evolutionary process continue unhindered so that all corrupt rulers, politicians and their parties die their own political deaths and shrink like the PPP has done after a full term in office where it had full opportunity to demonstrate its corruption and incompetence. They were as much an embarrassment as this government is, going neck to neck in the embarrassment stakes. In the process our decrepit political system should hopefully die its natural death too. Doing away with them unnaturally only prolongs their life and delays natural demise, as happened with the PPP after the execution of Mr. Bhutto and Benazir’s assassination. Without the first Benazir could never have come to power. Without the second the very idea of Asif Zardari becoming president would have been laughable.

But what to do with our economic decline and the huge debt we have accumulated in the last seven years of sham democracy that is hurtling Pakistan down the abyss? It’s all very well to live and let live but not at the cost of allowing the country to die because then you die too. So ‘live and let live’ are not applicable any longer but ‘Save Pakistan and be Saved’ is. Even though the army is sworn to save the country and not usurping-by-rigging ‘elected’ governments, mutilated alien systems and illegitimate constitutions at the cost of losing the country, experience tells us that it is not the only institution that can save Pakistan. General Yahya Khan presided over the disintegration of Pakistan while trying to ‘save’ it.

The question remains: how to save the country? Isn’t it high time that the Supreme Court, having harmed Pakistan’s political process so much, played its part to save Pakistan with the army’s backing? It’s better placed to do so. In fact, it is their duty since careerist-opportunistic judges have also wholeheartedly participated in taking Pakistan to the brink.

Intervention is easy but what to do the day after is very difficult. The same standard operating procedure of accountability, denting and painting followed by elections with the same dirty politicians has been tried and failed abysmally because accountability always falters at the altar of political expediency with generals losing their way after acquiring a taste for near unfettered power, the pomp and panoply that comes with it and due to their social relationships. Their better performance than the politicians is easy when you start from zero, but it persuades them that it is necessary to remain in power to put the country into irreversible permanent forward gear, forgetting that there is no such thing as ‘permanent’ except God. Thus, inevitably, generals try and form their own political party comprising some old opportunistic politicians. But because the army doesn’t know politics, crafty politicians run circles around them, often aided and abetted by foreign powers who would rather have pliant and obedient rulers over Pakistan, ratings seeking media and some elements in the army and judiciary who have been coopted, so simplistic generals who think they are oh so clever fall flat on their faces and the country goes back behind square one. One step forward, two steps back.

Most generals think that they know more than the “bloody civilians”. They certainly do in warfare, but not much else. They confuse discipline with knowledge and expertise in everything whereas discipline is only discipline so they unthinkingly become bulls in china shops. The worst damage that cleverer by half army governments do is lay rotten eggs that hatch into looting-fighter cocks and hens that grow into ‘leaders’ and ‘politicians’ who have plundered the country dry and taken it to ruin. For its part, the army also gets corrupted with prolonged, unquestioned power. Thankfully, Musharraf didn’t or wouldn’t lay rotten eggs but purchased his bad eggs from K-Mart.

It bears reasserting that while Pakistan’s economic performance was certainly much better under army rulers than under politicians, it was easy considering how bad political performance was. The difficult part that the army couldn’t do was to build institutions and structures of good governance to maintain and continue good performance. In seven short years of political government after Musharraf our total debt has more than tripled, our GDP has hit rock bottom and foreign direct investment has come down from over US$ 7 billion to a trickle while imports have increased and exports have stagnated. There are no jobs to be had for love of money and the energy shortfall is worse than ever. With no light at the end of our dark tunnel, what can one say? It was all lost at the altar of ignorance generated political expediency, self-aggrandizement, leading to the ‘easy’ policy of living off deficit financing instead of adoption of the obvious commonsense principle of living within one’s means. It’s a national malaise – bigger than this, taller on that. For generals to try and become politicians is as unnatural as Nawaz Sharif becoming corps commander, Raza Rabbani a fighter pilot and Imran Khan a submarine commander. That is our perpetual tragedy: politicians trying to become dictators and dictators trying to become politicians and both failing miserably.

With this history before us, how can we celebrate the possibility of the army taking charge a fifth time, not unless they know exactly what they are doing, not without a good young team implementing a doable and sensible plan cast according to Pakistan’s needs, its history and culture, that takes into account the frustrations and aspirations of our people and how to deal with all the domestic and foreign pressures, many not well-meaning, that will come to bear with a vengeance? The plan must be flexible without losing its core, direction and destination and should not take more than five years to implement with as little force and as much humanity as possible.

The army has three plans that I can think of. Plan A is being implemented already, but it is not going well. It is a hybrid system, child of an army father and political mother, a two-wheeled tandem bicycle, with the army the front wheel lead rider trying to provide power and direction, an elected government the back wheel rider that the world accepts as legitimate because it is ‘elected’ after a fashion.

The problem is that while the front army wheel is going in the right direction, its speed is slower than people would like because the back civilian wheel is awry, wobbling and often going in different directions. The tandem bicycle has become five-wheeled: parliament and judiciary the third and fourth riders, media the fifth with the American policeman showing the way, all with their own objectives and agendas. It’s not good for a country to live in uncertainty for so long. No wonder the bicycle is going all over the place. While parliament is riddled with bozos, the judiciary is saddled with wanting judges applying outdated and bad laws and the less said about national and international media and America’s grand designs the better.

Plan B would involve replacing the civilian wheel of elected politicians with specialists, not technocrats, who have a finger on the pulse of Allah in a self-proclaimed Islamic Republic and His vicegerents the people, not just on the pulse of the Army and America. ‘Technocrats’ are only technicians, not specialist designers. We have experienced technocrats before, who are good at tuning, denting and painting and little else. Designers have to redesign Pakistan, revamp its judiciary by cleansing it of questionably restored judges and empower it with up to date laws, bring in a competent and constitutionally protected bureaucracy, a modern unified curriculum, self-reliance in the economy, politics based on elected local governments, and human welfare the central purpose of the State’s existence.

Plan C is for Nawaz Sharif to save himself by following what my friend Fakir Ayaz calls the ‘Second Law of Machiavelli’: “Never back a loser; get behind a winner.” Ayaz would have Nawaz Sharif bid goodbye to Asif Zardari and start backing General Raheel Sharif. If the general were to intervene any further what better than a regular politician at the fore providing legitimacy in the world’s eyes. Nawaz Sharif should himself become that politician provided that he is ready to put selfishness and revenge aside and disband his mafia. He should remember he comes from Kashmir, not Sicily where vendetta is the norm. And he will retain some pomp and power.

I have a Plan D: ‘The Jesus Option’. This plan is to take all the sins of Pakistanis on your shoulders General Sahib, like Jesus did, by forgiving them, wiping their slate clean and telling them to take Mr. Jinnah’s Social Contract in his speech of August 11, 1947 out of the trashcan, throw the Objectives Resolution into the trash instead, and then implement it faithfully. Set up a ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ where the emphasis is on reconciliation. Those who admit to their crimes should be forgiven provided they return a significant part of their loot and promise never to participate in politics or seek public office ever again. Then move on with a better amended constitution and better systems. We will then hopefully stop living in our sad past and become children of the future. I fear most of you won’t like Plan D, for the baying of the crowd to quench its insatiable bloodlust would have Caesar put down his thumb, but it is worth a thought before you reject it out of hand. That’s what statesmanship is all about – leading the mob, not being led by it.