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Reality check
- Friday, November 25, 2011 - From Print Edition

It came as no surprise. After the heat and dust generated by the memo controversy, Husain Haqqani had to go. Survival is the name of the game in the tough world of politics. President Zardari needed to put some distance between himself and the alleged author of the memo.

But will the matter rest here? Not if Nawaz Sharif has his way. The three separate petitions filed in the Supreme Court are not to further punish Haqqani. The target is Zardari. The hope being that in the process of the investigation something will emerge to implicate him.

I am not a lawyer, but these petitions appear to be legally curious. What are the petitioners seeking? Is it a decision or an investigation? The court can proceed under the “violation of human rights” provision of the Constitution (Article 184/3), but can it become an investigation agency?

Whatever the legalese, the political scene is heating up. Another thing that seems strange is the speculation about another military intervention. Where is this coming from? Granted that the military is unhappy about the memo business and it has conveyed its displeasure in no uncertain terms to the government. But, is this enough of a reason for a takeover?

These theories ignore a number of factors. The army chief. Gen Kayani, has been with us for four years. We now have some knowledge of his style. He likes to push his national security concerns quietly or, to use a recently popularised term in connection with Obama, lead from behind. A totally different personality from Musharraf, Kayani is not into adventures. There is little likelihood of a military intervention on his watch.

Secondly, this military is acutely cognisant of both international dynamics and domestic attitudes. It would not want Pakistan’s adversaries abroad to demonise the country further by painting it as a military dictatorship. This charge, in a fraught international environment post-Libya, is dangerous and can be used as an excuse for intervention. Why would our national security team put the country at risk?

On the domestic front too, a number of factors have reduced the possibility of any precipitate action by the military. The media, by and large, hates this government and is incensed in general by the rampant corruption in the country. But, having said that, would it put up with any unconstitutional act?

On the political front too, the situation is very different from 1999. If our memory is not short; Musharraf’s takeover was welcomed by most parties, including the PPP. Not far behind was the so-called civil society that in large numbers lined up to help him. This is not going to happen again.

The political parties may squabble like crazy among themselves and heap scorn and abuse on each other, but they will get together against any unconstitutional act. The civil society organisations also are unlikely to back any military intervention. The lawyers’ movement against Musharraf and Zardari are just one example of where they stand.

On the judicial front too, the situation has changed markedly since 1999. This judiciary is in no mood to tolerate an unconstitutional act. It was curious that the chief justice chose to emphasise this during his visit to the National Defence University before a largely military audience. It tells us what the mood is.

Another factor that is often ignored is the attitudes of the emerging middle class and intelligentsia. Without mincing words, let us say that this slice of our population was a silent supporter of the military because it did not like the politicians and, in fact, felt excluded from the political process. When it felt disgusted with the shenanigans of the politicians and the mess that had been created in the country, it often looked towards the military to sort things out.

This too has changed. The emergence of Imran Khan as a viable contender for national leadership has given hope to this class within the democratic process. (For full disclosure, it is important to add that I have recently joined the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf.) But this should not detract from the argument.

In mature democracies people fed up with a government look forward to the next election to get rid of it. The problem here has been different. There was a tendency in the intelligentsia to be fed up with all political parties and, since there was a history of military interventions, look towards it to bring about a change.

This is no longer the case. In the shape of Imran, there is now hope for this particular segment of people within the political system. It is too early to tell whether his appeal has spread to the rural areas or to the poor, though indications are that it has, but he has certainly energised the middle classes and the intelligentsia. This has made him another bulwark against a possible military takeover.

In sum, whichever way one looks at it, the environment is hardly favourable for any impulsive action by the military even if it had any such desire. And, as stated earlier, there is no indication that it has under Gen Kayani. Thus, the kite flying about military rule may have given the media something to play with but it has little reality.

I do agree, though, with Mohammad Malick, as he wrote in his column recently, that after the memogate affair, the military would have greater ability to exercise clout over the government. This may not strictly conform to democratic norms but, as I have been saying for sometime, where so much is bad, this power or influence should be exercised for the good.

Most of our state-owned enterprises are going down because of corruption and incompetent management. If Gen Kayani can use his influence to save these national assets, what is wrong with that? This could be done by his prevailing upon the leadership to get rid of their cronies and stop the plunder. As it is, if something is not done soon, these institutions will be dead. We need this intervention.

We have all the important ingredients of democracy but lack the institutions to enforce rule of law effectively. This has led to corruption and bad governance. The superior judiciary is playing a very positive role, but it is stymied by political control over police, Nab and other instruments of the state. If the military, through its influence can push towards better governance, it should be welcomed.

In the end, let me say that there could not have been a better choice to replace Haqqani as ambassador to the US than Sherry Rehman. It is a wonder that our great government does occasionally choose the right people. She is articulate, cultured and fully immersed in the nuances of foreign policy. In fairness, she should have been foreign minister, and this is said without prejudice to Hina Khar. But if that was not to be, she is the best person to be our representative in the United States.

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