There are, in my view, two factors that, above all others, have shaped Pakistan's history. One is the growing power of the military in running the affairs of state. The other, without doubt, consists in the total failure of the politicians, the intelligentsia, the intellectuals, the civil servants--in fact, the entire civil society--to comprehend the threat posed by a powerful army to the country's fragile democracy, and to devise ways and means to thwart it.
"Military coups," Alexis de Tocqueville warned more than 200 years ago, "are always to be feared in democracies. They should be reckoned among the most threatening of the perils which face [democracies'] future existence. Statesmen must never relax their efforts to find a remedy for this evil."
Mr Jinnah was aware of the threat posed by the army. On the day of Pakistan's independence, Aug 14, 1947, Mr Jinnah, who had just become governor general, scolded one young Pakistani officer. The officer had complained that, "instead of giving us the opportunity to serve our country in positions where our natural talents and native genius could be used to the greatest advantage, important posts are being entrusted, as had been done in the past, to foreigners. British officers have been appointed to head the three fighting services, and a number of other foreigners are in key senior appointments. This was not our understanding of how Pakistan should be run."
Mr Jinnah was deliberate in his answer. He warned the officer concerned "not to forget that the armed forces are the servants of the people and you do not make national policy; it is we, the civilians, who decide these issues and it is your duty to carry out these tasks with which you are entrusted."
Months later, during his only visit to the Staff College in Quetta, he expressed his alarm at the casual attitude of "one or two very high-ranking officers." He warned the assembled officers that some of them were not aware of the implications of their oath to Pakistan and promptly read it out to them. And he added: "I should like you to study the constitution which is in force in Pakistan at present and understand its true constitutional and legal implications when you say that you will be faithful to the constitution. I want you to remember, and if you have time enough, you should study the Government of India Act (of 1935), as adapted for use in Pakistan, which is our present constitution, that the executive authority flows from the head of the Government of Pakistan, who is Governor General, and therefore any command that may come to you cannot come without the sanction of the executive head." The supreme irony of the event is that the Constitution of Pakistan was to be abrogated or suspended by some of the officers present in Mr Jinnah's audience.
Marx once said: "Neither a nation nor a woman is forgiven for an unguarded hour in which the first adventurer who comes along can sweep them off their feet and possess them." Oct 7, 1958, was our unguarded hour when democracy was expunged from the politics of Pakistan, with scarcely a protest. I was deputy commissioner of Dera Ismail Khan when I heard over the radio that martial law had been declared and civilian governments dismissed.
Ayub Khan was now chief martial law administrator. The military regime heralded a successful revolution and was promptly recognised as a "basic, law-creating fact" by the Supreme Court. It gave the lie to all that I had been taught. "There can be no martial law in peacetime," we were told. The country was not at war, and was not sliding into anarchy. There was no civil commotion in the country preventing the judges from going to courts--an essential precondition for the imposition of martial law in peacetime, according to A V Dicey.
A telephone call from the local colonel asking me to report to him along with my superintendent of police brought me down to earth with a thud. Reality hit me like a ton of bricks. The colonel rattled off a string of directives for compliance within 24 hours: all unlicensed arms to be surrendered; all hoarded stocks of wheat to be unearthed; all prices, including the price of gold, to be controlled. I got back to my office late in the evening in a much chastened mood. The days of civilian supremacy were over.
We lost East Pakistan in 1971 because Pakistan was ruled by a military dictator. It is idle to speculate with the benefit of hindsight. But the war with India, the defeat of the Pakistani army, the humiliating spectacle of its surrender in Dacca (Dhaka), the loss of half the country, the long incarceration of our soldiers in Indian captivity, might have been avoided if Pakistan were a democracy in 1971. The politicians, left to themselves, would have muddled through the crisis and struck a political bargain. But for military rule, the history of Pakistan might have been different.
It is axiomatic that the army has no political role in any democratic country, whatever its form of government. But, for historical reasons, it has acquired this role in Pakistan which now appears to be irreversible, at least in the foreseeable future. Isn't it tragic that when strain develops between the pillars of state, it is the army chief who is called upon to act as a referee? In India, this role is played by the president who is strictly neutral and commands great respect. When the country faces what is called "the deadlock of democracy," the president acts as a referee, avoids becoming a participant or a partisan in the political power game. He is like an emergency lamp. When power fails in Delhi, the emergency lamp comes into operation. When power is restored, the emergency lamp becomes dormant. In Pakistan, the role of the army is like that of a fire-brigade. It rushes to the site of fire, extinguishes the fire, but instead of getting back to the station, it lingers on, tarries too long, gets involved in the management and administration of the house, and ceases to be a fire brigade.
Isn't it a great tragedy that 63 years after independence, political sovereignty in Pakistan resides neither in the electorate, nor the parliament, nor the executive, nor the judiciary, nor even the Constitution which has superiority over all the institutions it creates. It resides, if it resides anywhere at all, where the coercive power resides. In practice, it is the "pouvoir occulte" which is the ultimate authority in the decision-making process.
Today Pakistan is neither led nor governed. Who has betrayed the people? In the minds of ordinary folks, of course, it is the rulers--elected or unelected, in uniform or otherwise--who have done the betraying. At times, I want to buy a hundred bullets, use 99 on the architects of our national tragedy--corrupt politicians, bureaucrats, generals, and judges of the superior courts--all those who stole the Pakistan dream--and save one for myself.
The writer is a former federal secretary. Email: [email protected]