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April 6, 2016

Reality check


April 6, 2016

It is all very well to talk about the civil-military divide in Pakistan. Yes, the divide is there. Yes, it has always been there. Yes, the army exercises control over the national security policy. Yes, military dictators have played havoc with Pakistan’s political landscape.

Yes, the military establishment and its intelligence agencies have fed and nurtured proxies to further anti-India objectives. Yes, it can still communicate with the Afghan Taliban and has so far refrained from dismantling certain anti-India groups. Yes, the military has its own operational, political and economic interests in guarding its institutional power.

Let us suspend disbelief willingly and suppose that by some miracle today the army decides to follow the limits on its power in letter and spirit. It genuinely becomes subservient to the provincial and federal governments and does not move to take on the enemy but instead waits for Nawaz Sharif and his cabinet and the likes of Qaim Ali Shah to endorse military action against terrorists. What will happen?

Rewind to 2013-2014 and recall the foot-dragging strategy of the PML-N in full bloom, focusing on cultivating a dialogue with the TTP that continued to bomb and kill even as it pretended to talk. Drones were blamed and Hakimullah Mehsud was touted as a martyr by our very own democratically elected politicians.

The PML-N was never in control, never had a Plan-B. All their appeasement did was to allow the militants to regroup and finally launch the Karachi airport attack.

We can love the military or hate it but the fact is that the ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azb is a great deal better than political dithering and inaction. Yes, this operation, like any other military operation, will have its unfortunate list of collateral damage and cases of abuse of power. Yes, the final solution to the problem is political and not military.

That said, just imagine for a minute if the operation had not been launched – as in during General Kayani’s long tenure – what would have happened?

The militants would still be making a mockery of the state assets by carrying out large-scale attacks every other week. We would still be listening to pro-Taliban politicians and media anchors extolling the virtues of Hakimullah Mehsud and Waliur Rehman, the ‘good Talib’ who apparently believed in murder for peaceful purposes.

We would still be subjected to the TTP spokesman’s side of the story after each horrendous bombing. Democracy in full swing! (And no, I am under no illusion; Kayani and Pasha had their share in perpetuating the good Taliban narrative.)

Above all, we would still be confronted with the ever-increasing possibility of an obscurantist Pakistani state with no chance of any kind of democracy, controlled or otherwise.

Rewind again and recall what was happening in Karachi before the Rangers’ operation. Yes, it would have been perfect had the provincial government and the military leadership been on the hackneyed same page. But the reality is that the PPP-run provincial government is little more than the handmaiden of Asif Ali Zardari. Ask ordinary shop-keepers and rickshaw-wallahs if they care that some stability has been restored to Karachi in a non-democratic manner.?

Let us not be deluded. We are in a state of war – literature festivals, fashion shows and booming telecommunication and media industries, notwithstanding. Let not the unconventional nature of the conflict lull us into a false sense of security. We are all at risk of losing our life or limb or, worse, our near and dear ones. Any one of us can be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Or the violent ones can find us and kill us in our cars and homes if we dare to challenge them with our words or beliefs. No one is safe from the enemy; be it the TTP and its factions, shadowy intelligence characters or the drug mafia or the born-again Muslim.

The reality is that our country has become a hotbed of sheer injustice emanating from diverse quarters. In their common quest for personal and political power different networks are ready to indulge in divisive and violent politics.

Can the civilian leadership control the situation? Can they, for example, overhaul Pakistan’s educational system to ensure that after some years a new generation of thinking, tolerant individuals is ready to provide the counter-narrative to terrorism – individuals who suffer neither from intolerance of the madressah nor the superiority complex of the elite?

Can they fundamentally change textbooks to make it easier for our future generations to accept diversity, think critically and own up to the collective mistakes of their fathers so as to enable them to look at the world as it is and not through the lens of distorted history and engineered ideology?

Are they ready to depoliticise the police? Improve the criminal justice system? Do they have the political will to upset their vote banks? Can they take on the militants by transcending their petty parochial self-interests? The reality is that the more they fail to challenge the status quo the more they empower the terrorist.

Living abroad at the moment, the news of the Lahore bombing forced me to stay up all night. I felt demoralised. The concern that my son remains safe since he daily commutes close to D-Chowk added to my distress.

Did the prime minister’s address mollify me? Did it give me courage and revive my belief that all is not lost? Did I feel comfortable in the knowledge that my children will be safe?

At the end of the day, what gave me hope again was not political rhetoric but military action in Punjab despite Nawaz Sharif.

Yes, democracy must flourish. And yes, civil-military relations must tilt in favour of elected leaders. Yes, all institutions, including the military, must function within their constitutional parameters. But democracy begins at home.

Democracy will become free from the clutches of non-democratic forces the day the majority of those occupying parliament are tax-payers who abhor ill-gotten wealth; the day political actors throw away the yoke of feudal and business interests and begin to democratise their own parties to bring up leaders who really care about Pakistan and its hapless millions; the day political leaders will be elected on merit and not as a result of money-based dynastic politics.

The reality of the ordinary people of Pakistan has to do with the most basic human need – survival. We want to live and want to see our children grow and prosper, safe from the onslaught of the militant. If controlled democracy can do the deed – however imperfect – then so be it.

The day political reality changes and the will of elected civilian leadership to protect Pakistan and its citizens becomes manifest, that day the public will itself tell the uniformed elite, in no uncertain terms, to mind their own business and stop meddling in politics.

Until then, thank God for Raheel Sharif!

The writer is an academic, currently affiliated with Meliksah University, Turkey.

Email: [email protected]


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