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December 21, 2016

What Nisar’s presser and black goats tell us


December 21, 2016

What do Justice Qazi Faez Isa’s seminal report on the Quetta carnage, the interior minister’s ‘combative’ presser, the Chitral crash, the burning to death of guests at the Regent Plaza hotel, the grounding of ATRs and then their un-grounding with the sacrifice of a black goat tell us ?

That the government needs to dig in its heels on many fronts – and urgently. The government needs to revamp and expand its list of priorities; there are endless governance issues beyond the two big-ticket items that have monopolised its attention radar. One of these items is the Panama leaks case, which will go down as a landmark case in Pakistan’s effort to decisively tackle white-collar crime and the second is the CPEC which is assembling a positive tectonic shift in Pakistan’s future.

The Sharif government’s proclivity for stone and mortar undertakings is serving the CPEC well but by contrast its lack of interest in the institutional approach to decision-making and its preference for loyalty over competence undermine the functioning of institutions. Such proclivity for loyalty over competence is present in the provincial governments as well, especially in Balochistan and Sindh. In the 21st century many government departments are like the hubs of 18th-century palace intrigues, where survival not performance is the priority.         

It is against this backdrop that the prime minister’s role becomes critical. Pakistan’s politicians have, until very recently, viewed the military as their key adversary. From security catastrophes, including the breakup of our homeland, to the birth of terrorism and the politics of ethnicity to the ongoing post-Bugti Baloch struggle, military rulers have rightly been held responsible.

But now the prime minister must answer some questions. What is the prime minister and his elected cabinet’s game plan for institutionalised decision-making, for opting for competence over nepotism, for allowing performance accountability; a plan that Minister Ahsan Iqbal had put in place in 2013?

Barring the Panama leaks worry, the prime minister must feel secure. The December changes in the army from the chief downwards can be seen as a positive for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Why? Because the elected prime minister exercised his constitutional authority to appoint a chief he concluded would be from the GHQ-provided list of eligibles, but would come with a clean slate with no involvement in any controversial issue that had emerged between the prime minister and the army’s top command. While Gen (r) Raheel Sharif stayed focus on the critical task of countering terrorism, there were several controversies that remained on the boil within the context of civil-military relations.

The new chief has had no major interface on Pakistan-India issues, and no role in the damaging disruption of the Iranian president’s visit by the unprecedented ISPR-tweet-triggered public squabble initiated by the GHQ over the contents of the Iranian president-army chief meeting to the Yemen policy. The new chief is, thus, someone the prime minister will feel comfortable with. And the new chief has an entirely new team of his own choosing positioned at all important positions.

With the prime minister heading this new power equation, how does the government plan to govern? Seek loyalty from the army command or assert constitutional authority – even as the Panama leaks issue continues and the PPP’s actual leader Asif Ali Zardari returns to add to the political pressures on the government – by turning to the institutions, ranging from parliament to autonomous regulatory bodies, and from public-sector corporations to his ministries for credible decision-making?

On the fate of former military ruler Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf, on the India policy, on the politics of Dr Tahirul Qadri and on the Dawn-leaks, the Nawaz government remain engaged in a tussle with the army command. While the elected prime minister had legitimate complaints of the army command over-stepping, he weakened his position by refusing to turn to institutional platforms to assert his constitutional authority. For example, with the multiple challenges that emanated from Delhi, the prime minister refrained from convening the National Security Committee to discuss the India policy. In fact for 18 months, the prime minister preferred to hold meetings outside of the NSC institutional framework.

No one seems to have convinced the prime minister of how the business of the state is run – not by one-on-one ‘gup-shup’, undermining institutions and countering intel chatter by the PM’s team chatter. Institutions in fact provide the best platform to credibly formulate policy and run the affairs of the state on merit and ensure that no institution crosses its constitutional mandate.

Similarly on the Dawn security leaks matter, the prime minister agreed to form an inquiry committee while opting to unfairly call for his information minister’s exit. The PM’s daughter tweeted on the matter keeping the issue alive, while the corps commanders issued a near threat to the elected government over the ‘leaks’. The elected government botched up when handling the leaks, vacillating between fear and antagonism.  

The latest illustration of how bad governance is, in this case on countering terrorism, is Justice Qazi Faez Isa’s report. The report, based on detailed interviews, document review and input by the interior minister, is a seminal study of the ineptness of the government and its inability to ensure that all links in the critical chain of counterterrorism function as required. The minister opted not to give a detailed reply to the questions asked and instead has nearly rubbished what he calls a one-sided report.

The judge is justified in raising questions about NAP, Nacta and engagement with banned organisations. Chaudhry Nisar, financially an honest minister, does not seem to have the proclivity or the stamina and focus to zero in on real issues consistently. His rage on political issues undermines his performance.

All the incompetence and ineptness is washed away by the ruling elite at the altar of the troika of fake religiosity, patriotism and fate; the Chitral plane crash was fated, the APS children sacrificed their lives. Those burnt to death in the Regent Plaza hotel because of no fire alarms too will be called shaheed. The actual triggers, the unholy troika of nepotism, corruption and hunger for power, are perpetually camouflaged by the ‘holy’ troika of patriotism, religiosity and fate.

The ball is in the court of the elected – on all matters, ranging from formulation, conduct and projection of policy. That includes the foreign, security, economic and social sectors.

Will elected governments rise to the occasion or will we end up with the scary thought that the business of the state proved too serious for our ruling elite? In the meanwhile, those seeking uniformed messiahs must remember that our history tells us that military rulers have been part of the problem, never the solution.


The writer is a senior journalist.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @nasimzehra



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