Wednesday April 24, 2024

Autocratic rulers

By Shireen M Mazari
March 30, 2017

The Hussain Haqqani article admitting to his issuing unlimited visas to US Special Ops, CIA and all manner of black ops personnel without going through the normal channels of security clearances has only made public what many of us had been asserting during the tenure of the previous government.

Of course, Haqqani insists he had the clearance of the president and prime minister and, according to him, all was going well in terms of giving the US open and unlimited access to Pakistan until the military intervened. Interestingly, documents that have ‘surfaced’ since show how the Foreign Office had also sought some control over these visas by issuing a list of CIA agents who should not be issued visas but clearly that warning was not heeded by Washington’s mole heading the Pakistan embassy in Washington DC! Nor, I suspect, is he the only or the last US mole to have infiltrated our decision-making circles at any given time.

The Haqqani article also reveals a consistent pattern or style of decision-making in Pakistan that has always had damaging consequences for the country: an autocratic style of governance not just by military dictators but also by our civilian dispensations that come to power under the guise of democracy. Parliament has effectively been rendered powerless except when the rulers choose to seek parliamentary consensus to safeguard themselves, or when the constitution compels the rulers to seek parliamentary sanction.

The previous government’s continuance of Musharraf’s open-ended access to the US, with parliament being kept out of the loop totally, led to many incidents – from the Raymond Davis fiasco to the OBL end game – with multiple drone attacks and their ‘collateral’ damage adding to the fissures in our tribal areas. While Haqqani and co were busy seeking to undermine state institutions by playing on the civil-military divide – at a time when the Indo-US relationship had added a vital nuclear component to it – standard operating procedures (SOPs) of governance and parliamentary democratic norms with built-in safeguards, checks and balances were effectively dispensed with. Only when Salala happened did the state realise the value of parliament and governance SOPs.

However, that was a short-lived interlude and then it was back to business as usual. Haqqani bemoans how the military caused his dismissal but he has no regrets for the damage he did to the country by flooding it with US operatives from the CIA to Blackwater (or DynCorp or whatever names these black ops personnel used). There is also the question of whether he was removed by the civilian leadership because he had become a burden for them or by the military for which he has a psychotic dislike.

The issue for us today remains the continuance of a personalised, autocratic form of decision-making that has become even more pronounced with the present government. Parliament with its system of checks and balances and accountability has effectively been dispensed with except where absolutely necessary as in the passage of the budget or in undertaking constitutional amendments. Where parliament’s support is sort in the form of resolutions, this support is dispensed with at the first opportunity.

So it has been in the case of the Yemen war where parliament clearly stated its opposition to any form of involvement by Pakistan’s military in this conflict with its heavy sectarian underpinnings. Yet, given the close association of the House of Sharif with the House of Saud, this parliamentary resolution was sidelined one step at a time. First, the government decided to join a Saudi-led military alliance in the midst of the Yemen war; ostensibly to fight terrorism, but effectively, given the components of the alliance, as a counterweight to Iran – something the US had also been seeking in the region from its Arab allies.

No parliamentary consensus was sought on whether Pakistan should join this alliance. Second, parliament was not even informed when Pakistani troops were stationed on the KSA-Yemen border. Then the nation discovered that General Raheel Sharif on retirement was offered the job of heading the Saudi-led military coalition. Now we learn that the government has given a formal NOC too. All this at a time when the Saudi-led war in Yemen has become embroiled in controversy and chaos with civilians being increasingly targeted and with no clear end in sight.

The UN has condemned the manner in which the war is targeting civilians, especially children. Now the Trump Administration has given out that it is seeking an end to restrictions to the US involvement in this war. Clearly, we have also seen overtures being made covertly between Israel and the Arab monarchies. The Yemen war has a wider strategic dimension, especially with the advent of the Trump Administration and its vitriol against Iran.

In the midst of this chaos, the Sharif government has given General Sharif an NOC to head the Saudi-led military alliance. General Sharif is no ordinary private citizen but an ex-COAS; so, he represents the Pakistan Army, which is a part of the Pakistani state. We have a parliamentary democracy in name at least which means parliament is supreme in temporal matters of the state. We have a parliamentary resolution that clearly states Pakistan should maintain neutrality in the Yemen conflict. This means that the government is directly contradicting this resolution by giving General Sharif the NOC. Even if there had been no parliamentary resolution, Pakistan could not afford to get involved in any intra-Muslim states’ power games, especially those with sectarian overtones.

However, this is just one example of the rulers’ autocratic style where parliament is at best ignored. Major policy decisions on the economic and security fronts are being taken arbitrarily with parliament not even being informed. Nor is it just parliament being ignored. Rules and procedures are bypassed or altered to suit the demands of the rulers with civilian bureaucrats’ survival dependent upon fulfilling the personal whims and diktat of the rulers rather than the interests of the state and nation.

The rulers have not only bypassed all SOPs of governance and parliamentary accountability, they have also, through their incompetence, created areas of policy vacuum which are being filled by the military – the case of military courts being one stark example of the civilian government’s abject failure in implementing the National Action Plan. These incursions into the vacuum by the military have then been used by the rulers to continue nurturing the ‘civil-military divide’ theory, which plays well with external actors like the US. The ‘Dawn leaks’ is merely one such example.

We have no idea how many of the Haqqani-sanctioned US clandestine operatives are still in Pakistan and when questions are asked in parliament, no satisfactory reply has been forthcoming. Be it a military dictator or a civilian democratic leadership, the style of rule remains autocratic and whimsically subservient to external interests rather than responsive to the needs of the people. The issue is not Yemen or visas for US operatives or Dawn leaks or military courts: these are symptoms of the disease of authoritarianism that afflicts our rulers with monarchical pretensions.


The writer is DG SSII and a PTI MNA. The views expressed are her own.