close
Advertisement
Can't connect right now! retry

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

March 14, 2015

Beyond error of judgement

Opinion

March 14, 2015

Retired general and former MNA Abdul Majeed Malik is in the limelight for his recently published autobiography. Malik was one of the generals who were superseded when Ziaul Haq was made chief of army staff in 1976. The following year Gen Zia toppled his benefactor, the then prime minister ZA Bhutto.
Speaking at the launch of the above-mentioned book the other day, a close aide of Bhutto maintained that had the late prime minister listened to him and appointed Lt-Gen (r) Malik as COAS, the country’s fate would have been different. The aide echoed a widespread view that sees a simple but fatal error of judgement in the appointment to one of the state’s most powerful offices as the principal cause behind such fateful an event as imposition of martial law.
In other words, while appointing Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Ziaul Haq or Pervez Musharraf as army chief, if the appointing authority (president or prime minister) had shown better judgement and promoted another general in each case to the powerful office, the applecart of democracy would not have been upset and manifestly Pakistan would not be where it is today.
Is the process of historical development so simple that an error of judgement can put it on a different track? Are the forces shaping the course of history so weak as to be swayed by the decisions of one person, no matter how important a position he may hold?
The answer to such questions depends on how one sees the relationship between man and history? Men, and women, by their choices make history; how the people holding the reins of a nation think and decide shape its destiny. So goes one view. The counterview is that these choices and decisions themselves are determined by the interplay of impersonal social forces: economic, political, cultural.
The spirit of the age, to borrow a famous phrase from the philosopher Hegel, working through individuals but independent of their volition may steer a people towards glory and regeneration or it

may drag them to decadence, degeneration and decline.
The man-history causal relationship is a perennial philosophical question. Without committing oneself to answering the question one way or the other, one can safely say that any analysis that ascribes the success or failure of states or nations to the competence or incompetence of one or a few persons, without taking into account the social forces at work, is shallow and superficial.
By the same token, any analytical account of military intervention in politics, if it is to be plausible, needs to consider the prevailing social milieu and the moment instead of attributing it to an error of judgement on the part of the decision-makers. The latter explanation implies that such crucial events could be averted merely by promoting the ‘right’ general to the office of the COAS: not an Ayub or Yahya but another general; not a Zia or Musharraf but someone else.
In point of fact, this is how the person in power thinks and selects a ‘loyal’, ‘less ambitious’ general for the office – often with disastrous consequences. As the country’s history bears out, the only effective bulwark against military intervention is strong and stable institutions backed by the people, who have high stakes in their preservation and growth.
Let’s apply this logic to the issue on hand, namely the imposition of military rule in Pakistan from time to time, which has followed a specific pattern.
While the ‘grave threats’ posed to national security by an ‘incompetent’ or ‘corrupt’ civilian leadership as claimed by the coup-makers may be more fiction than fact, it can’t be disputed that military intervention is generally preceded by considerable political instability or uncertainty. Even the fact that at times such a situation is largely engineered does not make it less volatile. In fact, this brings out institutional response to the situation.
Take the first countrywide martial law clamped in October 1958. Between 1950 and 1958 the country passed through severe political uncertainty and saw seven prime ministers. As a result of party instability, both exploited and prompted by the establishment, coalitions were formed and broken off and on. Meanwhile, to quote a former general, “a broad tactical outline to impose martial law in the country was being prepared” – which received the final approval of Gen Ayub on the last day of September 1958.
The end of the Ayub rule also did not owe to the ambition of his successor in the army house. It’s not that one fine morning Gen Yahya went to President Ayub and asked him to step down. Before Yahya could come out with such advice, Ayub had been enormously weakened by the Bhutto-led political movement that cashed in on the ‘flawed’ Pak-India Tashkent Agreement as well as the masses’ discontent with the regime’s policies, which had concentrated economic power in just a few hands.
Likewise, Gen Zia’s ouster of the civilian order on July 5, 1977 came about amid violent agitations by the opposition Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) in the wake of ‘heavily rigged’ elections. Well before the nation had gone to the polls, prime minister Bhutto had earned the antagonism of world powers for presiding over a fundamental shift in the country’s foreign policy as well as of the domestic business community for having nationalised key industries. To top it all, the establishment did not want democracy to take root and thus both engineered and exploited the volatile situation.
True, Nawaz Sharif’s ouster on October 12, 1999 was not preceded by a popular political movement. Yet developments over the preceding couple of years had made the end of the civilian rule highly probable. First, the prime minister drawing upon a heavy mandate fought with the president and the chief justice of Pakistan and forced both to go home.
Then he took on the powerful army chief and made him step down thus knocking out three of the four principal power players. The government’s attempts to normalise relations with India and the ensuing Kargil war drove a wide wedge between the civilians and the khakis. Probably, by that time the establishment had decided that enough was enough and that the premier must be shown the door. Only a catalyst was needed for the final act and that Sharif himself provided when he sacked another army chief.
Military intervention is usually welcomed, if not sought, by disgruntled politicians, who see in it the only opportunity to settle a score with the rulers. Recall how recently both Imran Khan and Dr Qadri were pinning their hopes on the army as they campaigned to send Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif packing. To top it all, there is little popular resentment to the ouster of a civilian setup; rather in the beginning, the change is welcomed by the people, to whom democracy failed to deliver the goods. The last nail in the coffin of civilian rule is fixed by the judiciary when it legitimises army intervention.
Alternative explanations of past events are at best speculative. We can’t go back in time and see whether the situation would be different if another general was appointed COAS. It’s easier to be wise after the event. But taking into account the social forces at work, military intervention would hardly have been forestalled.
The author is a graduate from a western European university. Email: [email protected]

Topstory minus plus

Opinion minus plus

Newspost minus plus

Editorial minus plus

National minus plus

World minus plus

Sports minus plus

Business minus plus

Karachi minus plus

Lahore minus plus

Islamabad minus plus

Peshawar minus plus