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April 26, 2018
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And so the drama goes on

Opinion

April 26, 2018

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If you are looking for a healing agent to sooth the ruptures of a fragmented society, the media is a wrong place to begin at. Pakistani society’s burden lies in its numerous schisms, which have only multiplied in the last two decades and the most popular refrain is to pin it on the Musharraf coup which derailed democracy from its smooth amble into being a cohesive nation. Pun intended. Ask separately any blooded democrat worth his salt and he will vouch that if there ever was a danger to the political aspirations of the informed parts of society in 1999, it was Nawaz Sharif on his way to getting himself declared ameer-ul-momineen.

That in no way condones what Musharraf did, as it in no way should place the entire burden of our political and societal misfortunes on democratic displacement. Societal and political incoherence is the aggregated consequence of how we have been as a society, state and a polity. So all stakeholders have had their say in what we have become. The last decade – one of democratic rule in whatever little qualification you may wish to apply to it – signifies the continuation of a pipe-dream called democracy which has instituted only one or the other divide in the continuing saga.

Political polarity aside, which has only gained a pervasive eminence in the last five years or so, what has perennially sustained is the civil-military divide – now institutionalised. If it has also meant keeping an eye off the ball on all other matters it hasn’t been of obvious concern. For example, the gradual erosion of institutional functioning, degrading them to a point of shell existence only, has weakened the democratic system; yet, that has missed notice. Similarly, how badly the governing organs – the bureaucracy and the police – were compromised has meant that there was no protection to the common man from elite or state excess. Similarly, the economy has only been an expedient facilitation of elite interests thus losing its centrality to the needs of a common man. Thus have grown two economies, one run by the state for elites, which finds recognition in the year’s budgetary process, and the other, undocumented, unregulated, left to the whims of the black market. The dissonance thus has been deliberately seeded as well as nourished giving rise to the phenomenon of the rulers and commoners.

But tune into a TV channel and you are sure to count only one of the following three issues being discussed: whether the military will enforce another martial law for a weak grouse of a corrupt polity; whether the PTI, or the PPP too these days, has the nod from the powers that be – we are just so full of contrived euphemisms feigning fear for naming the military yet breathing its name with every word that we speak, in venom – and, whether the CJ of the Supreme Court and all other courts of the country are in fact fronts for the military’s interventionist proclivity to blight the politicians as corrupt and inept, instead perpetuating its own not so indirect hold over power.

For a moment, consider: the military has been tending to two active borders at all times for the last decade-and-a-half and has been fighting operation after operation in its sole war against terror and militancy while others in the responsibility chain fiddle; it has sacrificed a record number of men and officers in all ranks in this with the highest ratio ever of officers-to-men killed in an armed conflict; it stands out as the only example in recent history of fighting terrorism where a state has come on top of this menace, and this has included such powerful protagonists as the US military which has failed to overcome the resilient Taliban over the last seventeen years now; it takes on the flex and burden of governance wherever the political governments are found wanting, sometimes going far beyond their mandate, in repairing ruptures which would otherwise harm national interest if let to remain – IK’s dharna and the Faizabad sit-in are two telling examples; and, it repeatedly acknowledges civilian supremacy and its own subordination to it as a proof of its commitment to continuation of the democratic order.

The military has declared numerous times that it would like to see democracy lead the nation exceptionally well, yet the same military, the detractors portend, is in cahoots with others to upstage politicians who symbolise democracy. Many in the media invoke the past to insinuate the army as a repeat offender, casting national unity asunder by reinforcing divisions.

This goes on in the name of vary narrow and self-serving democratic idealism which broadly translates into abusing the nation’s military in today’s highly polarised political culture. In TV discussions we watch elderly liberals huff and haw on the issue of national interest and whether the army alone is the agency to define one – their formulation. While the currency these days is to have retired military men in the mix, the aim is for the others and the anchorperson to jointly crucify him in the name of liberal social order. Read: an open anti-military binge. And so the drama plays on in the name of speculative analysis.

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