Wednesday July 24, 2024

Drums of victory

President Zardari made history - however small - on Monday by becoming the first Pakistani president

By Ahmed Quraishi
June 12, 2013
President Zardari made history - however small - on Monday by becoming the first Pakistani president to address a joint session of the National Assembly for the sixth time. Let’s hope he gets to address it for the seventh time - for the triumph of democracy of course.
While referring to the milestone, he inserted the word ‘civilian’ in the sentence ‘first elected president’, apparently to rub it in the face of the representatives of the armed forces present in the hall. But that was not the only poke. The president dedicated nearly the first half of his speech to beating the drums of victory of ‘civilian democrats’ over ‘military dictators’. He did not use these exact words but the message and the combination of words said as much.
The smooth transition to democracy since 2008 is a matter of satisfaction for Pakistanis. A second elected government has taken the reins of power. So, why did President Zardari feel the need to invoke civil-military relations at this point, casting them negatively, recalling old ghosts, and making the trial of a jailed former army chief a central point in his speech?
First, there is no need to make too much of the statements made by the de facto head of a political party that has suffered a historic electoral defeat. If Zardari was interested in real democracy, he should have resigned as the country’s president after voters rejected his party and government. If the PPP survives as a political party, it is thanks to powerful feudal interests and the immense financial resources at the party’s disposal. This tale is not about democracy but personal interests at the expense of the nation’s interests.
Second, it is important to remember that the repeated failure of democracy in Pakistan is not attributable only to military interventions as the famous fable goes. Civilian dictators are as much responsible for this as military ones. In fact, politicians are guilty of politicising the military and intelligence, of bad governance, and of practicing an ugly, divisive and violent form of politics. More importantly, they are guilty of never learning from their repeated mistakes. A similar list can be linked to military governments.
If anything, under the Zardari government, we saw repeated provocative actions designed to induce the military to intervene and afford ‘democrats’ such as Zardari a chance to play victim again. Such provocations ranged from astronomical corruption and mismanagement to repeated attempts to ‘contain’ Pakistan’s military at the behest of Zardari’s foreign friends.
Instead of declaring a questionable victory over our military, President Zardari could have included the institution in the list of those that deserve credit and praise for the success of democratic transition since 2008. He could have humbly acknowledged past mistakes by everyone, including politicians like him who have given a bad name to democracy, and pledged to strengthen governance by harnessing the power of all pillars of the state.
A strong and robust working relationship between our elected governments and the armed forces is important for the stability of the political system and for our national security. The military’s support for the democratic transition is one requirement to ensure this, and it has been amply demonstrated.
Another thing that can cement this support is for the elected government to sincerely work in close concert with the armed forces on addressing issues that impact our stability. The government should take a lead in creating multiple mechanisms to channel the military’s policy input. The Defence Committee of the Cabinet is too archaic. It needs to be bolstered by creating more channels.
An ideal scenario would be a constant flow of policy ideas, opinions and feedback between the government and its military and security departments. This can be done. It would integrate the government and the military and end a manufactured civil-military rift that threatens stability and provides openings to foreign meddling in our politics.