View Full Version : As the ‘tsunami’ weakens - Zafar Hilaly - 17th November 2012

17th November 2012, 12:11 PM
No one quite knows what to make of what Gen Kayani said the other day. Not even whether it was meant as advice or warning; and whether it was exclusively directed at the media and the judiciary; or he was also taking a swipe at the regime. But what we can say with certainty is that his words did not have a soldierly ring. He sounded like a politician. Moreover it seemed he was all charged up to say something but then thought better of it, and preferred we read his speech between the lines. Resultantly, confusion prevailed.

One critic felt he should not have spoken at all. In his view, the COAS would have been better off informing the defence ministry of his gripes. Of course, that’s ridiculous, considering that the COAS only reports to God.

If Kayani’s intention was to dispense some free and timely advice, he was being naive. Advice is seldom welcome and those who need it most like it the least. At best they will listen respectfully and then go away and do the exact opposite. That’s in essence what our anchors did and what the judges may do. As for the government, they appear relieved the military has someone else in their sights, for a change.

And if Kayani meant his words as a warning, they have fallen on deaf ears. No one is scared any longer. All he did was to get the judges riled up, and so too the media. The awam too were not impressed. However much Kayani may say he wants democracy to succeed and the law and constitution to prevail, no one really believes him. The army, after all, is a poor training ground for democracy.

I became aware of our irreconcilable civil-military antagonism when I was summoned by Benazir Bhutto and instructed by her to tell the then army chief that he should decline a speaking invitation because the subject of his talk-”Why democracy is important for Third World countries” – was not one on which an army chief should speak.

When I remonstrated, saying that surely that’s what any democratic government would like to hear from an army chief, Benazir shot back, “Such topics do not concern an army man whose job is exclusively to defend the borders of this country and not make speeches on political subjects.”

“But, surely, Prime Minister,” I persisted, “that’s in a normal country and not one with a record for military takeover’s such as ours. By supporting democracy will not the COAS be saying what you also so dearly believe?”

Benazir cut me off, adding sternly, “Do what I am telling you to do.”

I did and, not surprisingly, the army chief was nonplussed. I told him I was as surprised as he was and the only reason I could think of was that BB had a bee in her bonnet about the army sounding off on politics. That was only partly true because I don’t recall BB complaining when the army intervened against politicians on the other side of the political divide.

I left the COAS feeling a little sorry for him, considering that he had already accepted the invitation, which was an annual event.

I reported back on our conversation to BB, adding the COAS was mulling over her request. At which point, implying I had failed in my mission, BB summoned the then defence secretary, an accomplished and experienced civil servant, and charged him with the task. No sooner had she informed him what she wanted him to convey to the COAS, he replied, “Of course, I agree, absolutely, entirely, completely, totally...,” and that she should not worry because the matter would be resolved in a jiffy. I watched, mouth agape, considering that a second or so earlier, as I was ushering him in, he had asked me why he had been summoned at midnight and, when informed, nodded vigorously and seemed to agree with my view. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw BB looking at me, as if to say, “see, that’s how you should have reacted.”

While I have no idea what impact the episode had on the COAS, I do know that a while later the same COAS sat between me and the prime minister at an official lunch cheerfully making conversation even as the president, with the COAS’s support and backing, was signing the order dismissing BB’s government at midnight of the same day.

It’s a pity we have to go through this charade in different eras. The fact is the military does not have the right, but it certainly has the might to interfere and will exercise that might from time to time – notwithstanding tiresome soliloquies to the contrary from judges or politicians, especially if the government does not govern and if the military’s fighting abilities or morale is being adversely affected.

Anyway, all political questions are at bottom only questions of might, especially in our part of the world. Hence, to expect the military to merely sit on the fence as a disinterested party, but never get off as things go from bad to worse is being unrealistic.

The military is the most powerful political party in the country and a coalition partner of every government. They have the casting vote, and while most of us think that’s unfortunate, the populace do not, judging by their reactions every time the army has intervened. On those occasions, to say nothing of the awam, even opposition politicians are out distributing sweets. And this state of affairs will continue till we have a government that performs halfway decently in office, enjoys a modicum of public respect and is sensitive to the concerns of the military. While the current regime scores full marks on the last count, on the other two it scores zero.

Wailing about why we can’t be like India or Turkey is futile. The answer is simple. Had 60 percent of the Indian army comprised officers and men from five districts of one province of India they would have had a coup long ago. And even though the Indian army does not, Indira Gandhi was nevertheless able to (illegally) declare an emergency in the mid-seventies and rule by fiat. And she only relented to hold elections because she thought she would win.

As for Turkey, it is still basically touch and go there, notwithstanding the impressive economic performance of the current government and its popularity. The true test for Turkey will come when socio-economic indicators are headed south and the people are out on the streets demanding jobs and an end to corruption and the growing disparity between the rich and the poor. It’s then when the army’s regard for the constitution will be tested; and whether the people’s love of democracy is as strong in good times as it is in bad.

Frankly, Pakistan is really no place for legal or democracy purists. Dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s of laws; nitpicking about this or that word of the constitution and what is the right interpretation only interests lawyers. So, too, asking whether the powers that be are the powers that ought to be. Besides, to what end? We’ve tried both lots, the military and the politicians, and it’s a case of six of one and half-a-dozen of the other. And, there is more bad news: the tsunami is weakening and rather than huge waves a few ripples are what pundits say we can expect at best.