LATE last summer, with the PTI protest at its peak and anything possible, an N-Leaguer wondered aloud, how do you save democracy in a country where no one other than the government seems interested in saving it?

The problem with the question was obvious. A few weeks later, after several self-inflicted wounds by the PML-N, the N-Leaguer corrected himself, how do you save democracy in a country when no one seems interested in saving it? How do you save democracy in a country where no one is a democrat?

The answer was, and is, obvious. The response to Peshawar has confirmed that. More interesting is to understand how it works and try and figure out where it is all leading.

Why would a civilian government manifestly undermine itself, civilians and democratic structures in response to Peshawar?
Why does surrender come so easy to the civilians? Why would a civilian government manifestly undermine itself, civilians and democratic structures in response to Peshawar?

The easy answer is that the army is a bully. The boys are stronger. They’ve got guns, they’ve got the ISI and they know everyone’s secrets. So, when the boys speak, people listen. There’s no need for them to pound tables or knock heads together. If they want military courts, military courts are what they’ll get.

Much of that is true. But it doesn’t fully explain the internal predominance. For that you have to look at the approach too. Essentially, the civilians are about the individual, the boys about the institution.

The legislative arena epitomises the difference. The boys can’t legislate themselves and yet they manage to get their preferred legislation done better and more efficiently than the civilians. Hence all this Protection of Pakistan ugliness and Article 245 silliness and, now, military courts horror show. How?

Because they do their homework. Because they’ve thought through the possible objections and deflections and they come prepared. And because, where necessary, they are prepared to be patient.

They also work as a team. With the JAG branch, ISI analysts and military leadership on one side, the little talent in the law ministry and parliament never really stands a chance.

There’s more to it than just unity though. It’s the files, the institutional memory, that really gives them the edge. Say, a new legal hand arrives in the Judge Advocate General Branch. He doesn’t know anything about missing persons or even the law.

Let’s imagine he’s asked to write a brief on missing persons and how to get the army out of the mess it has found itself in with the courts. He won’t have to start from scratch.

There’ll be a file somewhere, a system, a sheaf of papers and possibly PowerPoint presentations to read through, something to tell our new legal hand where the last institutional thought had left off and possibly about which issues are yet to be figured out.

It is nowhere — nowhere — as sophisticated and developed a system as a decent law firm’s. But it beats the pants off the competition, the competition being the civilian side.

Know who your law minister is? Try harder. Pervaiz Rashid? Handed the law ministry because Zahid Hamid got in trouble over Nov 2007 with the courts?

Do you need to say anything more about the PML-N’s institutional, internal capacity in the legal arena other than the rather wretched fact that they used a front to keep the law ministry running in the hands of a guy who was last law minister to the guy you’re trying to hang for treason? Until that very treason trial forced a more significant, though likely temporary, exit?

Hamid is good, very good. Pervaiz likeable. But the PML-N’s capacity to concurrently staff two governments — Punjab and Islamabad — in the legislative and legal administrative arenas? Nil.

So, where is all this leading? You can guess the trajectory from here. To begin with, the least interesting thing: elections on time, in 2018.

Then, on to the militancy front. It will be tamped down for a while. But it will return. Mull over this: the guy who waged an insurgency against which the boys believe they fought their best counter-insurgency five years ago is also the guy to whom the architects of Peshawar pay obeisance, ie Fazlullah.

Success breeds success, for both sides it seems. Which is really a cycle, though perhaps an ever-shortening cycle.

Next, the grimmer part: knowing that the militants will eventually have to top Peshawar. They could repeat past carnages on a grander scale, but repeats aren’t as devastating.

So, what could it be? A mall? A nuclear installation? A hostage situation in parliament? Something grotesque in Lahore, a Mumbai at home? We’ll only find out when it happens. Which is also when we’ll likely find out someone somewhere in the bowels of the state predicted it would happen — and was ignored.

What then? We’d have already hanged all the terrorists on death row. Killed many more in the name of terrorism out in the field. Rationalised missing persons. Convicted everyone hauled before military courts. Promised to cut off the head of the snake. Vowed to crush the enemy’s backbone.

What would be left? Having already traversed the distance between militarisation of security policy to militarisation of the state itself, the only thing left then would be more militarisation.

Somewhere someone in a uniform is probably looking at the lie of the land. Troops everywhere, unable to ever withdraw, threats multiplying, local and foreign. What’s the obvious solution to a permanent war? A larger military. More soldiers. More officers. More everything.

Stay tuned for that memo.

The writer is a member of staff.