Monday, June 04, 2007

Government of the Generals, by the Generals, for the Generals

Deciphering the underlying reality from official proclamations is always a risky business, but if we take at face value the statement issued by the Corp Commanders and Staff Officers of the Pakistan Army after discussions with President/COAS Musharraf, the signs for the republic are indeed ominous. The statement loudly proclaims fealty to Musharraf, applauds his great dual role accomplishments, threatens the media and civil society and demands respect on the point of a gun for an institution thoroughly compromised by its taste for economic and political power. Here is a most shameless display by the army's leadership of besmirching its own honour and a violation of their oath of allegiance to the constitution and the country. No amount of browbeating of the public will force it to respect an individual or an institution. As the American civil rights leader Eldridge Cleaver aptly said: "Respect commands itself and it can neither be given nor withheld when it is due."

The army hierarchy clearly seems irritated by the increasingly direct criticism of the military's central role in the political and economic spheres in Pakistan. But this is a debate that is long overdue. The military's chokehold on the affairs of state have resulted in weak political institutions, enriched the officer corps at the expense of the nation, distorted national priorities and shifted the military's focus away from professional matters. The presence of all intelligence heads (MI, ISI and IB) in the meeting to persuade the CJP to resign was an egregious illustration of how far the military has moved away from its primary responsibility of national security and instead become the full-time guardian of its corporate and political interests. Civilian control of military affairs is the established norm in every civilized democratic government (including our neighbor) and, as distant as that may seem today, it is the desired end state in Pakistan as well. The code words for suppressing this legitimate debate on the military's role in Pakistani society are "respect" and "politicization". It is laughable that a COAS/President instructs the nation not to politicize the army when he controls all the levers of political power, uses his political and ethnic surrogates to create mayhem in Karachi, holds meetings at the Presidency and Army House with his political cronies, pressurises his presumed judicial opponent in uniform surrounded by senior military personnel and then huddles with his military leadership to issue a threatening statement to the country to preserve self-rule. Mr. President, it is hard to imagine how the army could be any more politicized!!

The CJP's forcible removal was just a catalyst for this current conflagration but the truth is that the underlying malignancy of this regime was eventually bound to be exposed. Musharraf's liberal supporters have often forgotten this in the past that in a dictatorial polity without democratic representation and legitimacy, it does not matter much whether the government happens to promote liberal or fundamentalist behavior. The ultimate yardstick is always self-preservation and the perpetuation of one man rule. It has taken this crisis to expose the regime's fragility and to strip it of its faux-gentle facade. How often did Musharraf talk about the "true democracy" he was establishing and touted the freedom of the press that "he had granted" so magnanimously! Of course, it turns out that the media is free as long as it does not tell unpleasant truths that threaten his hold on power. At the first signs of trouble we have Geo and AajTV off the air, promulgation of the media-gagging PEMRA 2007 ordinance, hounding of the courageous scholar and author of Military Inc. Dr. Ayesha Siddiqa and explicit threats to respected journalists all over the country.

Musharraf's end will be similar to all the other khaki saviors in Pakistan's sordid history ("they leave themselves no other options") but how much more damage he does to the country before he is consigned to the dustbin of history is still an open question. If the escalations of the past few days are any indication, Musharraf will not go without causing a lot more pain to the fragile Pakistani state.


Zakintosh said...
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Zakintosh said...

One of the tactics that armies have often employed before retreats (Viet Nam & Bangladesh come to mind) is 'torch and burn' ... and the same signs are becoming visible in their current losing political battle. The victims this time, however, are not properties and industries but institutions.