The failed military coup in Turkey is a hot topic in our country due to the parallels drawn between Turkey and Pakistan. Both countries can learn from each other’s experiences.
The news of a coup in Turkey, announcement of a curfew, appeal to the people by President Erdogan and the foiling of the coup by the Turkish people, are being thoroughly discussed at all levels in Pakistani society — even by the man on the street.
For Pakistanis, as discussions have revealed, the most exciting part in the coup episode is the stand taken by the civilians against the forces designated to usurp their rights.
Various segments of Pakistani society, including the media and officers in the military, initiated debate over the news. Pakistanis were more interested in the coup episode in Turkey as opposed to, say, the coups in Thailand two years ago, because Turley and Pakistan, although different, have a great deal in common.
The two countries have, historically, had weak democratic cultures with instability and repeated military interventions in democratic processes. In both countries, the military institutions happen to be stronger than civilian institutions and have a history of ousting democratic governments. Both nations are facing problems of terrorism and insurgency.
If Pakistan faced separatist elements in Balochistan, then Turkey faced the same in its military’s response in Kurdish areas. Both countries are strategically located, both are allies of the US in the war on terror but have bumpy relations with the superpower, filled with uncertainty and doubt over certain policies. The two countries face a lot of internal criticism of their foreign policies. Both are Muslim countries and have similarities in history and culture. Probably no other two countries in the world have as much in common as Turkey and Pakistan. This provides an opportunity to systematically learn from each other’s experiences.
The Turkish military can draw valuable lessons from the Pakistan army’s unity and focus on terrorism, instead of interfering directly in the politics of the country. The Pakistani military has distanced itself from direct intervention in politics and fully focused on operation Zarb-e-Azb — exclusively targeting terrorism and promising a terror-free Pakistan. The results have been phenomenal.
Both countries have a political culture of revenge and corruption. In Pakistan, things started changing after 9/11 and the movement for the restoration of judiciary in the final days of the Musharraf regime. Turkey, however, is still in grip of such a culture.
Political parties such as the PPP and the PML-N — historically, rivals — have learnt that enmity between them only serves the interests of undemocratic forces. Thus, they signed the charter of democracy, allowing each other to complete their tenures.
Pakistanis have also learnt that a free and independent media, judiciary and a culture of tolerance are vital for democracy.
Unlike the Erodgan government, governments in Pakistan restrained from even moving against their worst opponents, like Imran Khan. President Erdogon is intolerant of criticism, his crackdown on the media, opposition and judicial officers is no secret.
Pakistani governments started tolerating criticism by an aggressive media and uncompromising judiciary, even if these elements disqualify the prime minister or implicate him in corruption. The recent reporting on the Panama leaks, and emphasis on failure of the Nawaz government’s foreign policy are evidence of this. The government in Pakistan has developed a mature approach in dealing with the media through its media team instead of undemocratic acts such as carrying out raids or enforcing bans.
Turkey can also learn from the improving civil-military relations in Pakistan, though the process is at its initial stage the dangers of a rift still exist. Relations between state organs such as the judiciary, executive, legislature and media have changed significantly in Pakistan as all try to remain within their spheres, despite a few occasions on which, due to inexperience, they have acted out of line.
What the Pakistani leadership can learn from the Turkish episode is that Erdogan’s good governance, economic development and welfare for his countrymen, make him stronger. Unlike Pakistani politicians, there are no allegations of corruptions against him. Another valuable lesson for Pakistan would be that it is the people and not the foreign powers or establishments that make a government or politician stronger. Historically, leadership in Pakistan either bowed to foreign powers or tried to win the support of the establishment to make itself stronger, but failed to do so.
Pakistani politicians can also learn from Turkey, the importance of civic services and development at the grassroots and how this contributes to a leader’s popularity if he sincerely serves interest of the people. President Erdogan initially strengthened himself by providing basic amenities to citizens as a Mayor of Istanbul. In Pakistan, politicians are less interested in civic services, as is reflected in the delays in local body elections and postponements in empowering local bodies.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 20th, 2016.
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