Stooping to conquer

The fact that the ISI chief has presented himself for accountability is a sign that things are on the right track.

Zarrar Khuhro May 14, 2011

Imagine if a military misadventure planned and executed by the deep state led to a strategic defeat, international condemnation, the halting of an already stumbling peace process and the loss of an unknown number of brave soldiers. Imagine further that the civilian leadership was kept in the dark and that the operation nearly led to a war that, by all accounts, we would not have been able to win.

Should the establishment then have been taken to task? Or should the civilian leadership have been punished, deposed and sent into exile? The operation in question was the Kargil War, and just as in 1971, and later on in the Ojhri camp blast, there was no accountability or even an apology from the powers that be. Far from having fauji heads roll, those heads did not deign to bow in shame for even a moment. In the aftermath of Kargil, it was instead Nawaz Sharif who was ignominiously sent packing. Say what you will about his politics, intelligence and policies, when it came to seeking accountability after the Kargil fiasco, Nawaz was in the right.

In that context, the DG-ISI’s grilling before a charged parliament is nothing short of historic, as it is the first time (to my limited knowledge) that the chief spook himself has deigned to present himself before parliament for accountability. And parliament, it seemed, was in no mood to take it easy on him. For those who have been clamouring for greater civilian control over the near-invisible machinations of the deep state, this is certainly a victory. Still, many will be disappointed that parliament stopped short of demanding Pasha’s head and the immediate placing of the ISI under civilian control. But let’s face facts and temper our desires with a dose of reality: Meaningful change does not take place overnight and the very fact that the ISI chief has presented himself for accountability is a sign that things are, for once, on the right track.

But proceeding on that path will not only require the military to gradually shed its paranoia towards and distrust of civilian oversight, it also requires the political leadership to prove that it is worthy of that responsibility. Thus far, it seems that politicking is more important than statesmanship, a state of affairs that will have to change, and soon.

Indeed, messy politics and backstabbing, along with incremental and sustainable change are the very hallmarks of democracy. Those who believe that a single election and a single term in office should immediately set the country aright are living in a fool’s paradise. Those who call for a revolution to sweep away the power structures and replace them with some ill-defined model of utopian social justice are equally deluded. If true change is to come, it will come slowly, taking baby steps towards a future that will still be flawed and imperfect, but hopefully a step up from what we have today.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 15th, 2011.


Karim S | 10 years ago | Reply To all those impatient with democracies. Reverse the scenario. Imagine for a moment that you had an army that was totally unused to defending the country's borders, that had been weakened for decades by politicians. Imagine that politicians had themselves done a lousy job of defending the borders of the country, but nevertheless persisted in weakening the army. Then imagine that the army finally got nominal control of the defence of the country. Would you expect it to do as good a job as an army with 60 years' of experience in defence? You've tried army rule and it's failed. Multiple, multiple times. And you can't order a readymade strong democracy from Dominos. It's going to be hard as hell to strengthen your democracy. But what alternative do you have?
Karim S | 10 years ago | Reply It takes democracies decades to mature. Decades of regular, matter-of-fact changes in government. You can't take a shortcut to a mature democracy.
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