Time for real change

Published: May 15, 2011


Mian Nawaz Sharif is right on the dot in asking for an independent inquiry into the Abbottabad affair. His press conference is a timely response to arguments made by some, for instance, one military-client-turned-diplomat, according to whom the incident indicates a ‘system failure’ in Pakistan. Notwithstanding, the fact that such a statement was made to cover up the failure of just one organisation, the military must be made accountable as far as its primary job is concerned. Nawaz Sharif is right in demanding answers and a neutral inquiry, though such investigation should be conducted not just by the judiciary but by select judges and members of the civil society as well.

But let us not be too hopeful regarding what might happen. Nawaz Sharif and his party have made this demand at a time when they are politically isolated. The religious parties will not join in his protest and the other two parties — PML-Q and MQM — are friends of the establishment. Imran Khan, the army’s new friend, would also hate to join the Sharifs.

Surely, some members of Mian Nawaz Sharif’s party might be twiddling their thumbs at the party leader’s statements, as they know that such a demand will not make them popular with their right-wing-militant types. Also, the PML-N and the PPP’s relations are too sour for the latter to trust the former. The PPP is more concerned about the passing of the budget and the senate elections next year, thus being more interested in surviving than joining ranks with the Sharifs, who were earlier seen as letting down the ruling party.

In short, the military’s accountability is a non-starter. In any case, there are too many rent-a-crowd processions and posters in Islamabad that may discourage the ruling party from pushing Lt-General Ahmed Shuja Pasha too hard. The establishment is busy reinventing itself, including by sending SMSs reminding people of the army’s great sacrifices and it being backstabbed (to be read between lines) by the US. The support from the ruling coalition definitely adds to this process of reinvention, as the military along with its several civilian partners has raised the ante for anyone asking genuine questions regarding its lacklustre performance.

Perhaps it is difficult to do so, but if there was a way, one would want to remind the establishment that it is now necessary for the army to rewrite its ‘social contract’ with the nation. I am reminded of a management workshop the navy had once held in which a member asked who the navy considered its stakeholder. While some identified the president and prime minister, others named the ministry of defence and even the ministry of finance. But no one said or identified the people of Pakistan. The security apparatus of a state becomes more logical once it is better connected with the people, and genuinely so.

The South African state undertook an experiment of redefining its security needs in view of what people wanted after the end of the apartheid regime. The government identified stakeholders including the common people who were asked to present their views in a commission set up on the pattern of the ‘truth and reconciliation’ commission. People generally did not demand that the military be scrapped but they identified threats and expressed a desire for better security. This then resulted in the government revamping the security structure, rewriting the mission statement and revising the size and structure of the armed forces to make it more responsive to the people of South Africa.

Surely, some of the comments put forward to Lt-General Pasha made him extremely uncomfortable to the point where he reportedly asked that he not be treated as an enemy. But the members of parliament did not treat him as such. Any individual and citizen would, and has a right to question the professional credibility of an organisation which dominates the state and society politically, economically and intellectually, and takes upon itself un-mandated tasks. The constant manipulation of politics and society is not professionally beneficial for the state, its people, or even for its security establishment.

We need a neutral inquiry followed by a restructuring of the security establishment. Without such changes we know that General Pasha’s submission to parliament is nothing but a face-saver. This is not a time for games but for real change. It’s not just the politicians but the military that must change as well. As for the politicians, they must know that militant nationalism produces the same results as militancy.

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

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Reader Comments (31)

  • Syed Nadir El-Edroos
    May 15, 2011 - 2:44AM

    While change is inevitable, in which direction is not. For change to be meaningful it will be slow and incremental. A generation of Pakistani’s brought up on the ubiquity of the military, and a generation of officers trained in PMA believing that civilians are second class citizens not worthy of responsibility will need to age before real change appears. Recommend

  • faraz
    May 15, 2011 - 2:59AM

    Militant nationalism will offer temporary gains. Few gung-ho remarks will raise the expectations of the immature youth and conservative middle class which have little understanding of the real world. Militant nationalism will further isolate the nation at the diplomatic level and lead it towards economic bankruptcy. Economic downturn would increase unemployment and poverty, and more youth would join the ranks of various militant and sectarian organizations. It would further weaken the state and make it difficult to change its policies. It would become impossible to alter the dominant narrative. The vicious circle would engulf the society and the military establishment. Recommend

  • Venky
    May 15, 2011 - 7:02AM

    I always like Ayesha’s articles.. The last few words really shows her analytical mind.

    quote: ” We need a neutral inquiry followed by a restructuring of the security establishment. Without such changes we know that General Pasha’s submission to parliament is nothing but a face-saver. This is not a time for games but for real change. It’s not just the politicians but the military that must change as well. As for the politicians, they must know that militant nationalism produces the same results as militancy.”Recommend

  • May 15, 2011 - 8:09AM

    Wonderful article. This is not just the Pakistan of Khakis or siyasat-daan. This is our Pakistan and we would like it to be free from the so-called games of national interest and desires of strategic depth!Recommend

  • Matiullah
    May 15, 2011 - 8:14AM

    Pakistan is governed by various organisation since its very creation. The weak political leadership after the demise of Jinnah paved way for bureaucracy and military to intrude into the politics. Later on military snatched power and sometime its role was as a king maker and breaker. this resulted in destabalisation of the political system. I think that every institution and organisation should confine its activities to its defined status. then we can hope stability and hence prosperity.Recommend

  • ghazni
    May 15, 2011 - 10:32AM

    Why will bosses of ISI and Army will bring change which means to cut itself to size and to disown certain perks and privileges. It can only happen through external or internal pressure. But given the politicians, political parties, academia and especially media’s confused response to Nawaz Sharif’s astute move it is now clear that internal pressure is not going show any significant affect. Our media started spinning the illogical arguments like “why now?”and “wrong time” etc etc. And up till now U.S has left this task to internals. so there is no hope.

    Madem I respect your struggle for change and I standing by you but the fact is that “right time” for change in Pakistan is difficult to come. Security establishment will keep up interfering in politics and shaping and reshaping of domestic political landscape.Recommend

  • Mirza
    May 15, 2011 - 10:49AM

    Unless we break the stranglehold of the army over the country nothing good can come out. By hanging the first elected PM of Pakistan the army had proved that even after the surrender of East Pakistan they can do anything to the bloody civilians of Pakistan.

    I distinctly remember that after Zia overthrew ZAB’s elected govt, I was talking about the possibility of a counter coup. An elder and wiser man told me that “the army is ruling the country as an institution and not as an individual”. That is why there is not going to be a counter coup in Pakistan. When every top general is rewarded accordingly, then why would they get off the gravy train?

    Har shakh pe fouji betha hai anjaam e gulistan kiya hoga?

    I have no hope for Pakistan, sorry to say. Recommend

  • saleem khan
    May 15, 2011 - 11:35AM

    Agree with Ayesha.The appearance of Military Top Brass in the parliament came at a time when they need to cover-up their asses and it is just a face-saver. Looking at our politicians ineptness, Army has to decide to give the control of the country to the people of Pakistan for the best interest of the people and of the Army itself. A strong Army does not mean to control civilians but means they can obey the orders of the civilian rulers professionally. Recommend

  • Arshad Butt
    May 15, 2011 - 12:30PM

    Aysha Siddiqa has very rightly ponited out that now is the time that military establishmnet should redefine and rewrite social-contract with the nation. It is not only in the best interest of the Pakistani people but also for the military establishment itself. Time has come that establisment should read writing on the wall and surrender before and accept the will of the people. The negative efforts to build new friends like power hungry Imran Khan, must come to end. They must now realise that controll over state policies and political parties is a dangerous and fruitless game which they must stop playing. Recommend

  • Kami
    May 15, 2011 - 12:39PM

    I appreciate intellact of the Writer; but she may like to apprise Nation about her rise to an intellectual from an employee of Military Accounts Department and nature of her relationship with few Western Diplomatic circles, pls.Recommend

  • parvez
    May 15, 2011 - 12:58PM

    To expect the military to take corrective steps by themselves or do this through a political process is like asking for the moon. Realistically the Americans are involved in our affairs to a very great extent from the early 50’s onwards, denying this would be absurd. If and this is a very big if, they have the good of Pakistan in mind, they have the muscle and the know how to force this correction process.Recommend

  • Arshad Butt
    May 15, 2011 - 1:07PM

    Very much personel comments and have no relevance with the facts of the article.Recommend

  • Qaisrani
    May 15, 2011 - 1:49PM

    Though an over-whelming majority in Pakistan endorses Mian Nawaz Sharif’s call for an inquiry by an independent Commission – irrespective of political or ideological affiliations – practical politics may interven & he may not get support to get the pressure on establishment through street power, as correctly pointed out by learned writer. But it is high time to revisit the policy of Pakistani State, to change the paradigm from a security State to a pro-people State. We can not afford the luxury of further delay in this regard, if we really want a better Pakistan for our coming generations.Recommend

  • wadan pashtoon
    May 15, 2011 - 2:31PM

    nice article as usual i think the only option left for pakistan after osama killing is ‘ This is not a time for games but for real change’weldon ayesha sahibaRecommend

  • meekal ahmed
    May 15, 2011 - 3:10PM

    I find NS being praised for his “statesman-like” position and for being “absolutely right” absolutely hilarious.

    I wonder what he would be saying if he was the government as PM?!Recommend

  • mahmood
    May 15, 2011 - 3:20PM

    at least journalists should be neutral, any analysis from a biased person worth little, and then making claims without putting some evidences like who is friend of who and who was friend of who gives no good sense. Recommend

  • Nasrat Baloch
    May 15, 2011 - 3:34PM

    @Kami: Kami please for God sake come out of this obsession of the west. Every one is not a traitor here, all are as patriot as yourself. We are fed up with this blame game- Bhutto was called a traitor/ anti state; likewise BB, Baloch leaders, KP leaders, Sindh leaders and now Hussain haqqani,Zardari every one is a agent of the India/West; who is a patriot?????????Recommend

  • Hasan
    May 15, 2011 - 4:48PM
  • Nasrat Baloch
    May 15, 2011 - 5:55PM

    ya really its time now; now or never.Recommend

  • Mustafa Kamal
    May 15, 2011 - 6:22PM

    So much depression among the Masses. Army, Politicians, Establishment, Judiciary, Human Rights and all stakeholders of Pakistan need to Re-write & Re-define their contracts with beloved Country. Sadly we are at a stage where there is an alarming ISOLATION with the masses. Its extreme need of the hour otherwise there must be a disaster sooner or later.Recommend

  • Syed
    May 15, 2011 - 7:11PM

    All of those commenting here and suggesting how important change is, please, for GOD SAKE, VOTE NEXT TIME IN ELECTION !!. An entire generation of educated Pakistanis has grown up talking about politics but NEVER bothered to vote on the election day. Things do not change by writing articles, tweeting, and filling up ”survey for change”.Recommend

  • Majeed
    May 15, 2011 - 8:58PM

    Change now. Else we will be the next Burma / Myanmar. And we won’t even have the few intellects we yet have to guide us into a new nation. The Pak Army must be divested of its extra constitutional reach. The only place for the soldiers is the barracks and the borders. Not the bourse, businesses and boulevards. It is thus in every demomcratic republic. It must be and will be so in Pakistan. The National Assembly must run the GHQ. Not the other way round. Such travesty! And the utter nationsl shame. How does this do any Pakistani proud? It has held us back for and by decades. Decades! Recommend

  • Zaka
    May 15, 2011 - 10:06PM

    Vote for Muasharraf, the only solution.Recommend

  • kashif
    May 15, 2011 - 11:28PM

    the things are certainly more complicated and deep than they look,core of the issue is the relations between isi and cia,if they have come to a zero and hv to be re written then it will unfold the coming events. Recommend

  • Venkat
    May 15, 2011 - 11:33PM

    Gilani should accept Pasha’s resignation and appoint a NON – Military person as the head of the ISI (infact – top few positions). That is the only way to slowly get control back and make the organisation subservient to the elected government, It is the right opportunity. Many countries have non military heads for their espionage agenciesRecommend

  • parvez
    May 15, 2011 - 11:51PM

    Sir, nothing changes with elections. You have to chose between two or three sets of thieves the results are more often than not rigged, but more importantly despite elections the system remains the same heavily loaded in favour of the 2% who lord it over the other hapless 98%. Recommend

  • Khalid
    May 16, 2011 - 2:06AM

    ayesha I agree with u as a whole on the article,but I do not agree on PMLN Isolation.One big party has to sit in oppostion and that party particularly in Pakistan is isolated .It happened to ppp in 1970s,It was again ppp who was isolated in 1988,Infact ppp won the the election on her own against ISI made IJI.In 1993 Nawaz sharif becomes anti establishment and was isolated and almost defeated ppp.ANP,MQM,pmlq will make alliance with ppp in coming election.PMLN chief is visiting sindh very soon and they will make alliance with nationalist forces of sind and balochistan.I would certainly did not rule out the alliance of pmln with Jamat islami.Lets wait n see.Recommend

  • Muammad Saeed Akhtet
    May 16, 2011 - 5:21AM

    I do not know why did you write these comments but somehow it shows your string r being pulled from somewhere…….well cherish your love for truth then & believe in Naseem Hijazi who I think has given evidences to make ur balls roll.Recommend

  • Aristo
    May 16, 2011 - 11:41AM

    If no real change (meaningful / drastic) comes soon, the real change will come in the shape of Pakistan’s geographical border changes. It happened in 1971 as well. The invasion has already taken place once, how can you stop them from coming again. Once the door is open, its very difficult to shut it down.Recommend

  • AnisAqeel
    May 16, 2011 - 9:40PM

    “We need a neutral inquiry followed by a restructuring of the security establishment. Without such changes we know that General Pasha’s submission to parliament is nothing but a face-saver. This is not a time for games but for real change. It’s not just the politicians but the military that must change as well.”
    Thank you for speaking my mind.Recommend

  • Wajahat Iqbal
    May 17, 2011 - 7:21PM

    The military’s historic in-camera briefing to the joint sitting of parliament is a welcome move to strengthen democracy. The US operation is regarded as a grave violation of the country’s sovereignty, which will not be tolerated at any cost. The armed forces publicly acknowledged that the supreme authority of the state lies with parliament. They unconditionally accepted all the responsibility for the major security lapse. The army and ISI’s image has been seriously damaged after the Osama episode. To some extent, ISI chief Lieutenant-General Pasha’s tendering of his resignation and seeking an apology from the nation has also proved effective in healing the wounds that were inflicted to the image of the ISI as a result of the US raid. The uncertainty that prevailed in the country after the Osama bin Laden fiasco has been decreased. Amid the different crises that the country is facing, this is a new beginning where the military leadership has briefed parliament for the first time in the history of Pakistan. All stakeholders being on the same page will leave a positive impact and enhance political maturity in Pakistan. They should realise the sensitivity of the situation and do whatever can be done for the betterment of the nation.Recommend

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