Last week, I mapped out some enduring imperatives of Pakistan’s political sociology needing reiteration. These included divided/divergent loyalties; monopoly of power by ashhrafiyya (elite); our compulsion of having a ‘guided’ democracy; the uneasy civil-military relations; and using democracy to serve vested interests. We continue.
Six, is external manipulation through ashhrafiyya. A deep dive into our political culture reveals a social contract, organised around the Mughal era ‘Lagan — Rent System’ (comprising the tiller, the landlord and the official), as the genesis of ashhrafiyya. Foreign actors find it expedient to manipulate our state structure through this elite, which generally makes up our political class. Most politicians are landed gentry with rare exceptions. They operate through briadaris (clans). It is surprising how rural Punjab, even today is divided and amenable to manipulation through biradaris; Sindh is under wadera-shahi and Balochistan reeling under Sardars. The electorate generally is pressured and manipulated through societal networks and affinities. Elections are mere demonstration of biradari-power in populous Punjab, the decisive unit of our political architecture. KP is perhaps the only egalitarian exception.
Seven, in this milieu, no political party possesses any meaningful political ideology or rule-based political organisation. Aside from PPP’s superficial socialist notions like roti, kapra aur makaan (food, clothing and housing…for all) or Jamaat-e-Islami (JI)’s Fikri Islami Inqilab (Islamic revolution), all others hide behind the thin veneer of self/dynastic rule and financial interests, disguised as democracy. The entire political class is riveted to personality cults, masked as people’s and/or national interest.
Eight, the role of money in politics — witnessed daily — is open, brazen and without shame and guilt. The sordid details of money changing hands during Senate elections, and the recent Ramzan Saga illustrate politics/democracy being a business enterprise, for perpetuation of dynastic privileges. The present government’s decision to shelve EVMs (Electronic Voting Machines) and digitally traceable ballot papers for Senate elections is, therefore, understandable. Being a politician helps to protect illegally-acquired wealth besides astronomical tangible benefits. Once in the house, the Club protects each other’s interests across party-lines.
Nine, our brief constitutional history reveals oscillation between presidential, parliamentary and military governments, where generals are both usurpers and law-givers. The enduring pitfall of military take-overs remains the Generals’ consequent quest for legitimacy, warranting damaging compromises.
When not in power, military has been exercising selfrestraint under Kayani-engendered ‘self-restraint’…truth be told. For military to stay out of politics and for civilian leadership to command respect of the uniform, politicians have to match military’s nationalistic outlook above and beyond narrow partisanship, ethnic, provincial, sectarian and numerous other proclivities. And that is not happening, given the perpetually conspiring politicians.
By its nature, Military is not a monolith. Troops, junior officers and senior leadership, all need to feel respected. Derogatory, insulting and less than graceful opinions against past (like several hangings of President Musharraf) and present social media tirades are never taken kindly. Like it or not, military remains the ultimate arbiter of power among feuding politicians, who can go to unthinkable extents to grab/ monopolise power. Any different manifestation of power-play is simply a pipedream. And dreams are said to be true, if watched closer to the wake-up time.
Ten, but Military also stands on rocky grounds, in and out of power, when its leadership seeks extension in service in their make-believe world of indispensability. As expressed repeatedly, extension is ‘cursed’ as it is haq-talfi (usurping juniors’ rights); demonstrates inability to groom successor(s); and strengthens the impression of lack of trust and confidence in the under command.
Job-extension also compels military leadership, all over the world, to play to the politicians’ tune, at least till the time ‘the summary’ is signed. Military leadership’s efforts to free itself of the consequent political compulsions generally result in bad relations and sour outcomes, blowing to smithereens the facade of ‘being on one page’. And in the process, Military gets overly politicised wittingly and/or unwittingly. Its sincerity is doubted and its neutrality questioned. We have seen this repeatedly.
Therefore, the door of extension for four-stars across the board be firmly, loudly, legally and constitutionally shut. Its other variants like sliding to other offices…CDS etc… is equally imperiled, without building political and military consensus first. The fate of India’s first CDS, Army Gen Bipin Rawat is a stark reminder.
That brings us to the way forward. Honestly, Military had supported PTI like never before. Imran — during his experimental stint — shares equal blame for not pulling along well with other stakeholders, not controlling renegade PTI legislators, not delivering in governance and not reigning in corruption in party rank and file, etc. However, he still resonates with masses due to his ‘comparative’ non-corrupt credentials, and can still be chanced upon, if he undertakes some tangible corrective measures, sequel to honest soul-searching. His combative style undermines his governance ability and my previous columns have dilated upon the subject.
Restoring Military’s prestige (in the eyes of youth bulge), economic stability and political solidity — in this order — is the way forward, with free and fair elections remaining the key. As international lenders do not share our notions of stability, election timing, while domestically important is internationally essential for correct signaling. Linking elections to change of guard at GHQ is prolonging instability by eroding international confidence in the longer-term. The traditional ‘American whispering’ notwithstanding.
Military, at its end, needs to have a dialogue with its veterans...open, candid even if blisteringly brutal, with more emphasis on listening to the ‘pulse’ rather than filibustering. It needs to restore pensions, media permissions, medicare and other memberships for agitating veterans with motherinstitution’s magnanimity, if withheld. Veterans are Army/ Military constituency that deserves respect. We also share different opinions amongst ourselves while in service. Barred analysts have greater ability and eloquence to explain Military’s viewpoint, augmenting the sole ISPR.
Any Military leadership needs to enlarge kitchen cabinet to include some veterans, besides regular interaction with the Four-Star Club. Guard must be changed on/before the stipulated time, in the larger national interest as collectively envisaged. A free and fair election early on will salvage Military/ leadership’s prestige ‘significantly’ under the current vicious environment.
With an attentive Imran Khan, a one-on-one dinner in the Army house will kill many birds with one morsel. Even foreign diplomats meet opposition leaders.
Finally, we all fade away to the Veterans’ Club and golf courses.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 23rd, 2022.
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