Another act of the sordid drama, billed as Memogate, has played out. The memo is out and it is a safe bet that the finale is yet to come.
As I have noted before, I don’t have much interest, beyond knowing facts, in names. For me, the story is the sorry tale of a state that has failed remarkably to address its principal contradiction, the civil-military imbalance.
So deep does the fault line run that we have, allegedly, the state’s highest office (note: the president represents the state, not any government) promise to a foreign power the taking of certain measures that, by most benchmarks of statecraft, would amount to handing over the functioning and monitoring of Pakistan to an external power. Not just that, but certifying that the military, of which the president of Pakistan is the supreme commander, is a rogue organisation in cahoots with al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
The memo also tells the United States that if the Pakistani military were allowed to act unfettered, that would go against “your interests and ours”. Such is the tone that their interests come before our interests in nearly all the formulations in the memo. The “we” in the memo is prepared to fully cooperate with the US in putting down the military and helping the US monitor the sorry state of Pakistan and its strategic assets. This “we” also constitutes “the [stillborn] new national security team that will be inducted by the president of Pakistan with your [US] support in this undertaking”.
Questions abound but let me take just one in this short space.
One argument is that an elected government has the right to do what it deems fit and that being so, what’s the big deal. The national interest is to be defined by the civilians, not the military. If the civilians decide that the military is the bigger threat then what are we fussing about.
There are four major problems with this argument. One, does being the elected government justify appealing to a foreign power through a secret memo? Clearly, the memo was being kept secret because it would not only have upset the military but also many political actors who are legitimate entities within the constitutional system.
Two, what does mandate mean? Even the constitution requires, on extraordinary measures, that an issue be either put to a referendum (direct appeal to the people) or voted by two-thirds majorities of both houses of parliament. Did the elected government, if we are to invoke its authority under the constitution, present the issue to the right fora as dictated by the constitution, abiding by whose provisions is the touchstone of its legitimacy?
Three, going by the statistics, if we take the higher assessment of 44 per cent voter turnout in the 2008 elections, we have a straight figure of 56 per cent who didn’t vote. Out of the 44 per cent, the PPP is supposed to have bagged 30.6 per cent of the vote. This comes to about 10.6 million votes cast in favour of the PPP. Does this figure justify an elected government appealing to a foreign power instead of taking the people into confidence whose expression is being invoked to justify the authority of the government in the first place?
Four, being critical of the military’s political ambitions does not automatically mean a person or entity will also be given to diluting the state’s sovereignty by appealing to foreign powers. As both a realist and long-time critic of the military, I find this conflation ridiculous and the biggest danger faced by Pakistan.
On May 15, writing in this newspaper (“Righting the civil-military imbalance”) I had argued: “What is required now, if the civilians really want to avail this opportunity, is to (a) get down to the task of formulating a national security strategy; (b) make the defence committee of the cabinet effective with regular meetings; (c) appoint a strong minister of defence who understands the military and can force the service chiefs to obey his office; (d) create an external advisory body that deals with the military on the one hand and the prime minister plus cabinet on the other; (d) hold regular briefings by experts to the armed forces committee of parliament, which are placed on record; and, (e) ensure that all subordinate agencies/organisations are working to the same ends and purposes.
“This is not an exhaustive list. Many other steps can be taken. But these are some of the obvious ones...”.
I also cautioned against treating the issue as a zero-sum game. Little did I know at the time of what was happening in the shadows. But one thing must be said: this hasn’t happened for the first time, though this is the first formal evidence of what some of us tell Washington all the time.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 19th, 2011.