Setting the house in order

Published: January 14, 2012
The writer is a lawyer and partner at Ijaz and Ijaz Co in Lahore 

The writer is a lawyer and partner at Ijaz and Ijaz Co in Lahore saroop.ijaz@

The difficulty of maintaining a pretence of conducting a profound analysis in Pakistan is that nothing ever ends. So the event one seeks to comment on is always underway hence, exposing the commentator to the real possibility of indignity in misinterpreting the happenings. The mayhem of the last few days is not over yet. It does, however, point out the fragility and precariousness of this architecture of democracy. It is almost as if this period of democratic governance is a momentary armistice, a feebly vulnerable interruption to the continuous military rule. Another disturbingly striking thing is the complete abandonment of core principles on the first sight of attack. In all fairness, none of this is unprecedented but it manages to make one cringe every time.

The prime minister is empowered to terminate the contract of a federal secretary and to comment on the conduct of the army and intelligence chief and for this reason it is hardly news worthy enough of interrupting the nation in frenzied tones. There has been some feeing of triumphalism and jubilation on being able to thwart or possibly delay a coup. Perhaps rightly so, yet the most recent episode is unique in the public manner in which the whole episode was conducted. Gone are the days where out of the blue, one will see a pompous general creeping out of nowhere and saying ‘meray aziz humwatanon’ on national television. This time, the intimidation and bullying was deliberately done in the full view of the public eye, the ISPR press release cautioning of “dire consequences” had the unmistakable slant of blackmail. The utter absence of embarrassment was unbelievable. It was like being subjected to the ISPR version of O J Simpson’s, “If I did it.” The response by the media and the politicians failed to ask the most basic question; did the ISPR posses any justification, legal or moral to threaten an elected parliament. Toni Morrison, once writing about the progress of African Americans in the United States said, “The question is whether our walk is progress or merely movement.” All this coming after four years of democratic rule, ours seems to be an awkward stationary wiggle.

If one is compelled to identify a positive coming out of this fiasco, it will probably be the fact that most of the media and major political parties refused to welcome the khakis. I have a mild suspicion that many of them did it grudgingly; it was the sheer impracticality of a ‘direct’ military takeover which guided their comments as opposed to any meaningful commitment to democracy. In any event, they merit whatever small congratulation is due. Nevertheless, whereas, it is a ridiculously easy and even intuitive question when asked to choose between an elected parliament and the khakis, I believe the real test lies ahead and not so far ahead. It would be if the same demagoguery is garbed in an intervention obtained through a judicial order or some other permutation of what has been somewhat suggestively named, ‘soft coup’. I have a feeling, the response by those agreeing to the abstract notions of democracy in such an event would be more of a waffle and exposing — I certainly hope I am wrong.

The prime minister has already formed the undesirable habit of displaying almost schizophrenic alternating bouts of gallantry and meekness. The ostensible reason is to avoid institutional conflict. It is not a ‘conflict’, it is capitulation in the face of assault, certainly not self-preservation in any long-term meaning. A lot of ink has been spilled (or at least the word processor equivalent) on how to set the civil-military balance incrementally right by people having considerably more expertise on such matters than myself. Yet, the answer to me, at least, is fairly simple. The prime minister should sack the army chief and the director general ISI for gross misconduct and insubordination. To put it at its harshest, their performance records, especially recently have been humiliatingly ordinary. Even otherwise, they cannot claim to be not given a fair innings, they have served, perhaps more accurately commanded for a period reasonably exceeding the normal. In any event, they have considerably overstayed their welcome. I know this proposal seems incredibly naïve even reckless, but I am afraid that needs to be done, even if it means staking the government on it. To romanticise it a bit, “Conscientious Objector” is a beautiful poem by Edna St Vincent Millay, some of its verses go,” I shall die, but/ that is all I shall do for Death/ I hear him leading his horse out of the stall/ I hear the clatter on the barn-floor/ ….But I will not hold the bridle/While he clinches the girth/ And he may mount by himself / I will not give him a leg up.”

I do not in any way suggest a literal scenario as terminally grim as that in the poem but Mr Prime Minister, at least, do not give them a leg up. Trying to maintain a wobbly equilibrium, a false feeling of reconciliation and shallow coexistence will not work, it never has, never does. In terms of basic economics, it is the case of Gresham’s law, the bad would drive out the good, if it is overvalued long enough with a clear preference. Negotiating or plea bargaining the way in and out of situations where you are strong-armed is not survival or diplomacy. It has now become a question of modalities and timing, rather than “if”. Stories both in real life and fiction are remembered inordinately by the ending. Albert Camus ends his La Peste (The Plague) by observing that though the plague was over and the city had returned to normalcy, “the plague bacillus never dies … that it can lie dormant in furniture and linen chests… perhaps the day would come when,… it roused up its rats again and sent them forth to die in a happy city”. Fire the two generals and make a point, the bogus feeling of security is going to end soon anyways.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 15th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (16)

    Jan 14, 2012 - 10:51PM

    I agree with the author that both Generals should have been sacked for gross misconduct and insubordination. Such a hall mark decision should have set precedence both for future civilian govts of their supermacy over military and a warning to the military not to cross the red line ie blatant interference in civilian matters and function within its domain ie security and safe guard sovereignty of the country from outside and internal forces.


  • Nadir
    Jan 14, 2012 - 11:00PM

    The problem is not legal or constitutional. The problem is that in the court of public opinion, people find it insulting or at least uncomfortable to see so called “corrupt” politicians ordering “brave, sacrifice giving” generals around. Its as if the next General who is appointed COAS or DG ISI will be a Zardari stooge. Its not as if Gen Kayani and Pasha have reached the positions that they have without being in the good graces of General Musharaf initially, and then General Kayani in Pashas case. This probably points more to our general uncomfortability with elected officials. We do not see them as worthy of holding an office that puts the generals in their place, for the narrative of the last few decades have placed the generals beyond the scope of political accountability and somehow are an extra-governmental, totally removed from the state.It doesnt help the government that any action to hold any general to task, whether serving, or as in the case of the Defence Secretary, retired, is met with cynical analysis by the media, who paint it as if our national security is being threatened.


  • c.m.sarwar
    Jan 14, 2012 - 11:17PM

    They are firing the generals in Turkey but there the civilian setup is not what we have in Pakistan.The writer has completely overlooked the bonafide of our Prime Minister.


  • Umer
    Jan 14, 2012 - 11:19PM

    did the ISPR posses any justification,
    legal or moral to threaten an elected

    I am sure Azad Adliyya will take prompt notice of this infringement of constitution.

    Recommend if you think I’m being naive.


  • Umer
    Jan 15, 2012 - 12:04AM


    The writer has completely overlooked
    the bonafide of our Prime Minister.

    The PM was elected by people’s vote under free election. He is as bonafide as it can get. He may not be popular but he is still bonafide. Vote him down in the next elections if you don’t like his policies. That’s how it goes in democracy. Also accept some blame yourself too for voting the wrong person in and next time think carefully before you vote.


  • Parvez
    Jan 15, 2012 - 1:31AM

    To do what you suggest in order to make a point, the doer has to have credibility and the support of the people and that Sir he sadly does not have.


  • c.m.sarwar
    Jan 15, 2012 - 1:58AM

    The elections which produced the present civilian setup were held under abnormal circumstances after the mysterious killing of Benazir.What we have now is an accidental civilian setup accepted at that time because the whole nation was sick of Musharraf and any alternate was welcome.The nation did not anticipate that they would be confronting something even worse.We have had enough of military misrule and nobody expects anything good to come out of another military misadventure.When a government fails to deliver it is wise to immediately go in for new elections ,a well established norm in democracies.This will also forestall any military intervention.


  • RRR
    Jan 15, 2012 - 2:36AM

    Absolutely brilliant piece, I am blown away.Recommend

  • John B
    Jan 15, 2012 - 8:18AM

    I have been screaming in my comments to do the same for a week,but my comments were constantly censored.

  • Thinktank
    Jan 15, 2012 - 12:07PM

    Remember when nawaz sharif fired Musharraf and in turn Musharraf mounted one on sharif… You seemed to have forgotten that episode ..saroop ijaz. PM Glani remembers those days very well and hence does not want to take chances…!


  • Osama Siddique
    Jan 15, 2012 - 1:32PM

    Excellent again Saroop. Yours is a much needed and appreciated bold new voice.


  • Zehra
    Jan 15, 2012 - 5:06PM

    Excellent piece


  • jai zardari
    Jan 15, 2012 - 6:43PM

    sir I must congradulate you for having the courage to say what you have said
    PPP must take stand and liberate the country from army rule Threat to elected government is treason and it has been done in the open,not an unsigned memo”
    the myth created by some that government is not popular is just that, myth
    an election will see return of sizeable number of govt candidates
    Can you think of any other country in the world where such an insult will be tolerated


  • Anonymous
    Jan 15, 2012 - 7:36PM

    Dearest Ijaz
    You are great, I read your article when I am done with all articles as I don’t think that any write up will test good after reading yours.
    May I ask a question? Are you as excellent as writer in oral discussions? Why don’t you come on Neutral TV talk shows with sensible persons. Will love to hear you arguing.

    Thanks for showing courage to write this…… I am sure many people think like this.
    You should be translated in other languages or .. At leat sister papers of ET.


  • Godfather
    Jan 15, 2012 - 8:24PM

    The garish quotations fail to mask your naive analysis. The “pompous generals” are usually a better breed than the dynastic democracy you’re squealing to defend.


  • babli
    Jan 15, 2012 - 11:00PM

    No one can ride your back unless it is bent. Govt. should not be whining if its sent packing.
    The sooner the generation of jiyalas is replaced by fresh blood, the better. Otherwise, we will continue to suffer from Bhuttos and Sharifs etc.
    And too many cooks spoil the broth. Thats the simplest definition of Democrazy :)


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