Three elements of Pakistan’s existence, among others, are fixed: the nation-state, the military, and its political system. Each has its own import and a specified role and are, therefore, unlikely to go anywhere. Usually, all three should meld to secure and run the nation-state as a responsible and relevant partner of the global polity. But, even if these three elements of the state were to undergo some tension, some dissonance, they must still learn to coexist in difficult moments of disharmony.
What is it which makes such a simple objective complex and undoable? Perhaps, three things again stand out: firstly, a historical experience of military interventions where the political system was either entirely removed for long periods of time, or more frequently, replaced with another, parallel political system. This, in itself, had two consequences: the traditional political system was stunted while the parallel was in place; and two, such repeated experience has engendered a level of mistrust among the politicians of the military and its all-pervasive power and proclivity to upturn the political system if a political dispensation were to non-perform or — to some — not perform to the satisfaction of the military.
Secondly, given the sense of tenuousness that Pakistan’s political system pervasively lives with, they are either always looking over their shoulders for a surreptitious move by the military to oust them and live in constant fear of being upstaged; or, to preclude such an eventuality, begin their own ill-considered furtive moves against the military with an objective to eventually dominate the military. There isn’t a better example of it than Mian Sahib’s 1997-1999 tenure. What ensues is a spy-versus-spy scenario that keeps the entire governing structure and the nation on tenterhooks.
At times, an ill-conceived ‘over-cleverness’ to pre-empt the other side’s aggressive motives can result in consequences that cause unnecessary tension, laden with expectations of an impending strike by either side. Again, the events from May till October of 1999 under Mian Sahib are a case in point. Before the October 12 takeover, the air was pregnant with expectation of one or the other possibility between the PM and the army chief. The inevitable happened. Mian Sahib dithered and botched and Musharraf struck.
The politicians have now also mastered the art of raising false bogies against the military, with loud bickering of less than optimum ‘authority’ to formulate policies, of continuous interference by the military in their affairs and of a real-time, over-the-shoulder monitoring of what the civilian government was up to, especially in the areas of strife where both are required to work together in coordination. While there may be some truth to this perception in areas such as Balochistan, mostly it ends up being a bad ruse to cover a political system’s ineptness and lack of application to the level of engagement needed in treating intractable and difficult issues. Mostly, the politicians are found short on capacity and capability in handling matters of the state — much short in the needed level of proficiency, knowledge and commitment. They find it easy to pin it on the military’s domineering and pervasive presence rendering them ineffective.
Thirdly, what has been called a sense of ‘entitlement’, or ‘special treatment’ that the military considers is their privilege, is what is now at the centre of this equation’s current plight. The military is sensed to be short on fuse on a perceived slight and feels wronged by unjust aspersions, comments and perceptions that the military deems impact its image and lowers its credibility. Sensitive to its institutional pride and place among popular perception, the military tends to stand its ground against any perceived attempt to discredit it. What ensues is an environment of unease and discomfort that practically shadows this relationship between the two. When the disagreements are acute, it almost seems like a confrontation.
The ongoing saga of yet another political-military face-off is touted to root in two apparent points of disagreement: the Musharraf trial and the manner of dialogue with the TTP. Both are only partially true. True, the military would have liked the dialogue process to be little more assertive: instead it borders on being appeasing. Yet, there is ample opportunity for both sides to communicate their respective thoughts on the issue to each other in numerous meetings that both sides hold in preparation of the process or in reviewing progress. It is therefore hardly a reason for any visible hostility.
Musharraf’s trial is ‘the forbidden apple’ that the government could have best avoided, for its own good and for the larger benefit of the nation and its people. It is diversionary in nature and unnecessarily takes away most precious time and resource of the government in dealing with an individual who hardly is of any consequence to anybody, including the military. But then this opportunity to try an ex-dictator, a military man, is what embodies the underlying currents of deep animosity that has governed the civil-military relationship. To the civilian mind, the Musharraf trial is a rare opportunity to get even with the military. The ‘Rule of law’, so easily trashed otherwise by any person of power — civilian or military — is quite transparently used as a shallow attempt to clothe the process in moralistic overtones. To the military, it remains a distant irritation, if at all. The process is long and its outcome still very, very tentative. Conflating Musharraf with the military is patently devious.
What, however, is deliberately missed in the subsequent discourse in the media is the nature, tone, tenor and the lack of context of the outburst that the two federal ministers publicly indulged in ‘after’ Musharraf’s indictment. It does not stand to reason, was purposeless in its aim and even if were meant to target Musharraf, painted adversely the institution of the military instead. The media thereon picked the threads up to recount daily the civil-military tensions and further malign and abuse the military through a persistent recall of the past excesses and other deviations in the military’s conduct vis-a-vis the political set-ups. With General Raheel’s reported statement by the ISPR, the issue was not what prompted it, rather should he have said it.
The mindsets stand entrenched on both sides, sadly. This is a difficult period of disharmony and can only be traversed with great amount of wisdom and leadership, not by raw and debased emotion. This is a moment of consensual acceptability of each other, warts and all, and the moment to coexist, if cooperation seems difficult. The silver lining? Even this will pass, eventually.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 19th, 2014.