Shortcuts to nowhere

Published: November 27, 2015

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In this age of the third coming of the military groomed and made politician, the prime minister Nawaz Sharif, there is much media flagellation of what is now known as the ‘civ-mil imbalance’. All the analysis and introspection ignores history — but then Pakistan has never been renowned for either knowing history, or if history is known, of learning from it.

Of course there is a ‘civ-mil imbalance’, there has been, almost consistently, for close on 60 years of the country’s existence. It all came to the fore in 1956 when the then army chief, Ayub Khan, was inducted into a civilian cabinet as defence minister. That is when the military really came into its own. As an ardent observer of the comings and goings of those who have dominated the state of Pakistan since those early days commented the other day, for all these years the country has been dominated by the military, interspersed with the Bhuttos and Nawaz Sharif — the latter two providing space to the generals apart from a short spell when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto decided to go it alone.

From then on, as before, the army chief was considered by the powers that be that involve themselves in the affairs of Pakistan, as the most powerful man in the country, the man to talk to when it comes to foreign and defence matters. We only need to go one step back, to the dour Ashfaq Kayani, now castigated for his inactivity on the terror front, known as ‘the most powerful man in an unstable country’. So, if Raheel Sharif is ruling the national roost, what’s new? Why the interminable analyses and discussions? Facts, after all, are facts. It may all be a sad window into our political and moral dysfunction — but there it is.

We must be grateful that in the face of civilian government dysfunction, incompetence and corruption, one institution steps forward and does what it is paid to do about the most dangerous scourge to the state, terrorism. Thank goodness that in the face of a dithering government, with its in-fighting, incoherence and fear-stricken paralysis, there is somebody to take charge of what passes for foreign affairs — though pretty realistically Pakistan stands isolated internationally — and its defence matters. When it comes to corruption, let us never forget Pervez Musharraf’s to-the-point reply when asked at the start of his regime about the military and malpractice, he answered, “We are all of the same stock.” Indeed!

The army, and the other two services, now have a pretty smart PR team headed unprecedentedly by a Lt General. On the contentious topic of the army chief’s recent DC visit (twice in one year!), they don’t seem to have stepped in on the issue of who didn’t invite who. Is it possible that the US hinted, quietly, that it would be a good idea if Raheel Sharif stopped over on his way to Brazil? Perhaps he is considered a better bet when it comes to knowing what is what in this Islamic Republic than the other Sharif and his road mania.

The establishment is responsible for having created entities it is now tackling, on its own initiative, the TTP and the MQM. It has reacted, efficiently we are told, citing public perception but no hard core public evidence, to both. The Taliban in Afghanistan are a different ball game (official silence on the couple of dozen jihadist bodies brought back from there to Lower Dir). As are the other brand of extremists at home. Take the disgraceful happening in Jhelum — the army was called in, just a short-term measure. No long-term solutions to anything have ever been in sight from either ‘civ’ or ‘mil’.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 28th,  2015.

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