Change Of Guard
The most glaring irony of the “federal, parliamentary democratic system” of Pakistan is that we congratulate ourselves when our elected assemblies complete their constitutional term (so far that has happened only once) and we also do the same when an Army Chief retires on the expiry of his tenure! Historically, apart from imposing outright martial laws, the deep state has conspired numerous times against elected governments for bringing them down to maintain its sway over the system and more than once, the civilian governments have been arm-twisted into extending the tenure of Army Chiefs. So there was little surprise about the suspense around the recent retirement of former COAS General Raheel Sharif and the appointment of the present COAS, General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Like a sensational film, the unfolding events over the final week of the change of guard at the GHQ captured the attention and imagination of all and sundry. People were nervous about many a proverbial slip between cup and the lip. How can Pakistan be regarded a normal state when every time the retirement from an appointment to a grade 22 tenured post comes with an earthquake and shakes the very foundations of the system? Contradiction between the de jure and de facto has acquired astounding proportions. All the above does not mean that the civilian part of the system has no role in creating this bleak situation, or they don’t have any responsibility for arresting this drift. But for all practical purposes, Pakistan remains to be a garrison state and any reform will be meaningless without focusing on this aspect of the problem faced by the country.
Be that as it may, there is lot of discussion about the challenges faced by the new army leadership. But after occupying commanding heights of state policymaking and developing huge economic and financial interests over the years, the army’s institutional instincts are too strong and developed to be fully shaped and determined by an individual or a few individuals. Now, the army’s interest has gone beyond influencing the general direction of government policies to day-to-day governance. Probably the difference between individual military leaders has been more in their style of leadership than substance of institutional policy, which has tended to remain constant. A case in point is the example of Pervez Musharraf, Ishfaq Pervez Kiyani and Raheel Sharif. Apart from some minor shifts for making adjustments with changing situations, the main substance of national security policy and foreign policy formulated by the GHQ has remained the same. All three vowed to fight terrorism and did take action against “bad terrorists” but each one of them didn’t touch the “good terrorists”. Achieving “strategic depth” in Afghanistan has remained a consistent policy for which Afghan Taliban have received full support in their war against the Afghan state. Even operation Zarb-e-Azb hasn’t brought any change in this policy. All the three military leaders talked a lot about the seriousness of internal threat posed by terrorism, but in practice all of them remained India-centric. Hence the inability of the state to dismantle the so called jihadi groups and the proscribed organisations. A growing tilt towards China, maintaining tense and transactional relations with US and continuing overtures to Russia for forging strategic relationships have continued under successive army chiefs irrespective of their style of justifying these policies.
Some commentators and analysts have been criticising General Kiyani for not starting a military operation in North Waziristan against terror sanctuaries and infrastructure during his tenure. Nothing can be farther from the truth than this. A decision to launch or not to launch a military operation in North Waziristan has strictly remained in the institutional domain and is also closely linked to the Afghan policy of the security establishment. After all, the headquarters of the Haqqani network were situated in Miranshah and Mir Ali and attacking it before the drawdown of ISAF troops could have led to the decimation of Afghan Taliban. Operation Zarb-e-Azb could be launched only when the bulk of NATO forces had withdrawn from Afghanistan and time was ripe for launching Taliban and all their allies into Afghanistan for a new and decisive round of fighting. That is how Taliban’s war in Afghanistan has intensified. So criticism of Kiyani was more for making the then-incumbent look good than to be fair or objective criticism. Similarly, GRS, despite being very active, assertive and highly visible, could not implement what he had promised at the time of launching of NAP. That promise included disarming private militias (or the so called jihadi outfits) and fighting a coordinated war against terror alongside the Afghan government on both sides of the Durand Line. These policies are too deeply entrenched to be easily changed. Although everyone agrees that all the three military leaders had totally different styles, and at times, some of us mistook style for substance. In fact, after becoming a mega propaganda machine, the ISPR also contributed in manipulating the perceptions. One has to wait for watching the style of the new COAS and his team.
As far as not physically and formally taking over political power by the generals is concerned, it is not anymore as simple as it used to be in the past. Pakistan as state and society has evolved. The 18th Amendment has strengthened Article 6 and it is not possible to suspend the Constitution anymore, as was done by General Zia and General Pervez Musharraf. According to the amended Article 6, the judiciary cannot uphold abrogation or subversion of the Constitution. Similarly, the Parliament is more assertive than it used to be. For example, the Parliament refused to approve Musharraf’s second coup (or the so called emergency) and the judiciary refused to uphold it. Hence his prosecution. Empowered provinces after the devolution of powers from centre are not as docile as they used to be. But the security establishment has also proved to be creative enough to expand its grip over power by indulging in political engineering using political outfits. General Musharraf’s confession that a certain political leader had demanded 100 parliamentary seats in 2002 elections while he was ready to give him only 10 seats clearly indicates the source of electoral manipulation on an industrial scale.
Political parties need to have a new Charter of Democracy for reforming Pakistani state and society. But the package of reform has to start from reforms in political parties and the system of governance for mustering moral and political strength to reign in the deep state and security establishment. The status quo can degenerate in international isolation and internal implosion.
Previously published in The Nation and republished here with permission.
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