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Both barrels locked and loaded

Friday, 20 January 2012 15:52
By Irfan Husain

What does a country down on its knees economically do to recover? What does it do when it isn`t in the middle of natural disasters like earthquakes and floods?

In the case of Pakistan, we whip up a manmade crisis out of nowhere to amuse ourselves. Consider the latest confrontation between the army and the government as an example of our endless ability to create a drama out of nothing.

Here, we have the army chief expressing his outrage over the prime minister`s suggestion that he and the head of the ISI acted unconstitutionally in bypassing official channels in presenting their affidavits to the Supreme Court in the memogate case. The military press release warned ominously of the `ramifications` and `potentially dangerous consequences` of the PM`s comments.

So it appears that the military is upset at being charged with acting unconstitutionally. This is the same institution that has intervened directly four times to remove civilian governments, and has played a hugely destabilising role time and again. Soon after he captured power in 1977, Gen Zia described the constitution as a document he could `tear up with one hand` For the generals to now express their anger over the prime minister`s comments is replete with irony. If they were to act constitutionally, they would need to acknowledge and respect the president as commander-in-chief of the armed forces. I have not seen much evidence of any deference thus far.

The truth is that from the very outset, the generals have chafed under Zardari, but thus far, they have restrained themselves because the alternative was unacceptable.

They would rather live with a pliable Asif Zardari than a Nawaz Sharif seeking revenge for his ouster. But now, a third option has opened up with the emergence of Imran Khan as a major player, apparently with the establishment`s help.

Hence the build-up of pressure for early elections.

In an article titled `Pakistan`s slow-motion coup` in a recent edition of Foreign Policp, C. Christine Fair writes: `So let`s call the devil by his name: memogate should be understood as a sophisticated attempt by the army and [its] intelligence agency to use the court to bring down this government, not just as a titillating imbroglio involving Husain Haqqani.

It is clear that overt and covert efforts are being made by political parties, institutions and individuals to bring down the government before Senate elections due by March. Should the coalition government cling on to power till then, the PPP might well win a sizeable number of seats in the Upper House, strengthening its position regarding veto power over legislation.

Such a scenario is unpalatable to all those opposing the party, and as they form the bulk of the chattering classes as well as TV chat show hosts and their guests, the PPP might well be tossed out soon, one way or another.

But as the army is reluctant to act directly, it will be up to the courts to actually pull the trigger. With memogate and the controversial and now defunct NRO, the Supreme Court has both barrels locked, loaded and cocked.

However, before popping open the champagne, let us consider the consequences of the premature ouster of yet another elected government.

The possible emergence of the judiciary as a kind of hatchet man for the establishment as well as for a media baying for blood is an unhealthy precedent. And if the PPP is turfed outfor the fourth time before being allowed to complete its term, it will once again be able to don the martyr`s mantle.

While it deserves to be booted out of office for incompetence, this decision should be left to the voters in the next election.

In Turkey, we have just witnessed the unprecedented sight of the ex-military chief being arrested for alleged involvement in a coup attempt against Prime Minister Erdogan`s government. Until a few years ago, the Turkish military establishment and its nationalist supporters known collectively as the Deep State loomed just as large on the political landscape as their Pakistani counterparts.

So what has changed in Turkey that an elected government can now sack and arrest serving and retired generals without fear of yet another coup? The answer in two words: good governance.

Since it came to power, the mildly Islamist Justice and Development (AK) Party has improved the economy beyond recognition, and moved steadily to impose civilian control over the military. And by repeatedly showing his popularity through thumping electoral victories, Erdogan has deprived the Deep State of political space.

There is an important lesson here for Pakistani politicians and civil society. Both have been demanding for years that the army must stopdabbling in politics and return to the barracks. But we need to remember that power is never handed over on a platter; it must be seized.

Lacking troops and tanks, civilian politicians need to improve their performance when in power, and learn to cooperate to strengthen democracy when they are not.

By running to the courts and to the military to intervene, they weaken democratic institutions. Had this government not accumulated such an appalling record over its four years in power, it might be getting greater support now.

As it is, its dreadful performance has won it few admirers.

Nevertheless, I maintain that it is not for the courts or the generals to sit in judgment over an elected government. That task is for voters alone. It is high time to break out of the cycle of coups and aborted terms in office.

Many people cannot understand how a shady individual like Mansoor Ijaz can drag the government to the brink.

Considering that he has repeatedly and publicly accused the Pakistan Army and the ISI of all kinds of shenanigans, for Gen Kayani and Gen Pasha to be accepting his charges against Husain Haqqani and, by extension, against the president and commander-in-chief, smacks of a set-up.

And while I disapprove of asking the Americans to meddie in our internal affairs, even if the memo did reflect official thinking at any level, all it was doing was seeking support in subordinating the military to the elected government. Isn`t that what the constitution calls for?

The writer is the author of Fatal Faultines: Pakistan, Islam and the West.

Originally published by Dawn

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