Our coup-lovers : By Syed Talat Hussain
The writer is former executive editor of The News and a senior journalist with Geo TV.
In background conversations, senior military officials say there is consensus in the army that the democratic dispensation should continue. Senior political representatives also say, joyfully of course, that recent tensions have been defused and the army and the government have a smooth working relationship. Both confidently dispel impressions of an impending or planned military intervention in politics. These are reassuring assurances and have to be taken at face value.
And yet you cannot look in any direction in Pakistan without hearing open petitions to the army to jettison democracy and take charge of Pakistan. It might be a noisy minority but it is right out there. It amplifies its ideas through a section of the media that is ever ready to facilitate and expand the narrative of a country ripe for a rightful military foray into politics.
What fanciful ideas brew in the heads of such proponents? What broth is stirring in their minds? What assumptions do they make when they issue treasonous clarion calls to the General Headquarters and emphasise that they are worthy warriors of hope they nation ought to be proud of?
The following is a multi-dimensional window onto the thoughts of coup-lovers – a potpourri of politicians, religious lobbyists, media persons, writers, columnists, bureaucrats, businessmen, retired and serving members of the administration. It is a summary of the reasons why, despite firm statements from the highest military quarters that tanks aren’t being readied to roll, the seductive desire of the few for the army to move in refuses to go away.
Some coup-lovers assume that the generals are some sort of a demolition squad that can be convinced to step in, throw the present government out and create a level-playing field for a new leader. They also assume that such intervention can be limited to razing to the ground the present order, to laying the foundation of a new one, and will not extend to a total break-down of the constitutional framework. For them the army would come in to amend and mend, and leave the rest to them. That half-coups are as non-existent as half-pregnancies is something that does not deter them from hanging on to the belief that the generals’ conscience can be appealed to for making the unthinkable happen – come in, clean up and go out.
Despite their ignorance of how armies think, such assumptions abound. They are visible when Dr Tahirul Qadri – our seasonal entertainment – pops up on gasping-for-ratings shows and goes epileptic demanding that the Sharifs be booted out immediately. These assumptions are pronounced in disappointed musings of dubious media analysts who express open and deep regrets that General Raheel Sharif has missed yet another opportunity to ‘fix’ things.
Similar assumptions underpin more mainstream strategies of ‘getting rid of the government’. Imran Khan’s sit-in of last year and even his current planned siege of the residence of the Sharifs in Raiwind are based on the premise that if his party can stir enough trouble on the streets the army will come in and in the name of arbitration at least remove the present lot in power. After than they will win the next election and form a new government!
These assumptions among coup-lovers are due to poor or selective reading of history. The three military rules – Ayub Khan, Ziaul Haq, Pervez Musharraf – intervened not to save the country or to create an equalitarian society. It was a combination of personal ambition hitched onto global strategic needs and regional situations. The takeovers were not for one party against another party, even though some benefitted and others suffered as a consequence of these actions. These were monumental moves whose drivers included needs of cold wars (50s and 80s) and then the so-called ‘war on terror’, which since George Bush has been used as an instrument to topple regimes, break apart countries, redesign borders, install favourable regimes and justify blatant foreign interventions.
In other words, coups in Pakistan have not been the outcome of domestic considerations but largely facilitated by a mix of global and regional designs. But since most of our national discourse is devoid of any sense of history, and since we are big-time fact-fiddlers and inventors of self-gratifying political fiction, some tend to believe that there is a coup category meant to ‘fix Pakistan’, to throw out a regime and usher in a good and pure leadership at the helm of affairs.
General Sisi of Egypt is a classic case to study in this regard. While the world and majority of Egyptians were mesmerised by Tahrir Square (a model for our Taqreer Square in D-Chowk), a silent coup cemented by Arab politics of the region unfolded. Now after all the song and dance of a bright tomorrow, Egypt reels under the heel of a strongman more known for hanging revolutionaries than anything else.
Our own past tells us as much too. The political point-scoring and back-stabbing of the 1950s did not produce a representative regime: it brought in Ayub Khan who for all his modern thinking and development agenda could not hold the country together. The PNA movement produced Ziaul Haq who gave us ideological confusion, drugs, guns, and no roses. Government hatao, mulk bachao (save Pakistan, get rid of the government) facilitated Pervez Musharraf who sowed a blood and terror crop that we cannot seem to reap enough.
But still some think that after Nawaz Sharif is thrown out Imran Khan will become the prime minister and this country will be well and truly on the way to becoming heaven on earth. Delusions uncured by history thrive permanently.
Coup-lovers also think that the army can do anything and everything. All countries take pride in their armed forces. So does Pakistan, but here national pride and appreciation have swollen to unrealistic proportions. The army is seen to possess the institutional and human capacity to undertake tasks (governance, political reform, economic wellbeing, social sector development, to name just a few) that even the best of revolutionary movements in human history failed to produce. Even in areas (changing minds and hearts) where Allah Almighty’s Chosen Ones, prophets and reformers struggled for decades and used much Divine help to make progress, it is believed that the army can turn things around in a few years.
‘Bring em in and see how things change’ is a shadow that some continue to chase. The complexities of governing multilingual, multi-racial, fractured and fractioned societies are not an issue for them. They see soldiers march in line and jets roar through the air and believe that governance through uniform can be just as neatly aligned and perfectly formed.
The army – like all armies – takes all such praise with open arms, never reminding anyone about its own limitations and commitments that make it impossible for them to come even close to the idea that they cannot govern. This allows the fantastic coup-as-cure theory to hold ground.
Inflating these ideas is gigantic incompetence by the government itself. For all its mandate, the Sharif government has been a non-government. It has a makeshift arrangement for everything – imagine appointing a full-time law minister after three years and keeping the foreign minister portfolio vacant. It does not look like a government on the go but a government about to go. It has carried out no meaningful reform in any significant sector of national life and feels no shame about it. The easiest and the most important could have been police and local judicial system reform. But like other areas these too have been criminally neglected.
On top of it, the Sharifs’ vulgar wealth, their grossly opulent lifestyle and their penchant for indulgent luxury. Tricks such as open-cuffed and half-buttoned shirts of Shahbaz Sharif fool no one. If anything, they only highlight insincerity to, and betrayal of, the idea of genuine reform. It is this context that has made the Panama Leaks such a setback for them. Hussain Nawaz thought of talking to the media about his offshore companies and Mariam Nawaz’s role in them only after he became sure that he could no longer hide it from the public. But even these carefully planned and planted interviews and the tidal wave of press conferences and hourly defence of the Sharifs has not dented the general perception that the fish is rotten at the head.
These circumstances and such doings of the government keep theories of a military intervention in permanent play in the country. With rulers like these around, coup-lovers, a coup will always lurk around the bend. Here we might have to agree with them.