They run the show still…
That the armed forces and the ISI constitute a state within a state is no secret. That they intend to remain so has also been made abundantly clear by them during the past four years. Unhappiness has been shown whenever the elected government has tried to assert itself even though half-heartedly and with no preparation. Gilani knew this very well when he occasionally mouthed phrases like ‘complete harmony’ existing between the civil government and the military or spoke about ‘all institutions of the state’ being ‘on the same page.’ These were hollow words meant only to keep up appearances and paper over the cracks.
These cracks have always existed. This time again, the army leadership is determined not to allow the civil government to make any inroads into the fairly expansive turf they have carved out for themselves on issues like Kashmir, nuclear weapons, Afghanistan, Balochistan and several other matters. Zardari’s desire expressed soon after the PPP victory in 2008 to resolve the issue of Kashmir after improving economic relations with India was strongly resented. So was the announcement to send the DG ISI to India after the Mumbai terror attack and the move to bring the ISI under the control of the interior ministry. The clause in the Kerry Lugar Bill that required the government to bring the army under civilian control made the military high command furious. The attempt by the government to probe the Abbottabad shame was considered an unpardonable act. A need was felt to create a ruse to get rid of the meddlesome government.
This led to the creation of the memo affair which was blown out of proportion. There is hardly any military government in the past which has not conspired with the US to deprive Pakistanis of their basic rights. In return for US support, Ayub, Zia and Musharraf gave the superpower concessions with grave implications for national security. At times, civil governments were dismissed after an understanding with the US or at its instigation. Another civilian government is now being threatened on the basis of a claim by a foreign citizen who has frequently maligned the army and the ISI in the past.
It goes to the discredit of the PPP government that it never made any serious attempt during its tenure t to contain the army within its sphere. The best way was to concentrate on improving the economy and the wellbeing of the people. This would have created a groundswell of public goodwill for the government besides providing it sufficient prestige. This is how Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) consolidated the civilian hold in Turkey where there has been a long tradition of military rule.
The PPP instead relied on keeping in power through dependence on thoroughly unscrupulous allies like the MQM and PML(Q). This was bound to lead to bad governance and make the party unpopular. The PPP leadership evolved the idea of reconciliation with all political and non political forces on the basis of live and let live. In practice, this meant giving the allies a freedom to indulge in all sorts of illegalities provided they continued to support the government.
The army will not remove the government through a coup this time for a number of reasons: a backlash of hostile public opinion, the fear of the opposition joining hands with the PPP and rejection by the SC of any unconstitutional act.
The idea behind Memogate was to create a conducive atmosphere before administering the coup de grace. The memo affair is supposed to create hostile public opinion. It is like the artillery barrage softening the enemy’s position before the foot soldiers come in.
The PML(N) leadership was the first to take the bait. While professing to be opposed to any military coup, the party is bent upon getting rid of the PPP government before the March Senate elections. PML(N) leaders took the memo issue to the SC. The party is bound to find soon that it has been complicit in the overthrow of a civilian government.
The government need not fear the SC which despite the haste shown in launching an enquiry into the memo affair is bound by constitutional considerations. This shows why it has again reiterated its opposition to any military takeover.
There is no constitutional way to remove the PPP government other than a no confidence move in National Assembly. Whenever the offstage players feel they have done enough to kick up an anti-PPP sentiment, they will take recourse to the move. They have enough levers to make many MQM and PML(Q) parliamentarians withdraw support from the government. They are in no hurry.
The preparation of fresh ‘error free’ electoral rolls, their publication and other formalities will take four to five months. All that needs to be done meanwhile is to indulge in political engineering, a routine exercise for the ISI. Part of the exercise has already been undertaken as can be seen from the beeline made by Musharraf loyalists and scores of political castaways to the PTI. The elections will see a downfall of the PPP and a trouncing of the PML(N). Once Imran Khan comes riding the ‘popular wave’, the state within the state will again face a challenge from the newly elected leader. Whatever else Imran may be, he would be loath to be taken for granted.
The writer is a former academic and a political analyst.