Battling for absolute control

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Consumed with anger and hatred, a prime minister falters gravely

 

“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

–Voltaire

First, a small narrative of the depths this nation has plunged to. Someone a friend knows well was driving down the Margalla Road a couple of days ago and stopped at a red light. He also had a colleague travelling with him. When the light turned green, he took off only to be stopped by a traffic warden a few yards down the road. Plonking himself right in front of the car, the warden demanded the driving license. Upon enquiring as to why, the warden said that the guy had violated the traffic signal. By this time, there was some honking as the car was parked right in the middle of the road impeding the flow of traffic. When this gentleman tried to move it to the side, the traffic warden refused to budge saying that he would ‘run away’ and that he should first hand over the license.

The fact that most of the people in the country, across divides, have lived literally by taking the law in their own hands and manipulating it to suit their convenience has led to a rapid shrinking of mutual trust and respect. Ordinary citizens are now looked upon as a bunch of fraudsters who would stoop to the lowest of the lows to have it their way irrespective of the damage it may incur to the legitimate interests of other people, even the state.

There is a demonic rush for accumulating, whether it be financial benefits or the power that may be associated with the position that a certain individual may be occupying. The rot begins at the top and trickles down through all echelons of the society. The lust of the rulers to accumulate surpasses all benchmarks. The attempt to have a constitutional amendment passed to assume unchallengeable powers back in the nineties had laid the foundation of the ultimate ouster of the then government. But, the lust was caringly nurtured through the years in exile and through the innumerable scheming moves to ascend the mantle of power again. Once there, tragically and in defiance of the lessons of the past, the rulers continued to conspire to assume absolute control to the detriment of the empowerment and functioning of other key state institutions.

The fact that most of the people in the country, across divides, have lived literally by taking the law in their own hands and manipulating it to suit their convenience has led to a rapid shrinking of mutual trust and respect. Ordinary citizens are now looked upon as a bunch of fraudsters who would stoop to the lowest of the lows to have it their way irrespective of the damage it may incur to the legitimate interests of other people, even the state.

For any sane leader, the predominant occupation after coming into power should have been to devote unerringly to tackling the scourge of militancy, improving the economic health of the nation and initiating projects of public welfare. Instead, the primary attention has been focussed on settling scores of the past: to make Musharraf crawl for forgiveness and, in the process, heap ridicule on the institution of the army. One wrote repeatedly urging the prime minister to refrain from getting embroiled in a battle that, in the long run, will be to his detriment. But, the army-bashing gang that he is surrounded with would not let any sane advice through. These myopic, self-promoting individuals fully exploited the prime minister’s contagious penchant to contribute to the anti-army chanting which, understandably, he has engaged in to his heart’s content.

The decision to initiate the dialogue process with the militants was woefully jaundiced. Given a long history of collaboration between the PML-N leadership and a myriad of the banned militant outfits, mostly based in the Southern Punjab, for gaining political yardage, the decision was, primarily, a reflection of the inherent vulnerability of the incumbent political leadership in dealing with the scourge of militancy. On the other hand, and having lost precious men and material at the hands of audacious onslaughts by the militants, immense pressure had been built on the army higher command to move against these criminal outfits. But, they were stopped in their tracks as the political government elevated the stature of the militants to ‘stakeholders’, on a par with the state of Pakistan, and constituted a committee comprising closet Taliban to initiate the dialogue process with real-time Taliban to bring peace to the country.

Over four months down the lane, the negotiations have produced no solution and seem to have hit a dead end with the TTP announcing that it will not extend the ceasefire which had been in place for over a month. As a reason, it cited a lack of positive response from the government to its overture(s).

This relates to the government’s inability to free over eight-hundred combatant prisoners who are in Pakistan’s custody. In response to this intransigence, the government responded by reiterating its policy of appeasement and vowed to continue talking to the militants.

Musharraf could and should have been left alone. He was no threat to the government. The military was in no mood to intervene. But we don’t have a leader here. We don’t have a Mandela. We have a prime minister who is consumed with anger and hatred of a person who pushed him out of power. It does not end there. This anger and hatred extend to the institution the General belonged to. In the General’s humiliation, the prime minister sees the humiliation of the army. In the General’s incarceration, the prime minister sees his freedom. From the General’s pain, the prime minister derives sardonic pleasure.

At the beginning of the dialogue process, there were three key mitigating factors. The foremost was the narrative factor. While the militants preached a theocratic and regressive narrative that would bring in the stone-age injunctions, the constitution of Pakistan, in spite of serious aberrations that need to be looked into, advocated for a democratic and enlightened polity. For innumerable scribes, these narratives were irreconcilable so much so that the two sides would have struggled to understand each other. To nullify that gulf, the political leadership assiduously put together a team that was hardly capable of representing the true ethos of the state and whose members had been, individually and collectively, supporting most of what the militants stood for even before a word had been spoken. In spite of that, and in spite of some overtures made by the government including the freeing of some so-called non-combatant Taliban who were held in Pakistan’s custody, which was contrary to the spirit of the dialogue, the exercise produced no tangible results.

The second factor pertained to the number of militant groups that were engaged in terrorist activities and which among them the government would or should talk to. The situation has been further aggravated in the wake of an open split among various factions of the militants with one group coming out openly against the other and also against the process of dialogue. In fact, this scribe had raised this point in numerous writings whether peace with one faction of militants would be deemed as peace with all factions.

And if that were not to be the case, what would be the worth of this process which was aimed at bringing peace to the country? The fear emanated from the fact that, even if the government managed to broker peace with some militant factions, the others would continue to fight. After wasting precious months, thus allowing the militants time and space to regroup in the wake of the limited targeted operation conducted by the military, the government again stands at square one contemplating where and how to proceed further.

The third factor was the possible impact the dialogue process would have on the civil-military relations. This specifically related to whether the political leadership had the moral strength and capacity to withstand pressure from the GHQ in the event the two discourses did not converge? One had felt the strains in this relationship early on and one also wished that, through sagacious and wise decision-making, the political leadership would be able to carry the military along which was integral to the attainment of any sustainable solutions.

So, it seems, may actually happen to this latest stint in power of the prime minister. The interior minister has conceded that the civil-military relations are strained. That is saying a lot going by the way the incumbent government operates: it does not believe in taking matters to the parliament or discussing them in public. Instead, it tries to tackle them among the coterie of army-bashers that the prime minister is surrounded with. This hatred has ignited unnecessary fires. As minutes tick, the heat is becoming intense and may soon be unbearable. The entire onus is on the prime minister. In his quest for absolute control, he may lose his very moorings.

Because of the immense negative baggage that the prime minister carries from his earlier stints in power, and having added further venom to it through his years in exile, he was, from the outset, not the best person to be heading a government. The challenge became graver in the light of his considerable inadequacies in the realms of vision, capability and capacity.

Add to that the absolutely unnecessary drama that is being enacted around the person of General Musharraf, and all this because of an inherent inability of the prime minister to cope with anger and hatred. I am reminded of Nelson Mandela’s response to Bill Clinton who asked him whether he still hated his captors when he walked out of the prison gate. Mandela replied: “I felt hatred, anger and fear. I hadn’t been free in a long time. When I got to the gate, I said, I want to be free. And I knew if I still hated them when I drove out the door, I would be their prisoner. I wanted to be free. And so I let it go.”

Musharraf could and should have been left alone. He was no threat to the government. The military was in no mood to intervene. But we don’t have a leader here. We don’t have a Mandela. We have a prime minister who is consumed with anger and hatred of a person who pushed him out of power. It does not end there. This anger and hatred extend to the institution the general belonged to. In the general’s humiliation, the prime minister sees the humiliation of the army. In the general’s incarceration, the prime minister sees his freedom. From the general’s pain, the prime minister derives sardonic pleasure.

I don’t carry a brief for Gen Musharraf. I am probably one of those who wrote the most against what he did to Pakistan during his days of ascendency. But, in matters of state craft, personal hatred has no place, no relevance. Policies cannot be formulated that stand on the platform of anger. This would give way sooner than one may realise. And, when that happens, it is likely to bring down the entire edifice.

So, it seems, may actually happen to this latest stint in power of the prime minister. The interior minister has conceded that the civil-military relations are strained. That is saying a lot going by the way the incumbent government operates: it does not believe in taking matters to the parliament or discussing them in public. Instead, it tries to tackle them among the coterie of army-bashers that the prime minister is surrounded with. This hatred has ignited unnecessary fires. As minutes tick, the heat is becoming intense and may soon be unbearable. The entire onus is on the prime minister. In his quest for absolute control, he may lose his very moorings.