Not staying on the message
Mr Asif Ali Zardari’s recent diatribe against the military establishment and the Rangers’ alleged high-handedness in Sindh has stirred up a hornet’s nest. The PPP must be feeling politically isolated in its quest to rein in the khakis and their surrogates in the province. The party’s co-chairperson had probably expected better from Prime Minister Sharif who, by cancelling a pre scheduled meeting, overtly snubbed him.
After all, Zardari stood by Sharif when the latter was under siege by the ubiquitous establishment and its surrogates last year. He had not only refused to play ball with a belligerent Imran Khan but also by advising the prime minister to summon a joint session of the parliament, bailed him out.
The kind of friendly opposition proffered by the PPP in the parliament earned Khurshid Shah, the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, the unflattering sobriquet of being a member of the ruling party rather than the PPP. But who knows better than Zardari that there are no IOUs in politics — the only constant is perhaps permanent interests.
After all Nawaz Sharif would vividly recall that Ms Benazir Bhutto, during his first stint as prime minster, on his behest chanted ‘go Baba go, go Baba go’ in the joint session of the parliament being addressed by an openly hostile President Ghulam Ishaq Khan. Soon after the PPP stabbed Sharif in the back and joined hands with GIK. The president, armed with article 58-2 B, subsequently dismissed the PML-N government and inducted Zardari as minister for water and power in the interim cabinet.
But two wrongs do not make one right. Notwithstanding acts of omission or commission of the PPP, Sharif heading the federal government should not have refused to meet a leading opposition figure whose party also happens to be ruling in one of the federating units.
After all Nawaz Sharif would vividly recall that Ms Benazir Bhutto, during his first stint as prime minster, on his behest chanted ‘go Baba go, go Baba go’ in the joint session of the parliament being addressed by an openly hostile President Ghulam Ishaq Khan
Adding insult to injury, the prime minister tried to earn brownie points by brazenly claiming that attack on the military was unacceptable. And that is why he declined to meet the PPP co-chairperson.
Admittedly, Zardari’s outburst was a bit over the top. But is it tantamount to committing sacrilege to criticise the role of the generals in our polity? It is a stark reality that there are no holy cows in our murky political milieu.
Not long ago while the PPP was in power and Nawaz Sharif was leading the opposition he had no qualms in vociferously attacking the Kayani-Pasha duo. The denouement from a Punjabi politician really hurt the military establishment where it mattered.
Hence Sharif was ‘persuaded’ to outgrow his penchant to hit at the military leadership. At that time I do not recall Zardari, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani or members of the cabinet going to town on Sharif.
Everyone concedes that the military under General Raheel Sharif is actively engaged in removing an existential threat to the country in the form of Zarb-e-Azb. The government and broadly all political parties including the PPP have supported operations against terrorists and criminals.
In fact the necessary legislation including the 21st amendment to the constitution to set up military courts would not have been possible without PPP’s cooperation — the majority party in the Senate at the time. Of course this does not mean that the PPP cannot be absolved of its poor governance record during seven years of its rule in the province.
The party needs introspection and a lot to fix in order to regain its past glory. Nevertheless in the present context relevant civilian institutions should probe charges of misrule and corruption rather than the Rangers and the corps commander Sindh acting like self styled messiahs.
In Pakistan’s checkered political history the military’s role in politics without exception has met with disastrous results. Every coup was conducted in the name of cleaning up the Augean stables. And every time the generals in order to perpetuate themselves co-opted the same ‘corrupt and incompetent’ politicians they had ousted with much fanfare.
Perhaps General Raheel Sharif and his predecessor General Kayani understood this dynamic. Hence the military lost the stomach to overtly rule. But old habits die hard. The pendulum is shifting so far away from our ostensibly democratic system that some critics — not entirely without justification — claim that a soft coup has already taken place.
Sharif, perhaps taking a leaf out of Zardari’s book, wants to complete his five-year term come what may. For that reason alone perhaps he is willing to bend over backwards to make compromises lest any feathers are ruffled at the GHQ.
He had earned the unsavoury distinction of not getting along with any of the military chiefs he worked with as prime minister. So this time around, after initial hiccups, he is doubly careful.
Everyone concedes that the military under General Raheel Sharif is actively engaged in removing an existential threat to the country in the form of Zarb-e-Azb. The government and broadly all political parties including the PPP have supported operations against terrorists and criminals
Perhaps in the present milieu the sacrosanct principle of civilian control over the armed forces remains a pipedream. The kind of existential internal and external threats the country is facing only a hybrid model (perhaps chimerical) with military and civilians co-operating to share power would work.
But Zardari’s lament has thrown a spanner in the works. This is where Nawaz Sharif comes in. Instead of behaving like an ostrich he should play his due role to smoothen things out.
After all, politicians should guard against the increasingly intrusive role of the military in the name of internal security. Hopefully, when Sharif called General Raheel Sharif while he was in Moscow, he must have apprised the general of the sensitivity of the situation.
The stakes are very high. According to ‘Fund for Peace’, an independent non-profit research and education organisation, in its freshly compiled, Fragile States Index 2015, Pakistan ranks amongst the most fragile countries — in the unsavoury company of Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Chad.
An ordinary Pakistani living under terrorism and being on the wrong end of the stick for so many years does not need to read such surveys to be aware of the dire straits. For this reason alone our civilian polity and the military establishment should be on the same page to bring the country back from the brink.
Unfortunately our ruling elite – khaki and mufti — are finding it increasingly difficult to remain focused on the message. There is no gainsaying that the PPP should get its act together in Sindh.
Complaints about poor governance and lack of transparency in the province are far too frequent to be ignored. But it’s up to the federal government and the PPP leadership to fix the malaise rather than the corps commander and the Sindh Rangers overstepping their mandate.
Every institution including the military should do its mandated work. And the prime minister is elected to drive this message home.