On the TV talk shows, the Bosphorus became the Indus last week. The events in Turkey might have been discussed endlessly throughout the world, but talk of military coups has a special resonance in Pakistan, given our own rocky road towards a democratic dispensation.
Comparisons with Pakistan — whether the coup in question has been by one of the tinpot dictators in Latin America or the establishment of a military junta in the Far East — are but natural in the local press. More so, if the country in question happens to be Turkey, a Muslim country.
One would have thought that the people coming out on the streets to defend the elected government that had voted for — and against — would embolden advocates of democracy in our country. Yet, democracy in our country is the anti-cat. It never lands on its feet, even if the going is good. Because the message that the local media extrapolated from it was that the Turks stood by their government because it is a good, clean government; one that delivers, not like the set of rulers that we have. Even the quelling of a coup by a democracy is moulded to make democracy look bad in our country.
There are several points to ponder in this comparison with Turkey.
First, on the issue of why coups aren’t quashed in Pakistan: few realise that such coups have also failed in Pakistan. Every single time. All the military coups that didn’t have the army chief on board (we’ve had several of them) have failed promptly. This is unless one counts the ‘99 coup as one where the army chief (Zia-ud-Din Butt) wasn’t on board.
Yes, the nature of the quashing is admittedly different. Here, the army itself cracked down, with prodding from the civil government, I must add. There, even the people came out on to the streets.
Second, on the issue of the difference between the governments: though Erdogan regime is thought of as a clean government here, he has actually been mired in allegations of mega scandals, including one involving his son, back when Mr Erdogan was prime minister. He has also been charged with nepotism. Allegations are just that, someone might argue, that these may not be true; what about the awami life-style of the fellow? Well, on that front, you might have seen footage of the presidential palace. Though the Ataturk Forrest Farm was a first-degree protected site, Erdogan had it constructed despite a suspension order by the court. “Let them tear it down,” he is reported to have said. Though the Turkish government now doesn’t give the details of the cost of the palace, Erdogan’s former finance minister was quoted as saying it would cost $615 million.
In addition to not having a clean reputation, fabulously opulent tastes, Erdogan also has a thin skin. He actually had the German ambassador summoned to the foreign office, asking for action to be taken after a German comedian had made fun of him, using some arcane, forgotten-but-still-on-the-books law in Germany that proscribes comedians and satirists from making fun of foreign heads of state. In his own country, of course, he has been leading a crackdown — since before the attempted coup, but heightened after it — against public intellectuals and members of the press.
Erdogan’s disdain for the liberals and seculars is hidden from no one. But it was those very same seculars and liberals that had taken to the streets, alongside their more conservative, religious-minded compatriots, to take on the rogue soldiers that had attempted a coup.
There is reason, yes, that the people of Turkey and Pakistan react in different manners. But that reason is not in the quality of governance. It is in the belief, borne out of years of experience with the military, that any and all interventions in the democratic process, no matter how appealing they might look, are bad in the long run. Our experience has shown that they are bad, even in the short run.
There is an expectation in Pakistan, for the people to rise from their homes and stand in front of tanks. It is needed, yes. But they shouldn’t have to. From a Brecht play, where one character says to another, that unfortunate is the land that has no heroes. No, replies the other; unfortunate is the land that needs heroes.
We are an unfortunate land that we have institutions that don’t know their place and constantly bite the hand that feeds them. It should be the lot of our civilians to lead productive lives, not to lie in front of tanks.