- Can there be political discussion without considering all factors?
The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) rally at Gujranwala was remarkable, but not explosive. It would have been explosive had it been ruthlessly suppressed, starting with the arrest of anyone remotely connected with the PDM, going on to the imposition of Section 144 on the city, and ending with the flooding of the venue. None of these things happened, and while it would have been too much to ask the PTI or its supporters to welcome it (after all, it was aimed at toppling its government), it deserves some credit for not having behaved as previous governments, especially military ones.
It was also remarkable rather than explosive, because of PML(N) supremo Mian Nawaz Sharif’s speech attacking the Army. It was not the first time he had made the attack, though it was the first time he had spoken directly to such a large audience. It was also the first time he blamed the Chief of Army Staff and the DG ISI as responsible. He accused them of toppling his government, installing Imran Khan and backing him by strong-arm tactics.
Imran Khan has twice attempted a rebuttal, first by calling Nawaz a traitor and accusing him of wanting to control the ISI and failing to do so. Recently, at a Tiger Force Convention, he accused him of using inappropriate language against the COAS and DG ISI. By doing so, he managed to keep them and their names in the public eye, where they should not really be.
Ayub Khan is remembered (by a shrinking and greyer audience) as a model of economic governance. In the end, the PDM will depend on the government’s poor economic performance for its movement to succeed. The flaw in the PDM’s plan is that it relies on the backers it alleges switching from the PTI to it, even though it has tried its components before. The doubts its components have on Mian Nawaz’s strategy can be seen from the doubts about his continued addresses. However, while they may not want the debate, now that it has started, it may be impossible to stop
It could thus be argued that Nawaz has succeeded in making Imran join him in doing something that is not supposed to be done: make the COAS and the DG ISI the subject of the political conversation. Nawaz has thus made it necessary for politicians to discuss the elephant in the room: the Army as a political player. This is something that is not supposed to happen, and which the Army will not admit happens. Indeed, the COAS, in a recent statement, while addressing a passing-out parade at the Pakistan Military Academy, says that the Army will obey the Constitution.
The war of words merely confirmed what was already common knowledge: that the military operated through the ISI. That is the true Zia legacy, perhaps even more than the ‘heroin culture’ and the ‘Kalshnikov culture.’ Along with these adjuncts of the Afghan War jihad which was the salient feature of the era, was the vastly expanded role of the ISI. Meant for the Afghan jihad, the ISI became a useful tool of political control. That made the ISI, not the Army as such, the real player in the political game.
It has taken Mian Nawaz a long time to move from being a member of Governor Ghulam Jilani Khan’s Punjab Cabinet to his present position. General Jilani had been DG ISI at the time of the 1977 coup, which was the time when the ISI began providing the COAS political intelligence.
The Pakistani Army is no exception in the world in forming views about national security and by extension of diplomacy and foreign policy. All militaries need strong intelligence setups to provide information independent of the civilian intelligence setups. As an almost natural concomitant, the ISI moved from merely reporting to obtaining results that the political masters required. However, the ISI has never been subordinate to the political government, because its political master did not control the promotions of its most senior officials, who were posted in from the armed forces, mostly the Army. Their promotion matters were determined by their services, at promotion boards headed, for senior officers, by the COAS.
The ISI was supposed to remain in the shadows, but its political role seems to be pushing it into a limelight it wishes it were absent. There are two major factors for military intervention in politics. First, there is the hangover from bouts of martial law. It has created a sizeable number of military men who have some experience of civilian institutions. It means that these officers also have opinions about that sector. There is probably no subject about which all officers would say, “I don’t know.” Second, there is the professional interest in security policy, and thus in foreign policy. Parties with certain policy desires contest elections, trying to convince people that not only are they right, but also capable of implementing that policy
That is how the PTI came to power, by convincing people that the economic problem could be solved by ending corruption. The PTI has been in office for over two years, and is presiding over what the PDM is painting as a collapsing economy. It should not be ignored that Mian Nawaz’s speech linked this economic collapse to Generals Bajwa and Faiz Hameed, saying that they had brought an incompetent PM to office.
The implication is that the PDM could do better. So far, there has been no hint of a solution, unless it was the picture Mian Nawaz painted of the prosperity of his era in office. The components of the PDM have differing solutions, while Mian Nawaz’s own PML(N) and his rival PPP have separate track records.
The performance of the economy was the plank on which the PTI based the campaign, first to oust the government and then to replace it. The PTI came to office with the existence of only a slim record, that of having governed KP. Admittedly, the scope for exhibiting its economic decision-making prowess was limited, but it did not use this platform to enunciate an economic vision. The only solution it presented was that it would end corruption, and provide honest leadership. That dream ended when the Finance Minister it had announced earlier, Asad Umar, ended up being replaced by Dr Hafeez Sheikh on the directions of the IMF, as one of the conditions of giving Pakistan a package. Dr Sheikh had a previous stint as Finance Minister, under the PPP, and was replaced by Shaukat Tareen.
One of the more interesting developments taking place is Mian Nawaz’s own distancing of himself from the military. Unlike Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who had opposed his military mentor, Ayub Khan, Mian Nawaz has never distanced himself from his, Ziaul Haq. And while Bhutto also distanced himself from Ayub’s economic management, Nawaz has not only claimed Zia’s heritage, but also claimed Ayub’s. Imran has not claimed Musharraf as his mentor, which is probably right, for he never held office under him, but he does have Ayub’s grandson in his Cabinet.
Ayub Khan is remembered (by a shrinking and greyer audience) as a model of economic governance. In the end, the PDM will depend on the government’s poor economic performance for its movement to succeed. The flaw in the PDM’s plan is that it relies on the backers it alleges switching from the PTI to it, even though it has tried its components before. The doubts its components have on Mian Nawaz’s strategy can be seen from the doubts about his continued addresses. However, while they may not want the debate, now that it has started, it may be impossible to stop.