The prompt for this article is a conversation with an old friend, a former brigadier. He called me Tuesday morning and said that he had read my article on principal contradiction and then went on to narrate an anecdote from decades ago when he was a freshly-minted lieutenant.
The commanding officer (CO) of an armoured regiment, the senior-most lieutenant colonel in the brigade, was holding forth. The LTC went on for more than an hour on concept of operations when the CO of another regiment in the brigade said to him, “Sir, all this is great. HuNR dasso karna ki ae! (Please explain what we should do now.)”
Having narrated this anecdote, the friend asked me: “It’s a great article. HuNR duss karna ki ae!”
This article is my attempt to answer that question. HuNR karna ki ae is, in fact, the basis of all policy. The process begins with the descriptive. That’s the part where one can bring in history, variables, actors, the optimal and the sub-optimal choices and much else. It’s the sexy part. But having done all of that, one has to move to the banal, the actionable, the doable, not just the desirable. That’s the prescriptive part. It must keep an eye on the complexities of the descriptive but then give a course of action: one, two, three, four… .
This banality is frustrating. Those who deal with policy know this firsthand. But let me give it a shot.
First, a quick recap.
I used Mao Zedong’s Principal Contradiction framework to describe how and why the “liberals” were supporting Fazlur Rehman’s march. In keeping with Mao’s argument, I argued that one has to first determine where the principal contradiction in a problem lies; I then mentioned that the principal contradiction is dynamic, not static or immutable. Once the problem has been tackled, it could shift to other contradictions which a particular situation might have pushed back. One of those secondary contradictions could then emerge as the principal contradiction.
Let me now paraphrase it and lose euphemisms like Establishment or Miltablishment, the portmanteau coined by Najam Sethi, the editor of this newspaper.
For the descriptive, let us first be clear on who we are talking about. It’s the army. Why are we talking about the army? We could respond by saying that that is because the army has mounted coups, subverted the Constitution, declared martial law on more than one occasion.
Correct, but partially. There are two other problems with this partially-correct answer. One, the answer doesn’t answer the question of why did the army mount coups and declare martial law? Two, right now — in fact, since 2008 — there’s no martial law.
The correct answer would attempt to deal with the question not just in relation to what the army has done, but why it did what it did and how and why does it still control certain strategic areas of governance and policy-making.
Remember, it’s about huNR dasso karna ki ae. That requires understanding what historian Ayesha Jalal called “the actual functioning balance between elected and non-elected institutions.” We invoke the Constitution, as we should, because that’s supposed to be the compact from which everything else — institutions and their interplay — issues forth. We can also call it the central document about the rules of the game.
The problem is that while invoking the Constitution is like conjuring up the ideal, the reality of power, to quote Jalal again, is “relational” because power is a relational concept and has to seen in relative terms. X has power means nothing unless one says that it is relative to Y’s power.
The power of the army does not flow from the Constitution, at least not in any direct sense. It flows from the weakness of other institutions and its monopoly of the coercive apparatus of the state because it is the coercive arm of the state — i.e., the other institutions, the ‘principal,’ to use Peter Feaver’s agency theory (2003), cannot effectively control the ‘agent’. It’s somewhat easy to figure that out. Does the military do what the civilians ask it to do, especially “when civilians have expressed a preference on both the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of any given action”; does the military work or shirk (shirking here does not mean shirking work but doing that — or not doing — which the principal desires)?
In other words, to use the relational concept, is the civilian principal making substantive policy decisions? Is he deciding decisional priorities? Is the military indulging in behaviour, directly or indirectly, that undermines civilian supremacy?
In fairness, Feaver’s theory, as he states at the outset, is less about the issue of establishing and maintaining civilian control over the military and more about day-to-day control of the military. That said, the first being fundamental and in the nature of strategic interaction between the civilian principal and the military, does impact the second, the every day dealings.
What the opposition is doing is not primarily against the current Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government. That government, as evidence increasingly shows and supports, draws its strength from the military, which jury-rigged it. Mufti Kifayatullah, before he was “legally” neutralised, presented the issue with great clarity. When asked why the JUIF was not marching on Rawalpindi if that was where the problem emanated from, he replied (words to that effect): “It’s very difficult to take them head-on. It’s easier to take on the pawn because the shock will go where the actual power lies.” Unbeknown to the Mufti, he was invoking Liddell Hart’s concept of the strategy of the indirect approach.
The opposition is trying to shift the relational power balance. The issue goes beyond whether politician X or Y or Z has been clean or unclean; or whether this is about elite factionalism where factions are fighting for more power and the issue hasn’t been settled yet. There are many contradictions among the actors that currently constitute the opposition. But the principal one at this point is the civ-mil fault-line. Whenever that issue is resolved, the fighting will move to whichever of the presently secondary contradictions emerges as the principal one.
There are two ways to achieve political stability (and with it economic stability). One is for many of these battles to be fought until the war ends with a visible outcome in favour of the civilians or, worse, against them. The second, the ideal one, is for all sides to take a pause and reflect. For instance, the army might want to ask itself a simple question: why is it that despite its high degree of professionalism, it has an image problem? I say this because Pakistan Army is one of the finest armies despite major resource constraints. It faces an enemy that spends USD62 bn and is the world’s fourth largest spender on defence. The army has made several changes to its organisation, logistical capabilities, doctrines et cetera and not allowed various asymmetries to result in a strategic upper hand for India.
But this is not what gets (or can get) highlighted. The image takes its sustenance from non-military and political and administrative forays into areas that are not, strictly speaking, the constitutional domain of the military. It’s attempts at controlling other organisations and institutions is the worst-kept secret in this republic.
For their part, the political parties have to look at their own conduct when in power. It’s easier to say that the army doesn’t let anyone work. But I can give innumerable examples of poor governance even in areas where the army has never intervened. Both subjects and the direction of causality require long discussions.
The ideal course will not be taken, however. The situation is far more complex and intractable for it to submit to an ideal course of action.
Unfortunately, the internal disruptions come at a time when the state faces multiple external challenges, cliched though this phrase has become, courtesy 5th generation war warriors.
So, to the question of huNR dasso karna ki ae, my response is gunnay choopo!
The writer is a former News Editor of The Friday Times and loves to choopo gunnay when things are not working. He tweets @ejazhaider reluctantly
Sir, again a brig here!!
daso na karna ke aya!! This simple question does not say anything please.