The veneer of democracy, so carefully plastered over Pakistan’s political system since the fall of its last dictator, appears to have peeled off completely. Astounding admissions have been made all around in the past few months, although none quite so frank really as some of the delectable disclosures recently made by our chief spymaster.
“Last year,” the DG ISI stated in his presser, “the establishment decided that it would restrict itself to its constitutional role”. Apparently, “the army had an intense discussion”, and thereafter, very graciously concluded that “the country’s benefit lies in us restricting ourselves to our constitutional role and remaining out of politics”.
This is excellent, as it has been officially confirmed – via the horse’s mouth no less — that prior to this period, the armed forces (or at least certain parts of it) had not been confining to the given mandate, and instead, were actively involved in carrying out activities of a political nature. This is a clear contravention of the oath taken by every member of the armed forces, and hence, necessitates that there be serious consequences.
Before we can arrive at that stage however, it is imperative that the public-at-large be provided more information. Confessions of unconstitutional conduct cannot be so casually made and brushed aside, to be addressed on some later date. Whatever conventional wisdom may lie at the heart of the classic idiom – der aye, durust aye – the law does not care for it. Instead, it demands action and accountability, and for this, we must first turn to the most basic of questions: what exactly had the army been doing so far?
Was it responsible, as commentators have long alleged, for orchestrating PTI’s glamorous transformation from long-time one-man show to credible third force? Was it then also responsible for rigging the last elections and helping the party ascend to power? All the media manipulation highlighted by international observers back then – those mysterious phone calls to senior editors, Pemra’s discriminatory behaviour, the seemingly unilateral schemes of cable operators – was all this part of some political engineering package being offered at the time?
And what of everything that happened during the PTI’s short-lived stint? Did members of the army really, as PDM cadres once openly suggested, assist the then-government in maligning and jailing the senior leadership of opposition parties – virtually all of whom were eventually released by courts? What of the many journalists that were attacked or abducted or unceremoniously pulled off air? Or the human rights activists forced to flee the country? Or the use of sedition and treason to whip dissenters into obedience? Was our intelligence and security apparatus behind all this too?
Finally, did the army leadership really ‘fall out’ with PTI over ISI chief’s appointment? It was shortly after that the mantra of neutrality seems to have been first adopted. And if so, was this a move towards constitutionalism or against it? Is a declaration of neutrality an apolitical act, or a further intrusion into politics? Moreover, if this is but a conjectural glimpse of intervention near the centre, what manner of things might have been taking place in our peripheries?
Did the army leadership really ‘fall out’ with PTI over ISI chief’s appointment? It was shortly after that the mantra of neutrality seems to have been first adopted. And if so, was this a move towards constitutionalism or against it?
Such, is the trouble with incomplete confessions – all they tend to do is tickle the imagination, forcing it to contend with all sorts of plausible and implausible things. But there is a bigger problem here still, for without any real clarity regarding what the army had been doing in politics in the first place, how is anyone supposed to know if the army is now staying out it, as it so fervently claims?
This has led us to our present conundrum, where each and every accusation that was once being hurled at the PTI-led coalition, is now being catapulted back into the PDM’s face – and very deservedly so. After wailing and railing against hidden hands and invisible forces for three and a half years, as soon as the PDM found itself firmly ensconced into the driving seat, it inexplicably lost all interest in holding anyone responsible for the long list of grievances it had been claiming to have suffered.
Today, it chirps melodically along with the very ‘establishment’ that it once decried for having attempted to mastermind its total annihilation from the political arena. Its failure to initiate any process of accountability has rendered its politics bare of any substance and moral legitimacy, something that has only been compounded by the fact that during its rule thus far, almost every problem associated with the previous regime has not only persisted, but demonstrably accelerated.
Meanwhile, the PTI, after having enjoyed what clearly appears to have been unbridled support from the military during its tenure, has now turned upon its erstwhile benefactor with a belligerence never before seen. It has successfully washed its hands of every sin it committed whilst it was in power, turbo-charged its support base and is now shamelessly using every populist tactic in its playbook to trigger a snap election (and more).
With everything out in the open as it is, there should be little doubt in anyone’s mind that Pakistan is, in essence, a pure garrison state. The political-military elite enjoy a carefully (albeit hotly) negotiated power-sharing arrangement, while a baffled populace gapes at palace intrigues, fed on cheap soundbites and empty rhetoric about democracy and whatever else not. Hybridity of rule, far from being a feature of this or that government, seems to be a permanent pillar of the system itself.
If this matrix of power is to be aligned with the letter and spirit of the constitution, politicians must end their senseless collective self-flagellation and restore some measure of legitimacy to parliament – stabilise it, empower it, use it as the primary vehicle for their contestations. Perhaps in doing so, they may find the audacity to resolve the many questions that continue to haunt us and help this truth-starved nation understand what has been going on in its name.
Lucky for everyone concerned, the army says it has become apolitical. Surely, this means it shall now readily open itself up to public scrutiny and welcome any call for accountability with open arms.