Friday, November 13, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Nov 14, 2015

Civil-mil ruction Pakistan is no stranger to the civilian-military divide in our history. But whenever it rears its ugly head, there is an inevitable veritable flurry of staking out positions by all stakeholders. In the current kerfuffle that has followed in the wake of the ISPR statement after the Corps Commanders meeting and the government’s rejoinder, the debate in the Senate indicates the underlying alarm caused amongst the democratic forces, which have come together in solidarity and defence of the democratic system and the civilian government despite their mutual differences. The sentiment was perhaps best summed up by Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, Leader of the Opposition in the upper house, when he said on the floor of the house that although the treasury benches (lately) had been carrying out his character assassination, and despite the fact that he was the government’s most trenchant critic, if it came to the crunch, he and his party would stand by the government. Senator Farhatullah Babar of the PPP perhaps went furthest in not just defending the government (albeit bewailing the fact that he had been reduced to what sounded like an advocate for the treasury benches) but questioning the ‘poor governance’ of the army (the reference being to the ISPR statement’s focus on the poor governance of the ruling PML-N). There was a unanimity of views amongst the Senators that there should be no overstepping the constitutional, limited role by any institution while decrying the method whereby the military conveyed its concerns through a public statement rather than discreetly in meetings that just preceded the Corps Commanders conference. It is interesting to note that the opposition Senators were foremost in defending the government while not being shy of admitting it was guilty of poor governance. This was reflected in the criticism that the government benches appeared paralysed by fear, particularly in the National Assembly, when they failed to utter a single meaningful word in their defence. The task of setting out the government’s case therefore was left to the rejoinder issued to state that implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP), which was the main thrust of the ISPR ‘critique’, was the collective responsibility of all institutions of the state. Tacitly and implicitly, the government seems to have opted, apart from the rejoinder, in considering discretion to be the better part of valour and reportedly instructed the PML-N leadership to say no more for fear of exacerbating the situation. This may well be a blessing in disguise if the past indiscreet utterances of several ministers is kept in view. The rejoinder seems to have been carefully crafted with the objective of preventing or pre-empting any such ISPR pronouncements in future. There has been talk since Operation Zarb-e-Azb was launched of a ‘creeping coup’ by the military, meaning leveraging more and more space for itself on security and foreign policy issues at the expense of the civilian government. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, perhaps stung twice by the consequences of taking on the military during his previous two terms, has imbibed the lesson not to unnecessarily rock the boat through open defiance. Instead, he seems to have been willing to concede the space the military has muscled its way into on the wisdom that patience pays and this squall too will pass. It only needs to be waited out. Whether however, such a strategy can succeed in the face of the government’s manifest shortcomings and failures in the implementation of the NAP, economic development (skewed almost exclusively in favour of infrastructure at the expense of the people’s problems of health, education, employment, inflation, etc), the energy crisis and a myriad of other accumulated discontents in society that do not figure on the government’s radar, remains an open question. In other words, does the government have the space and time that will allow a strategy of ‘procrastination’ and conceding space to powerful state institutions for the sake of remaining in power, finishing its tenure and living to fight another day, likely to furnish a favourable outcome? Crystal ball gazing aside, it is a moot point and one that has sufficiently alarmed the democratic forces as to forge unity around the defence of democracy and civilian supremacy.

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