Sunday, July 17, 2016
Business Recorder Editorial July 16, 2016
Coup attempt in Turkey An attempted coup by a faction of the military in Turkey has failed because of decisive action by the loyal military command and the determined unarmed resistance of the people. On July 15, Turkey and the world were shocked by the announcement by the military coup makers that they had overthrown the government of President Tayyip Erdogan and assumed control, ironically in the name of protecting the democratic order and maintaining human rights, existing foreign relationships and the rule of law. The state-run Anadolu news agency reported that the chief of military staff was among hostages being held in the Ankara military headquarters. Both President Erdogan and Prime Minister (PM) Binali Yildirim reacted swiftly in asserting that the attempted coup had been put down, with the former’s appeal to the people to come out in resistance on the streets producing extraordinary scenes of protestors facing off against tanks and thereby inducing the surrender of some of the rebelling soldiers. PM Yildirim declared that the elected government was still in charge and would only go when the people said so. He promised that the coup makers would pay the highest price. By the time he addressed a press conference the next day, it was clear the coup had collapsed, leaving a death toll of 104 soldiers from amongst the coup makers, 41 loyalist police and two security forces’ personnel, and 47 citizens. Almost 3,000 arrests and one military helicopter shot down while firing on citizens rounded off the score. One helicopter with military personnel on board escaped to neighbouring Greece and these rebels promptly demanded political asylum. Other than that the putsch claimed relatively little damage, a reflection perhaps of the narrow base of support within the military for the coup makers. The army chief, five Generals and 29 Colonels have reportedly been sacked in the aftermath of the attempted coup, presumably for their failure to head it off, which also points to an intelligence failure. The Turkish government announced that July 15 would be celebrated every year as Democracy Day. It also accused dissident self-exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen of being behind the attempted overthrow. Once an ally of President Erdogan, Gulen has fallen foul of the AK Party government and been accused repeatedly of running a ‘parallel structure’ of his supporters within the judiciary and administration. Gulen, however, has denied any responsibility for the coup attempt. It goes without saying that the attempted putsch set off alarm bells in the west as well as the region. Turkey has the second largest army in NATO, with the İncirlik air base serving as the launch pad for western air raids against Islamic State (IS) fighters in Syria and Iraq. Turkey under Erdogan, PM from 2003 till he was elected President in 2014 and attempted to shift executive powers to the latter traditionally ceremonial post, has of late been changing its policy of turning a blind eye to (if not cooperating with) IS in its obsession to get rid of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, because IS has bitten the hand that fed it by attacking Turkey, the horrendous Istanbul airport attack two weeks ago that killed 40 people being the last straw for Ankara. Erdogan has also tilted into a war once again with Turkey’s Kurds. His ruling AK Party has long had strained relations with the military and nationalists apprehensive of his attempts to alter Turkey’s founding secular state character in the direction of greater Islamisation. Turkey’s military has historically regarded itself as the guardian of Turkey’s secular state and not hesitated in the past to take over when dissatisfied with civilian governments. But it seems the long years of democracy under Erdogan, differences notwithstanding, has demonstrated its efficacy in pitching Turkey’s rapid development as a model for Muslim countries. Besides, we in Pakistan would have little difficulty in recognising that military coups, when they inevitably give way eventually to democratic, representative rule, leave more problems behind than those the coup makers set out to tackle. Not only that, the interruption of continuity weakens institutions and forces countries to go back to the drawing board every time to literally start from scratch to undo the malign effects of military rule and restart the democratic journey. If more current proof of this is needed, one need only cast a glance at the outcome of the Egyptian military coup that overthrew an Islamist government and is now faced with extreme unrest and discontent because of its authoritarian repression of the forces that fuelled the Arab Spring in that country. We in Pakistan, when we start to air our discontents with democracy, should keep in mind that military rule has only exacerbated our problems and slowed down, if not sabotaged, the project of incremental systemic institutionalisation, not the least because of covert and not so covert pressures exerted by the military. Turkey’s people and armed forces are to be congratulated for their successful defence of democracy against an ill considered and unacceptable military putsch. Pakistan too needs to learn the appropriate lessons from this event, which includes our civilian rulers paying greater attention to more effective governance and the strengthening of democratic institutions in the interests of the people.