By Misbah Azam, Ph.D.
Max Fisher — an ex-staffer of Washington Post who left the Post in February 2014 along with two of other staffers to join Ezra Klein’s new Vox Media-backed venture — on January 28th, 2014, wrote an interesting article in the Post. In his article Fisher presented the mathematical model by Jay Ulfelder — a political scientist, a former research director of the Political Instability Task Force commission by the Central Intelligence Agency, and a moderator of a blog “Dart-Throwing Chimp” – who roughly estimates the likelihood that each country will experience a coup in the year 2014 by tracking over a dozen variables – from political system to years of independence the presence of absence of an “elite” ethnic group. Ulfelder claims that because he “fine-tuned” the model by applying it over the years 1960 to 2010, it has ability to predict future coups by looking at past ones. According to the model in 40 countries which are at the risk of military coups, the likelihood of Pakistan in 2014 to have a military coup was rated at around 10% while Egypt, which had already gone through the coup in 2013 was put on 9%. Lots of political pundits in Pakistan rejected these largely qualitative analysis by calling it a figment of a theoretician whose political predictions about very indiscriminate and random behaviors of realities are based on empirical mathematical models, however, in reality, looking at the events of 2014, one cannot deny that if General Raheel Sharif would decide to move in, virtually, there was nothing in his way to stop him from launching a military coup. How he would sustain his military adventure after that coup can be debated but no one can deny the fact that the country was at the verge of another Martial Law.
Although it will be very unfair if General Raheel Sharif will not be given credit for his stance against the pressure from outside and inside the military, and resisting the coup during the time of Imran Khan/Tahirul Qadri’s anti-democracy adventurism but the ground reality was that it was not quite necessary for him to take such risk. One reason was that if we look into the history of military coups of in Pakistan, the military regimes began during or just at the start of the war against communism or war against terrorism in which the US and the large part of West were involved in Pakistan’s neighborhood. After the coup of Gen. Zia and Gen. Musharraf, the Republican administration came in US. It is a common understanding that the Republicans believe in the feasibility of having some dictator at the helm of affairs so that with the blackmailing, pressure and promises of financial aid and short-term investments, dictators can be controlled and country’s powerful security institutions can be used as proxies. In 2014, although there was destabilization in Afghanistan and US was pulling out from there, but, due to the Democrats administration in US, the Pakistani security establishment couldn’t be sure about support from the US. Another good reason could be that the Army knew that it would anyway start asserting the civilian government and the foreign and to large extent internal policies of the country would be run by the Army chief and some of his close Generals. Later events confirmed all that.
The role of the media is also very important and must be debated. Although, a large section of media still resisting the pressure and supporting the democratic institutions but another large section – may be larger — is making every effort to preach the people that all the “good things” are being done only by the military and civilian governments are simply, either following the “marching orders” given by the Army or not doing anything. The sacrifice Pakistan Army is offering to clean up the mess of terrorism is phenomenal and must be admired. They are waging the war – so far without any distinction – in the cities and in the tribal areas and showing impressive results, however, taking all the credit from the civilian institutions and arguing that only Army is hero and all others are zero is rather manipulation of truth or simply naïve. The rule of thumb is – which is never applied in Pakistan — that civilians make policies and military is a tool to implement those policies. Mr. Arif Nizami, a famous top of the line Pakistani journalist, TV show host and Editor of Daily Pakistan Today, said in his private TV show that General Kyani never wanted to go behind the terrorists but when he talked to General Sharif, he told Mr. Nizami that Army is ready to move, all it wants the civil government to take the full responsibility and provide the political cover to the military operation. The civil government and the parliament provided the cover to the Army operation by passing a 21st constitutional amendment. Then, when the amendment was challenged in the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court – after the hearing – rejected the petitions and legitimized the military courts for two years as per the constitutional amendment. These anchors and the daily basis retired Generals, who may become the “political analysts” just because they are retired Generals, should be asked that how the military would fight with high spirit if the parliament would have rejected the 21st amendment or the Supreme Court would have turned down the military courts’ legislation? Those media “crusaders” who have nothing better to do other than to assassinate the characters of every civilian and evangelize about the holiness of military must answer the million dollar question that if all-in-all Army rulers have to rely on the support of even those civilian leadership, who are generally, in the eyes of common people, are the dregs of the political class, to run the country then how they become so capable to drive everything when they are not even in power?
The narrative, that since the Army personals are giving their lives for the country so the only Army is sacrosanct, is rather unjust. Everyone salutes those who are giving their lives to fight the war against terrorists but make no mistake that almost 40,000 civilians and 10s of thousands of police personnel are also killed. Besides, top civilian leadership and their party workers are also the victim of the terrorism. Just days ago 13 people – including the brave Interior Minister of Punjab Col. Shuja Khanzada and a DSP Shaukat Shah – were killed in the suicide bombing attack in Shadi Khan village of Attock. They must be saluted as well by everyone including the “objective” media moderators and ex-military generals some of whom have their own agendas and were involved in conspiracies against civilian governments. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, one can abhor the constitution, Judiciary, police, political parties etc. but talking publically about taking any even the retired General to court for any crime is something asking for the infinite purgatory.
The argument is that there is no problem in giving the credit to the military but taking away the credit from other institutions and abhorring the democratic process, the constitution and civil institutions is something like cutting the same branch which you are sitting on. Our media pundits and “patriotic” anchor persons must understand that if this branch is cut away, they will be the first one going to fall down and others will drop on them. Criticizing the governments is necessary and it is a duty of media to do that, and there are media people who are doing it in very prudent way.
To tackle the terrorism a 4-way approach is required, a) clean up the hardened terrorists by attacking and destroying their core b) provide political cover to the military action c) crackdown on the extremism which is the main cause of terrorism and d) close down the financial supplies to terrorists groups. Out of these four, the military is responsible for only the first one and remaining three are the responsibility of the civilian government. So far on the ground reality is that the military is playing its role to large extent – although the operation should be extended to Punjab and the ethnic religious groups as well because without that, the operation is incomplete – while the civilian government is – other than providing political cover to the military operation – has barely made any progress in the remaining two. It’s also not very helpful when the media – in the name of objectivity – brings the self-declared Muftis and characters with extremists’ views on TV and let them spread their narratives. All the institutions of the State must play their role as per their responsibilities, else, Pakistan will never be able to come out from the troubles. At one hand, civilian government should honestly work with military and provide them the political and diplomatic cover what they require, and at the same time military should take step back and stop pressuring the governments by using their proxies in the media and in the political parties. It’s ok for the media to worry about the ratings but it is also necessary for them to – for the sake of country – reduce their standards. Media should educate people about the realities instead of showing on their TV screens what people want to see.
Some years ago, Tom Ricks of Foreign Policy Magazine asked Richard Armitage – the Deputy Sec. of State of US for 4 tough years from 2001 to 2005 — if he had lunch with President Obama today, what would he tell him about the Afghan war and about Pakistan. Richard Armitage responded, “Twenty-five years from now, Mr. President, I can assure you there will be a nation called Afghanistan, with much the same borders and the same rough demographic makeup. I probably couldn’t say that about Pakistan.”
That could be Mr. Secretary’s view and one can agree or disagree with it, however, vilifying the civilian institutions and brainwashing the common people against all civilian institutions and democracy will cost the Pakistan an irreparable damage. It is true that democracy has its own weaknesses and flaws but one must make no mistake that military cannot run the countries and no one knows more about it then Pakistani people. If the military is the answer for all the problems then Pakistan would be among the most prosperous nation because it was under the direct rule of military during half of its history and even today, military influences large part of policy making.