Lords of the Mandate: true to form


Lords of the Mandate: true to form

Ayaz Amir

The thrice-elected prime minister of Pakistan—which makes him the most experienced politician in the nation’s history—has a deep-seated problem seemingly beyond his ability to control. For reasons embedded in temperament or psychology he can’t get along with his army chiefs—not one but all whom he has inter-acted with.

He had problems with Gen Aslam Beg, serious differences with Gen Asif Nawaz. Gen Jahangir Karamat was amongst the politest and most gentlemanly of army chiefs and Nawaz Sharif fell out with him too. His problems with Gen Musharraf we know all too well. His relations with Gen Raheel Sharif were strained throughout. Now, true to form, he has developed differences with Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa as well…this over the so-called Dawn Leaks issue.

The ISPR DG’s tweet ‘rejecting’ the PM office’s notification on this issue is unprecedented. The army has overthrown governments and sent prime ministers home but never has such a statement come before. It shows two things: 1) the army’s cup of patience on this issue running over; and 2) the government’s reckless handling of this issue.

It’s all very well to read lectures on democracy and say that the ISPR DG has crossed a line he shouldn’t have. In the real world prevailing realities are more important than constitutional positions. The Dawn story should never have happened. It was the height of irresponsibility—the government leaking a story against its own army and intelligence services. Where in the world does this happen?

In closed door meetings anything and everything is said. But then you don’t allow the contents of such discussions to be splashed on newspaper front pages especially when, as in this case, the army is being accused of sponsoring terrorist groups and contributing to the country’s diplomatic isolation. This is the line India takes regarding Pakistan, leveling the charge of cross-border terrorism against the Pakistan army. But the army’s anger was not so much about the contents of the story, which no one would have heard about without the leak, as about the fact that a deliberate attempt was being made to tarnish its image and give it a bad name.

Nawaz Sharif used to say about Benazir Bhutto that she was a security risk. He would say this all the time. But when people close to Nawaz Sharif go about leaking such a sensitive story what does it make them look like? What does it make Nawaz Sharif look like? Henceforth would anyone in the army feel comfortable discussing sensitive matters with the prime minister?

The cabal running things in this government should have realized the enormity of what had happened. Pervaiz Rashid, the information minister, was relieved of his portfolio although he remains among the closest confidants of the prime minister. An inquiry commission was set up but otherwise the matter was allowed to drag on, perhaps in the hope that after Gen Raheel’s departure the clouds would lift and the storm would pass.

But it was not one person upset over this matter. It was the entire institution. Gen Bajwa, the present chief, inherited this problem. When he visited various garrisons to address officers questions regarding this affair were reportedly put to him. So how could he forget it?

We should also remember that this is not a peacetime army. It is an army engaged on many fronts: Fata, Line of Control, internal security, Karachi and much more. Officers and soldiers continue to lay down their lives in the line of duty. Our leaders fly off to London and other places at the slightest whim. If they need medical attention Pakistan’s hospitals are not good enough for them…they must go abroad. Has the prime minister ever mixed with the troops deployed in Fata and elsewhere? What does the young officer deployed on the Afghan border feel when he hears stories of governmental corruption and of wealth hidden abroad? How does he react to something like the Dawn story? Would there be anger in his heart or would he be inclined to study the 1973 constitution (with all its many amendments)?

Nawaz Sharif had problems with Gen Raheel Sharif because it was said that the high profile he had somehow attained made the government look diminished. There may have been a personality cult building around him but the fact remains that if Pakistan’s security situation improved, if the TTP and other outfits battling the state were pushed back and made to run, if Karachi became a safer city, it was, primarily, because of the army—with vital help, we should not forget, from PAF in Fata.

Even if all this is discounted and it is said that Gen Raheel was aiming to become a Mustafa Kemal or a de Gaulle, civil-military relations should have eased with his exit and the coming of someone as apolitical as Gen Bajwa. And yet within a few months we are seeing a fresh crisis with the army. How is this to be explained? Is this because of some kind of a manufacturing defect?

This is a strange phenomenon. Nawaz Sharif owes his political rise to the army. He was a pampered favourite of the Zia regime. Gen Jilani, governor of Punjab, chose him in 1981 as his finance minister, his stepping-stone to future glory. Gen Zia on Gen Jilani’s recommendation made him chief minister of Punjab in 1985. Gen Hamid Gul as head of ISI helped him become prime minister in 1990. With this background Nawaz Sharif should have had the best of relations with the army. Instead we see him falling out with every single army chief he has come in contact with. Why? Wherein lies the problem?

Nawaz Sharif is most comfortable with the Punjabi brand of bureaucrat…someone who says yes to everything and is trained in the art of flattery. The problem with the army is that no army chief, however pliable, can behave like this. No army chief, however polite, can speak in the oily and ingratiating tones are political leaders are used to. Neither brother, Nawaz Sharif or Shahbaz Sharif, has the intellectual capacity to speak on equal terms—say about India or Afghanistan—with the men in uniform. God knows there is no excess of Platos in the military. But such is the calibre of our political leaderships that they find it difficult to hold their own in serious discussions with the military.

Nawaz Sharif is the elected leader of the country…no going around this fact. But he has an unhappy history of relations with the army. This too is not easy to ignore. And the country suffers because where we should have stability we roll from one crisis to another.

Nor is the Dawn leaks affair the last river the prime minister has to cross. The Panama case is not over. The Joint Investigation Team mandated by the Supreme Court to look into the corruption and money-laundering charges against the prime minister and his family has yet to begin its work. Anything could happen there. The one thing to be said with any certainty is that the distribution of sweets in the PM House after the Panama verdict was hasty and premature.

Courtesy : Dunyanews.tv