Friends, Countrymen, Lend Me Your Ears!

This was originally published by Daily Times on Monday January 16, 2012 as my weekly column BAAGHI

Benazir Bhutto once said about democratic governments in Pakistan that they might be in office but have never been in power. An unbridled army has always been in the driving seat aided by the judiciary, bureaucracy and the chosen political segments produced and milked by the army itself. This wonderful support machinery gets a sustainable push through a profitably saleable clergy and an uber-powerful corporate media.

An unsigned memo bearing nothing treasonous attributed to a sitting ambassador of the country is enough for the chief of the country’s main spy agency to pack his bags and leave to ‘investigate’ about the involvement of the ambassador. The tour was not only unauthorised for it was not sanctioned by the competent authority but it was also an overstepping of the sanctioned mandate of the ISI, which is a spying agency not an investigating agency unless authorised otherwise by the prime minister. The spy chief came back with the ‘satisfactory evidence’ against the ambassador and reported to the chief of army staff (COAS). It was only after three weeks that the ‘sipah saalaar’ (as the apex court refers to the army chief) and the spy chief urged the president to take action immediately because ‘time is of the essence’. No reason was given why three weeks were lost despite being ‘of essence’? The ‘satisfactory evidence’, however, turned out to be a text-message conversation on BlackBerry between Mr Haqqani and Ijaz with no mention of the memo. So much for the ‘intelligence’ gathered and used!

Mansoor Ijaz, a personal friend of one sitting Senator and funding contributor to a US-based editor of a big Pakistani media house, broke the news about the infamous memo in an op-ed in October last year. The said media house, besides creating a noise, used another one of its editors to whisper it to Imran Khan, just before his October 30 rally in Lahore, to include the point about the memo in his speech. Meanwhile, Mian Nawaz Sharif decided to bury the hatchet with his old friends in uniform and to help them where it could also help him. He went to the court on the memo issue despite it being under parliament’s review.

After the affidavits of the ‘sipah saalaar’ and the spy chief that contradicted the chief executive under whose authority they were bound to work, it was quite clear what they wanted. And when the bench gave frequent remarks in favour of the ‘sipah saalaar’, it was more than clear what the court’s decision would be. To recall the sequence: Mansoor Ijaz’s op-ed, DG ISI starts an investigation, a US-based editor and former recipient of Ijaz’s money starts screaming about it, a media house uses Imran Khan for it, Mian Nawaz Sharif goes to court, the army hints to the court where it stands, the court takes the hint and decides accordingly, Ijaz engages Nawaz Sharif’s personal lawyer as his counsel, Ijaz demands security and trusts only the security provided by the army or the Punjab government, Ijaz puts over a dozen conditions to his appearing before the Judicial Commission, Ijaz is reportedly brought to the Chaklala airbase through a chartered plane with special arrangements of his visa to be granted at the port of entry. Now, who is fooling whom?

In all this, a media trial of Husain Haqqani was run with impunity against whom no evidence exists. Not even the ‘free judiciary’ took any note of this environment created mainly by its own order whereby Mr Haqqani was barred from travelling abroad without the court’s permission. Now the entire coterie with the men in uniform, in gowns and with microphone and pen, all can be clearly seen siding with and facilitating Ijaz who has been spewing venom against the army while maligning, defaming and vilifying Mr Haqqani who has been defending the army with all his might despite its incompetence that led to the May 2 situation. These are indeed interesting times!

The shameless highhandedness of this most powerful institution does not end here. The recently retired three-star General submitted a reply to the court whereby he, as the Defence Secretary, informed the court that the army was not working under his ministry (really?). the army chief and DG ISI presented affidavits directly to the court without the approval of the competent authority — the defence minister or the prime minister. When the prime minister drew attention to this breach of constitutional procedure and shameless refusal to act under the constitution, the de facto rulers of the country retorted by issuing a strongly worded statement threatening the civilian government with “grave consequences”

Had this been anywhere else in the world, a few heads would have surely rolled. But this is Pakistan. Here we operate differently. When the prime minister sacked the Defence Secretary — a former General, not a sitting one — all hell broke loose through the media where every B-class commentator sat as a ‘senior analyst’ and went too far in condemning the ‘unnecessary’ and ‘unlawful’ act of the prime minister that would end up in ‘friction among the institutions’. The media and some politicians have been casting unprecedented pearls of wisdom for the last few days.

When these lines were being written, news about the army chief’s meeting with the president were being relayed with reports that he has demanded that the prime minister be asked to retract his statement. Not only this but the lion from Punjab, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, has reportedly repeated the same demand. What an audacity from the so-called custodians of the ‘people’s interest’ as was claimed in their petition in the Supreme Court, to demand submission of the civilian elected authority before unconstitutional transgression from the army. What a chutzpah from men with mikes and pens to vociferously demand civilian subjugation. What a shame.

One is dumbstruck to hear the chief minister Punjab asking for an ‘unconditional apology’ from the prime minister for offending the army. Probably the lion of Punjab has turned into sheep after experiencing what the army did to him and his family in 2000. But democracy is not a family business. Mr Sharif’s advisors should work overtime to stuff in his head that the army has no business to poke its bleeding nose in what is strictly a civilian domain. The world is witnessing that an apparently committed democrat, Mian sahib, is actually backstabbing the democratic setup. History is a useless teacher for us.

Asma Jahangir rightly warned Nawaz Sharif of the ramifications of his petition. “It will haunt you one day,” said a fuming Asma. This also holds true for the media hubbub against the absolutely constitutional action by the prime minister under the mandate conferred on him by the constitution. Everyone who is pushing a civilian government to bow before the arrogance of the military establishment are but traitors to the constitution. A coup will remain a coup no matter what you call it. Moralising it through the media and selfish politicians would not earn any legitimacy.

Democracy in the rest of the world is thought to be a necessity for transparent governance. When Simonides of Ceos insisted that not even gods fight against necessity, we in Pakistan vowed to prove him wrong. One wonders if it is an ultimate irony or decisive victory of Pakistan’s military establishment when it uses people to depose and discredit their own representatives.

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