Brigadier Syed Mushtaq Ahmed (Retd) has extensive experience in areas of national security, intelligence and strategic issues. He has worked as a Senior Research Analyst in a strategic organisation and has a niche for writing research articles and analytical assessments, specializing in counterintelligence, counter-terrorism and nuclear security.
The Downside Scenario
They say there is never a dull or quiet moment in Pakistan. Given its chequered political history, more often than not, Pakistan has been passing through critical phases and turns, with short interludes of stability and development. This time around there is another downhill turn and a steep one at that, which may send the country’s bandwagon into an irretrievable slide.
Without going into the specifics, ever since the regime change operation in April this year, the happenings of the last few months portend a bleak outlook. In the land of the pure, the dismal picture emerging on the political landscape worries all and sundry, where the abiding political mayhem has put so much pressure on the country’s seams that it may no longer be able to hold and the socio-political fabric may rend asunder with forces of change.
PTI (Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf) aligned dangerously against the forces of the status quo: PDM (Pakistan Democratic Movement). The polarization is so tenuous that it can snap into internecine fights and squabbles among the already segmented society. The cause of the unfortunate turn of events was the apparent tiff between the COAS (Chief Of Army Staff) and the former PM on the appointment of the DGI and a latent misalignment on the next COAS, the so-called bold and independent handling of the foreign policy much to the US’s infuriation.
The incoming managers—a coterie of almost all political parties and groups of various hues and colors—were expected to turn the events around, given their supposed experience, political handling and governance skills. However, all that unfolded was almost the opposite. The much-needed political stability not only remained a forlorn hope but has been put on the tenterhooks, inflicting a heavy blow to the country’s economy, rendering the entire country hostage to rising inflation, joblessness and ensuing restlessness, which might lead to civil unrest.
The change of guard event is rather a non-event—a non-issue in other countries, but in Pakistan, it has become a monumental event—giving a wand in the hand of the political governments in their irresistible desire of keeping the khakis subservient and in line. Alas, however, this has never been the case and will never ever be, as every successive Chief appointed or given extension, turned out to be always a man in uniform driven by an institutional bent, code and ethics, than a lackey of the political masters.
Still, the urge and desire of appointing one’s own Chief continue unabated. Barring a few occasions, all such appointments made turned tables on their hopes and expectations. With a dwindling economy despite an IMF bailout, the much-touted national resilience and the aroused political diligence of the populace seem arrayed against the trio—the political cartel, the junta and the judiciary combined.
This all appears very sinister and pessimistic, meriting a serious inquisition and a considerate analysis by none other than the military establishment in an effort to find some semblance of order in an otherwise very turbulent political condition, which favors neither the PDM alliance government nor the military.
The trio, however apparently appears comfortably ensconced in their power centres, oblivious of the raging public mood—fast turning wild and eccentric and susceptible to a Sri Lanka repeat in a jiffy. The PDM government may have its own axe to grind and might have had a sigh of relief from the ongoing accountability process through some instant collaborative legislation by all political parties sans PTI, but in the process, losing its political capital badly.
The establishment too might have been relieved from giving the so-called shoulder to PTI’s government as also the lifting of the erstwhile opposition’s continuous ire and maligning of engineering the political process and portraying an offhand policy from anything political.
The Obverse Scenario
Conversely, what all appears abysmal and forlorn may just be a mirage to rid the country of the rabid political mafia and once and for all of its endemic problem of corruption, loot, plunder and lawlessness, et al.
Considering that the revered institution cannot remain indifferent to the ongoing political circus, more so due to the looming pressure of ridding the country of the political morass and the imperative of bringing in the much-needed legitimate political stability, a well thought out strategy might have been carved to cleanse the political chessboard of the undesirables, which otherwise could not be brought to the book due to inept judicial system.
Such hypothesization may appear too farfetched, but very much a possibility, as the military is not that naïve to partake in an adventure (sic NCM: No Confidence Motion), which had the potential of bouncing back, especially when they are conscious of outcomes of such misadventures of the past. Ironically, one might also say that the truth lies within the 4 Cs – that is, they were either Complicit, Collaborative, Culpable or Complacent in the whole affair.
It is absurd to think that may not have thought through the whole game plan, given the fact that they have been trained to carry out cost-benefit analysis in the corridors of their prestigious institutions all through their service. The indirect approach has been crafted so ingenuously through an aloof off-handed method in orchestrating an in-house change in a manner that it appears a normal and natural reaction to evolving political events.
The success or otherwise of the strategy can be measured on the benefits scale as to which side stood to gain politically—PTI or the PDM? The answer seems all but obvious as the unfolding events substantiate. While the fate of PTI and its leader skyrocketed like never before, that of its opposing all-parties conglomerate PDM plummeted drastically.
The obvious casualty of this political foray has however been the economic instability and the miltablishment – which has yet again lived up to its reputation of sacrificing its public image and reputation, evident from the excessive negative characterization and booing for apparent political machinations; a price too high to redeem its revered image in the coming days – its proverbial herculean flood relief and humanitarian efforts notwithstanding. The present government is thus being sustained and tolerated for as long as is viable to expose its inefficiency through its ham-fisted dispensation. There is a change in the air, which may manifest in the next scenario.
A Prospective Scenario
In the wake of the military getting increasingly anxious over the government’s inability of handling state affairs, there is yet another intellectual discourse making the rounds that of nudging the military to do yet another experiment of ushering in another national government—this time of the technocrats by discrediting and easing out the present dispensation.
The discourse rests on the assumption that even after ruling the country for over three decades, the predominant ruling clique (PMLN and PPP) and their archaic party system beset with dynastic, despotic and baradri politics, does not have the technical capability or the intellectual capacity to tackle the monumental emerging challenges, which could be handled only by a team of experts/professionals like Dr. Sania Nishtar etc.
Such interim dispensation may be allowed on the pretext of stabilising the rocking ship by invoking an economic emergency and serving as long as is needed (minimum six to nine months) to straighten out the economic mess and laying the grounds for an efficient dispensation. The short political interregnum is an imperative stopgap arrangement necessary for making the requisite amends and corrections in laws and ensuring free and fair elections, which brings in a truly representative government.
Nonetheless, whichever political party makes it to power, one thing is for certain notwithstanding our desire for a flourishing democracy, given the military’s entrenched role in politics, a hybrid democracy with the establishment as a third force will remain a political reality and we have to learn to work with and not without it, till such time the democracy learns to walk all on its own—too far a cry!
A Method to the Madness
Rumours have it that there is a realisation shift in the military of the futility of the slipshod regime change operation having induced a gross inequilibrium among the plummeting economy and incrementing polarisation with attendant effects on the country’s national security.
To break the existing logjam, there appears an earnest effort to bring the political parties to the table in reaching some kind of understanding on at least a minimum politico-economic agenda, imperative to bring in the much-needed political stability, which is an essential precursor for economic recovery.
The winds of change have picked up the stream and we may witness early free and fair elections (a panacea for the existing logjam) with all political parties getting an even playing field. A fateful happy ending which every Pakistani is praying and hoping for.
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