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.
As the definition of vengeance suggests,“it is the infliction of injury, harm, humiliation in return of an injury or the offense received from the opponents”. This is edified in its true sense, in the land of the pure, especially under the banner of the democratic order, where one sees the victimization of political opposition by the ruling government.
It employs state machinery with impunity, as payback for injustices suffered at the hand of the regime which is being oppressed when it is out of power. The vicious circle continues unabated, giving way to endemic political instability and disorder.
The Universality of Political Vengeance
The politics of hate and vengeance is not exclusive to Pakistan; rather, it is prevalent elsewhere too. It is generally believed that the incidence of political vicitimisation is rife especially where there are autocratic governments or where there is a poor track record of democracy, human rights, rule of law, governance, lack of education, and political awareness. Many such examples can be found in underdeveloped, developing, or third-world countries like Bolivia, Egypt, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, etcetera.
Contrarily, however, in the developed countries, victimization remained a political implement of oppression against the adversaries too. From the Nixon administration’s involvement in bugging opponents and using government agencies to harass activists and civil rights leaders, which eventually led to his resignation (Watergate scandal), to Donald Trump’s penchant for brutalizing his opponents as a central plank of his political philosophy, evidenced in his oft swipes on Hilary Clinton during the election campaign.
It was also observed against Joe Biden when Trump’s supporters charged on Capitol Hill in wake of his election defeat and his vengeful actions against those involved in his unsuccessful impeachment trial are but a few expressions of vindictive outbursts. They say, ‘What goes around comes around’, and hence his indictment on account of business fraud, which though is being termed as political persecution, may well be a fit case of a retributive action.
The government policies remain consistently under sharp focus and its leaders often alleged on account of charges like fraud, corruption, tax evasion, bad governance, etcetera, which in a way is reflective of a strong accountability system. The four-time PM of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi, has been in and out of the premiership, despite a number of allegations against him. In Israel, four recent Prime Ministers faced corruption charges, but nowhere will you find a clarion call by any segment of society to overthrow a democratic dispensation.
The successive elections in Israel in the recent past with frequent intervals are a testament to a democratic continuum than a resort to any undemocratic dispensation. Paradoxically, in Pakistan, where the military and the civilians have shared power, no Prime Minister has been able to complete his term of five years and was shown the door invariably on account of corruption/bad governance, etcetera, with the exception of Imran Khan, who was booted out of the parliament through an assisted vote of no confidence.
Strange enough, the Army junta has remained virtually insulated and secured, with its chiefs and presidents in uniform or in civies, not only completing their terms but often going well beyond the line. An odd attempt or two to replace the sitting chiefs was either unsuccessful as in the case of General Musharraf or was avenged later by the military in the case of General Gul Hassan, with Bhutto going to the gallows over this indiscretion, among few others.
Retribution or Revenge
To take one example, political philosopher Robert Nozick explains the essential features of retribution and the way it differs from revenge in his 1983 book “Philosophical Explanations.” In his view, retribution is a response to a wrong, while revenge “may be done for an injury or harm or slight and need not be for a wrong”. The accountability done in the name of retribution, more often than not takes the shape of revenge and settling scores with the opponents and against those involved in the accountability process.
In recent times, the fates of conscientious FIA Director, Dr. Rizwan, dutiful Custom Inspector, Ejaz Mahmood (Ayan Ali fame), defence witness, Maqsood Chaprasi, in Sharif’s money laundering case, Sub Inspector Amir Shahzad (Imran Khan’s murder case) and iconic media anchor, Arshad Sharif – all of them either were found mysteriously dead or were hounded and killed, with little or no trace and follow up. The retributive actions taken against the political bigwigs hence could not succeed.
While the corruption trail went cold in some cases (record either burnt or obfuscated), few open and shut cases were consigned to dustbins, due to either judicial laxity, bureaucratic support, establishment indifference, or political expediency. The political elite in the country has hence become virtually untouchables, wriggling out of their corruption cases with con and connivance.
Under the Military Dictatorships
There is a general perception that vengeance and political victimization is akin to the military or autocratic governments, which is valid to an extent, as under dictatorships, the constitutional and fundamental rights of the people are curbed. However, in Pakistan, on a comparative basis, the military governments established under the dictates of the doctrine of necessity were rather civilianized and tried to incorporate the tenets of democracy through the democratic ploys of basic democracy and referendum etcetera, notwithstanding the abrogation of the constitution.
The political persecution of political leaders: Fatima Jinnah, Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif, and Benazir Bhutto by General Ayub, Zia, and Musharraf respectively, however, eclipsed the otherwise better governance and dispensation by the military regimes, which brought in the much-needed socio-economic order and development in the country.
The prolonged military rule despite its international unacceptability gained traction in the political system and overtime its role in the country’s politics became an established reality, as also a surreptitious transformation from miltablishment to politablishment, as a new phenomenon, ushering in a dispensation of politico-military hybrid regimes wherein the military had a lien over all major subjects: defence, foreign policy, etcetera over the major state organs (FIA, Police, Judiciary, NAB, etcetera).
Much to one’s dismay, while being part of the hybrid regime under former PM Imran Khan and now Shahbaz Sharif, the phenomenon of veiled victimisation of the political leaders/parties for taming and keeping them in line as part of the purported corrective vendetta, earned the establishment a lot of discredit, smearing its godly image in the eyes of the people of Pakistan.
Against this backdrop, the military resolve of becoming apolitical though is a welcome step, but its sullied image needs to be resurrected and its vile public perception requires an earnest reset.
Under the Democratic Governments
Ironically, mudslinging and political victimisation ruthlessly pursued by each successive PPP and PML(N) governments against one another, provided enough alibis to the miltablishment to affect regime changes with their foot in the door. The regimes brought into power through political engineering and election management were invariably weak and remained mostly shaky and on the tenterhooks, perpetuating a military dependence syndrome. The successive civilian rules were hence inherently weak in the dispensation.
The sitting governments’ proclivity for buttressing the state organs and bureaucracy with people aligned with their ideologies, as a counter-balance to the establishment, affected these institutions, which were increasingly politicized and were either used to victimize the opponents through Police, FIA, etcetera or turned into their political fiefs by en masse inductions (PIA, Steel Mill, Railway), disregarding merit, consequently resulting in their ineffectual performance and output.
To prevent democracy from running into the shoals, Cowasgee reflects that, “If we are to have a majority bent upon revenge of any sort, may the Good Lord come quickly to our aid. If Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s heirs, including Zardari, have revenge in mind, then the game is lost before it is begun”. Such a political philosophy not only guided Benazir Bhutto in her political career but perhaps serves as a guiding light for her son, not to seek revenge from those who had wronged her and her father.
She contended, “If the people are with you, the opponents would be marginalised by voting them out of power – as democracy is the best revenge.” In contrast to her political legacy, PPP under Zardari’s leadership not only lost much of its appeal and charm but the party was also discredited on account of bad governance, rampant corruption, and a litany of vicitimisation trail against the other political parties of Pakistan especially the PML (N), and as a consequence recoiling to its regional Sindh enclave.
Likewise, PML (N) was no different and is known to be a step ahead for brusque victimization of its opponents, especially against the PPP. The game of throne was played viciously with governments in and out of power in quick succession with each party through devious political wheeling and dealings subjected to abdicate power, giving way to General Musharraf’s rule, until the famous Charter of Democracy of 2006, which saw the eventual hobnobbing between the two, rendering other fringe political parties of Pakistan as mere subscribers and bystanders in the political game (ANP, JUI, MQM, PKAMP etc).
PML (N) eventually had the last laugh in 2013, emerging as the largest single party, marginalizing PPP as a regional entity, though much due to the emergence of PTI as a third force. After the 2018 elections, the PTI government, while treading its accountability course, also took a lot of blame for victimizing political opponents.
Ironically, however, come 2022, all that inter-party hate and vicitimisation were buried in the hatchet due to political expediency, and for the first time in the history of Pakistan, not only almost all political parties of different shades and colours but the entire state machinery came together against one man – one party; none other than Imran Khan and his party – the PTI to root it out of the political system, due perhaps his unforgivable sin of challenging the status quo.
In a country like ours with so much societal divide and inequality among the teeming disenchanted population, perhaps like never before, the environment is all set to implode from within, in an effort to change the status quo. The emerging sociopolitical revolution as an outcome of spontaneous outburst against Khan’s ouster and later developments has induced revolutionary zeal and fervor in the masses, determined in bringing down the poltablishment colossus.
The outdated machinations of mounting cases against Imran Khan (144 and counting) and his party as an arm-twisting tactic to either co-opt with the system or consign him into oblivion have not yielded the desired outcome – rather it has hardened people’s resolve and their growing hatred against the khakis – an unfortunate development.
The battle lines this time around are distinctly drawn between the aspiration of the people and the indifference of the poltablishment. Unfortunately, in this battle of wills and egos, the Army stands to lose the most. If Khan compromises on his principles, he will sink along with the nation and so will the Army, if it stands its ground and does nothing to see the ship sinking, in its forlorn hope that the yesteryears’ playbook will work this time around also.
Ironically, the politics of vengeance have sullied the political landscape, stifling the socio-economic growth, promoting unethical attitudes and moral degradation, inducing frustration and despondency among the youth, and pushing Pakistan towards extremism and perhaps eventual implosion from within.
In a country like Pakistan where the human developmental index is the lowest, literacy abysmally low, and the present political system deeply contentious, the only recourse to normalcy is the adherence to the constitution in letter and spirit and the rule of law – not as implements of prejudice and rancor to browbeat the opposition, rather implements of justice and fair play to bring in the much-needed order and stability.
To take the country out of the political morass, the nation once again looks towards the judiciary and the military – the two state organs in which people still have a degree of trust and confidence. This would be no mean task – though the superior judiciary led by Chief Justice (CJ) Ata Bandial, despite being under siege, divisive, and straight-jacketed, lived up to people’s expectations by giving a verdict in accordance with the constitution, much in league with the verdicts of US Supreme Court CJ Charles Evans Hughes, who was often sneered by Roosevelt’s administration in striking out legislations adopted by the Congress, but which conflicted with the constitution.
Now that the judiciary has spoken, it is up to the people to see that the court’s verdict is respected and ensured, because the grumbling parliament, the fidgeted executive, the tentative bureaucracy, and the apolitical establishment seem all hell-bent on not going along with the verdict.
The gauntlet is also thrown down upon the military, as more than ever before, it finds itself in the dock, mired by scathing criticism of playing their Machiavellian hand a bit too much in turning tables on the regimes, thereby limiting their options. The ensuing chaos gives the establishment little room for manoeuvre, making its balancing act increasingly difficult. The distancing and inaction are also not options as the strategic silence solidifies not only the perception of culpability but also gives way to the anti-army slurring’ crescendo.
It is a must therefore for the military leadership to live up to the challenge of finding a way out of the sordid political impasse. Their apprehension and reservations of either a retributive action or undermining of their authority by a popular government (sic Khan’s) may be a reason for their inhibition. The need, nonetheless, is a shift from its avowed apoliticism to the proverbial aphorism of ‘Country First’, impelling them to be an arbiter among the antagonistic political parties of Pakistan.
Their deft iron hand may make such a huddle possible in not only bringing the political heat down but ensuring that free and fair elections are held for a change, to bring in the much-needed political stability and order, as an imperative precursor to economic stability and security. To be on the right side of history, the Army needs to reposition itself in line with the public pulse and mood in stemming chaos and unrest, else the people will eventually stand up and fight for their legitimate rights – a revolution of sorts, which will hold accountable all and any without prejudice through its own wand of a justice and account mechanism.
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