The infamy of May 9, 2023 would go a long way in the institutional memory and political history of Pakistan, when rioters from Punjab, the core of Pakistan, approached and forced a retreat on the serving Corps Commander, also from Punjab, ransacked and vandalised Jinnah House, the property of the founder of Pakistan, now the residence of the Lahore, the provincial Corps Commander.
There are hundreds of ways to control a mob without resorting to deadly violence and any military leader worth his training knows it well, but the worthy commander decided to use none and let the crowd get away with trophies from his house, while his family was still inside. Contrary to other cities, not a single aerial shot was fired to disperse the mostly gullible crowd led by non-so gullible leaders. This is command failure is spectacular, monumental, and shameful. It begets an inquiry and consequences that such situations demand.
This anti-army violence was immature, emotive, and politically suicidal. When the dust settles down, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, unfortunately, will pay the political price for it and will continue to do so despite the short-term brownie points. The party leadership would have been ten feet taller, had Imran Khan announced to his rank and file; this was a legal and constitutional battle, to be fought legally in the courts and in the legislature of Pakistan, not on its streets. Khabardar! Nobody would resort to violence, especially against the army that belongs to all, is for all, and is from all.
He instead acted with youthful intolerance of Lahori adolescence, or an agitated player in the locker room. Although he secured his release by mob-beating the system, especially the country’ judiciary, he ‘seemingly’ lost the wider war on May 9, 2023. This one battle won would continue to haunt him and his party for years to come. What a dreadful change of roles.
Some party stalwarts urged people on national media to come out of homes during the height of the crisis, perhaps expecting a revolution. An insight into our demography would have educated them about ‘no revolutions but occurrence of uncontrolled violence’ in such situations. The episode raises questions about IK (and others’) combative leadership style, politicians’ obsession with power at all costs; their (mis)use of party cadre with abandon; and their use of legalities and other codal niceties as mere steppingstones towards the ultimate objective of grabbing power. IK, particularly in this process, has constrained his own and PTI’s ranking leadership’s political options, by cornering himself in a tight spot, due to his bad politics, even if wildly popular. Grumbling within the party and its exploitation by others, would be a logical outcome.
Consequently, Pakistan today is a laughingstock, with all institutions weakened and society deeply polarised and divided. One has not seen battle lines drawn so clearly and defended so vehemently before. When the rest of the world is pursuing prosperity, peace, and progress, we the hapless citizens of mumlikat-e-Khudadad and our leaders are pursuing petty politics…politics and only politics. The dust will settle, and if today is any guide, ultimately there would be elections; PTI would ‘probably’ win with larger majority or a landslide; will form a government again, perhaps learning no lessons from the past…but dividing Pakistan would always remain a stigma, the party will have to deal with. Soul-searching and applying brakes to emotions now may help, but the long-term forecast is unsettling. Rise to the top is heady and intoxicating, but the fall is more painful. Examples galore.
Now let’s come to the other actors. PDM jumped the bandwagon of the regime change operation in April 2022, inviting the curse of Ramazan, bribing, and manipulating its way to the corridors of power by using an ex-army chief. All to defang the NAB, shelve cases against its leaders, launch some budding dynasts at the center-stage, to be trained at the cost of Pakistan, and in the process make some more money in the free-flour-distribution schemes and many other ventures, for example.
Its ‘apparently’ benign takeover when the economy was already reeling under inflation, circular debt and the burden of servicing external debt, was not so simple, so pro Pakistan and so emotionally patriotic as PDM claims it to be. The cabal had and has deep personal and financial stakes in clinging to power, no matter the country be damned, the army manipulated, and the people exploited and discarded, like waste plastic.
The economic indicators of their year-long stint in power, the many follies of their misrule, and its defiant rejection of the constitution of Pakistan …a [sacred] document miraculously put together and agreed upon by all political forces in 1973 – and its diatribes against the superior Judiciary, are other stigmas, it has earned with due diligence.
Yes, in comparison to the pygmies of PDM, PTI stood tall; but attacks on police, army, and government infrastructure, deeply personal outbursts and humiliating slurs; and an incessant anti-army campaign on social media (‘apparently’ augmented cunningly by wizards of PDM, ‘probably’ to entrap the PTI; and PTI taking the bait, or doing it of its own volition), now perceptually levels PTI to PDM. The PDM narrative from here own, will gain traction, as PTI has shot itself in both feet. One sees a lot of promise in the mature rhetoric and politics of PPP.
The Judiciary. From the meek verdicts supporting the ‘Nazria-e-Zaroorat’ to the conflicting and politically motivated verdicts of recent years… the judiciary, at least on the surface, lacks ‘principle’ in its judgements and has propensity to steer these towards technicalities and legal niceties. No affront meant, and gleaning from the obvious like a common citizen, it seems that splits within and among the judiciary’s rank and file and with the bar, and its judicial activism and overreach has affected its image, prestige, and acceptability to political forces across the board. Lordship to ponder.
When the military umpire is weakened, it is the judicial umpire, who has to fill the void and steady the national ship. This unfortunate reality remains the essence of our ‘guided democracy’ and shall remain so in our ‘patronage-addicted’ system for the foreseeable future. The proponents of ‘haqeeqi azadi’ need to know that tinkering too hard will break the system into lawlessness, and not a revolution, they mistakenly believe is possible. If a revolution indeed was a possibility, attempt on IK’s life was a logical starting point. Some book reading about historic constants of our demography and sociology would put a lot of sanity into the revolutionaries of contemporary Pakistan, who get messed up by reading Habib Jalib, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and Ahmed Faraz.
The Military. It, particularly the army, will always remain a crucial player, interceding, mediating, persuading, and arbitrating political disputes and steadying political forces towards possible nationalist outcomes. It is not a matter of choice; it is the diktat of our unfortunate and yet to mature political circumstances. When leaders are entrenched in their petty, narrow-minded, and hapless mindsets and pursuits, there has to be someone to pull them out and conjure a compromise. With the military on the back foot or beholden to a presumed interest, the drift is inevitable. The results of last one year’s rudderless reign of ruin is a stark reminder. A sociology, that is too tribal, too biradari dominated, and too entangled in circles within circles, the military will always be the arbiter of last resort, mostly alongside and sometimes without the judiciary.
Any army chief wields immense power, clout and has profound leverage, domestically and internationally. Denying this is hiding the sun behind the index finger. He needs to know his power, his place, and his prestige. Elevation from three to four-stars and appointment as the army chief are overwhelming developments. And in our context, with a steep learning curve, it is akin to climbing a fast-moving train.
The chief also, in mid to long-term, does not remain beholden to any political camp for his elevation, the politicians having exercised their options. And for him the prestige, honour, safety, and welfare of Pakistan comes first… always and every time. The same for the Army comes next… always and every time. And his own prestige, honour, safety, and welfare comes last…always and every time. Any chief worth his office, who deviated from this unalterable truism, was discredited, loathed, and despised. One does not need to go far in history.
Traditionally, the magic touch of the four-star baton for national interest, to heal divisions and rifts, and provide impetus to a stalled political process, bogged down among fat egos, has always been welcome and appreciated by masses, even to the dislike of Chief’s one-time political benefactors. COAS is his own man, answerable only and only to his constituency…the serving and retired soldiery, his conscience, and his country. Forceful intercession from behind the scenes was always felt even if invisible. Examples galore.
So where do we go from here. Towards shunning fat egos and sitting down for a dialogue towards fair and free elections most likely in October but not beyond, finding a way to redress the constitutional violation as a one-time aberration, not repeatable. Meanwhile, assemblies be dissolved, and an agreed caretaker set-up put in place. IK ‘might’ stage a comeback, but then let him fail after the ballot, rather than unconstitutionally, setting wrong precedents. Even if it is repeat of a failed experiment, so be it, as that is what the popular pulse wants. So, give it to the people…nurturing, maturing alternative leadership in the process.
The substitute course of action is disastrous. In the PTI-PDM standoff, in K-P, GB, Balochistan fringe-versus-the Punjab Core (as the stand-off will inevitably turn), we might lose the coherence of our Federation. And then… Allah forbid, there would be no Pakistan to defend, no system to lord over, and no country to do politics. Hate is colour-blind. All forces must unite for the badly needed healing touch, as prejudice and despise will burn us down.