By Ayesha Siddiqa
January 16, 2013
Within a day of Tahirul Qadri’s Long March to Islamabad, things have started to fall into place regarding the intention of the imported maulana. With the passage of the day, all non-parliamentary and non-political forces seem to be taking their place in subverting the political system. Supposedly eager to improve the quality of democracy, all of these characters are happy to flout democratic norms to push their way into power. Thus, not surprisingly, we have Qadri announcing the death of the government, the Supreme Court ordering the arrest of the prime minister in a case which has not been completely investigated, Imran Khan asking for premature resignation of the president, and the former dictator prodding the current army chief to move in and take over — all in the same day.
But then we know that the former dictator, Pervez Musharraf, is a passionate fool for suggesting a more direct action when his generals may be doing the same more discreetly. There are many, besides human rights activist Asma Jahangir, who can hear the echo of marching boots behind what has happened since the Long March, including the order of the Supreme Court to arrest the prime minister. This may appear problematic to some who have been arguing about a phenomenal improvement in civil-military relations and the impossibility of a direct military takeover.
However, why would the military take over if it could do the same job through its multiple partners? The ultimate objective is to get things done without hurting the organisation. The GHQ has multiple short-term and long-term goals to desire a change. The short-term, for example, pertains to the desire to control policymaking and the negotiation process prior to the American pullout from Afghanistan in 2014. Even a remote intervention in negotiations will not make the generals happy. They are probably reminded of the Muhammad Khan Junejo government during the mid-1980s that had followed a different line from the GHQ during the negotiation process to facilitate Soviet pullout from Afghanistan.
The longer-term objective that may be of greater consequence is to carry out a socio-political re-engineering and bring about a forced ascendency of what the GHQ and its partners consider as the middle class. Historically, the generals have always found themselves in confrontation with traditional power structures for whom they loosely use the term feudal. The army top brass has advertised its own background being middle class and so wants to empower this socio-economic category into political prominence. This is a cruel joke because the country has already been through four distinct cycles of elite formation, three of which are linked with military rule. Part of this socio-political re-engineering plan is to install new political actors that give the military greater hope for social, political and economic stability, thus, the idea of a longer technocratic government before the next elections are held. This is an idea mentioned by one of the army favourites — Imran Khan and more recently by Tahirul Qadri. Such a plan would certainly affect the PML-N, which probably has a greater chance in the next elections.
But back to those who feel that the army has no role to play as civil-military relations in Pakistan were redefined after Musharraf was sent home packing in 2008 and all generals turned democracy loving. The tendency is to compare Pakistan’s situation and that of its military in politics at the moment with conditions under former President Ziaul Haq — the conclusion being that the military is no longer a political actor. Such analysis does not take into account three facts. First, that the Pakistan Army has been through phases of evolution. The Zia period signifies a time when it looked similar to a number of Latin American or Southeast Asian armed forces engaged in direct rule and indiscriminate use of force. Therefore, there is greater consensus in the civil society regarding the negative image of Zia’s dictatorship.
Second, the non-experts do not realise that there are various types of militaries: (a) professional, (b) ruler, (c) arbiter, and (d) parent-guardian. While the first type does not intervene, the later three types represent different models of interventionist armed forces. The ruler type were mostly found in Africa or Latin America and would remain in direct power at all times and not trust civilians. These were found primarily in weak civil societies. The arbiter type come and go, depending on their assessment of threat. The Pakistani, Turkish and Indonesian militaries belong to this category. The final type pertains to a military that desires to have permanent intervention but may not want to take direct responsibility of the state at all times. Thus, it creates political and social partnerships and creates non-political but mostly legal and constitutional formulas to sustain its power and power base. Such a type can be found especially in developed civil societies that may resist direct intervention.
Third, the Pakistan military has evolved into a parent-guardian type which keeps the option to either jump in directly, depending on the mood, or bring about change from the top through its partners. Interestingly, it has been struggling gently for a permanent role in politics through legal/constitutional changes starting from the days of Ziaul Haq, when the idea of a National Security Council (NSC) was brought to the fore for the first time. This NSC structure was formulated under Musharraf but was put on hold after the change in government. This, however, does not mean that Musharraf’s successors do not desire a permanent position in power. Now we have the imported Maulana Qadri talking about the military and the judiciary sitting in the caretaker set-up. Furthermore, the army’s partnerships provide it a more pervasive control of both the state and society. It is now well represented in politics, different levels of the economy and, increasingly, the intellectual segment through the media, academia, religious right (including militants), liberal-left and the NGO sector. Besides many other advantages, the diverse partnerships help the army hide its oppression and coercion, which normally is tucked away in distant corners of the territory and gets justified in the name of national security. Thus, it always remains relevant as a saviour.
Maulana Tahirul Qadri has set the scene to facilitate direct or indirect intervention.
Ayesha Siddiqa is an Islamabad-based columnist and the author of Military Inc