By Afrasiab Khattak
Important developments during last week (public explanation by the Chief Justice about recent court orders and the COAS’s Senate briefing) seem to have somewhat helped in defusing the crippling tension that had gripped the political situation during the last few weeks with a severely negative fall-out for governance system in the country. It was because the high voltage tension wasn’t just confined to deep polarisation among political parties. Different state institutions also appeared to be not only at loggerheads but their internecine conflict was also clearly undermining the basic functioning of the state system.
The deep state that was believed to be behind the creeping coup since the aggressive sit ins of 2014 in Islamabad was also regarded to be the moving spirit behind the dubious court order for sacking an elected Prime Minister. The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) that paved ground for the aforementioned court order by presenting a biased report was dominated by intelligence agencies of the army. Security establishment was clearly using the shoulder of higher judiciary for sacking Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who had earned its wrath on two counts. One, Nawaz Sharif had arraigned former military dictator General Pervez Musharraf before a special tribunal under Article 6 of the Constitution meant for punishing the abrogators.
Two, Nawaz Sharif wanted to have normal relationships with neighbours, specially with India. His desire to open economic cooperation with India was in particular a red rag to the security establishment. But when Nawaz Sharif, even after getting disqualified, demonstrated strong defiance new pressures had to be brought in against the government. NS led a mammoth march from Islamabad to his hometown and also his political base Lahore questioning the controversial court order. The putschists responded by deploying their shock forces. The siege of Islamabad by religious extremists in November was the ugliest stage of the creeping coup that considerably weakened the government. But the security establishment’s ” neutrality” during this conflict between the state and anti state elements and its role as a “mediator” in the last stage also created disturbing questions in the minds of the people. The video clips of a senior army officer in uniform distributing money among fanatics and endearing himself to them said it all.
There can be two possible reasons for the effort for damage control on the part of security establishment and the higher judiciary. One, there is a realisation that the role of their institutions in ousting the elected Prime Minister has crossed the limits of propriety and has become questionable. So they have to step back a little bit. Two, the conservatives in the PML (n) have been able to convince Nawaz Sharif to accept the terms of the security establishment for peaceful coexistence. The nomination of Shahbaz Sharif as a candidate for Prime Ministership is the most important manifestation of the alleged deal.
Be that as it may, the recent Supreme Court decisions for political balancing and passage of delimitation bill by Parliament appear to clear way for the coming elections. For now the speculations about the extra Constitutional measures such as establishment of a prolonged care taker government ( to be remote controlled by the security establishment) have been put to rest. But the recent crises has left all the state institutions in shambles. Civilian institutions are particularly in bad shape. In terms of image higher judiciary has lost the most. The Apex Court has demonstrated a crusader’s zeal in cases against political figures demonised by the security establishment but it has failed to prosecute the generals even if they are retired. Failure in prosecuting General Musharraf is the most notorious case. Judges with record of corruption and misconduct also enjoy impunity and the situation is quite pathetic on this front. That the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court had to refer to the model of primitive village Panchayat for claiming legitimacy in public speaks volumes of the weak wicket on which his institution has been playing. Parliament has also not come out of this crises in flying colours. Unfortunately the elected houses have remained side lined during the last few years in most of state affairs and national affairs. But the delay in passage of delimitation bill exposed the vulnerability of the Parliament to anti democratic intrigues. To be fair the political parties, some of them with tall claims about their commitment to democracy, need to take responsibility and go for introspection. The failure of political parties in rallying on a common minimum program for safeguarding democracy hasn’t raised their credibility since their leaders stuck to the quest of individual power and interest.
The defusing of crises will obviously be a welcome development. Everyone will love to see a peaceful and level playing field for all political forces in preparation for the coming elections as that’s the only path to the future political stability. But it would be naive to expect such smooth sailing without resolving the fundamental contradictions present in the current state system. At the core of current crises has been the imbalanced civil military relations. There are no two opinions about the significance of military’s role as a bulwark for defending the country. Also no one grudges military’s feedback in formation of national security ad foreign policies. That is something normal. But the problem starts when some of the generals regard themselves “the state” to the exclusion of all other institutions. We are totally justified in calling out the elected leaders when they behave like absolute monarchs over and above the law and the Constitution and not accountable. But it should also be the case with top civil and military bureaucrats when they cross the limits of grade 22 officers in the service of state and consider themselves to be the ” real rulers “. That’s where a the phenomenon of a state within a state appears. This is something not only unconstitutional but also not sustainable. Political parties get a mandate from people on certain socio political program. But if the civil or military bureaucracy arrogates itself the right to veto the program approved by the people democracy will become meaningless. Resolution of this fundamental contradiction is a pre requisite for having a stable democracy in the country. This problem cannot be pushed under the rug indefinitely.
(The author Afrasiab Khattak is a retired Senator and an analyst of regional affairs.)