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Saturday, February 24, 2024

Method to Madness or Just Simply Mad?—Lt Gen (retd) Tariq Khan

The government’s mistaken belief that it can have its way by oppressing people into submission is blatantly overstated and is in fact, fast pushing the people into a response.

‘We hang petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office’ Aesop

A lot has been written about the present environment in the country and even more has been debated around the pulls and pushes of a political conflict that is going nowhere. A conflict that is recognised to be one between a coalition of tainted people, rejected by the populous, dubious, corrupt characters – each with a skeleton in their respective cupboard standing against the one single largest popular party within the country that insists that it was removed from power by deceit, fraud and treachery. It’s this Coalition versus the people. Yet no power can challenge the collective wisdom of the people as they stand up as a nation to express their preferences. History stands testimony to the horrible end suffered by the few fools who thought that they could manage, manipulate and regulate the power of the people. In the past too, rulers have tried to oppress popular thought, bending and shaping opinions to serve their own will to meet their vested objectives. Such powers have always, not only fallen from grace but have been destined to wallow in the dustbins of history; the question is only about the time it takes for them to fall and what happened to them after they fell. Our rulers today seem to be oblivious of this historical fact; one that repeats itself over and over again. Confident in the temporary authority vested within them through illegal and devious means, that they so callously misuse to criminally govern a people who do not want them.  The media is silenced, people oppressed and events manipulated to favour the few at the cost of so many. The relative silence of the people, their restraint, and their tolerance has not only been taken for granted but as an inherent weakness that can be exploited and taken advantage of.

The Fault in “us”

Here, I would like to point out to the authorities concerned, should not make the common mistake of judging people by your own fallen and low standards. The people perched on the highest seats of government and governance are lacking in character, dignity and honour and feel that everyone else is just like them – buyable, sellable and flexible. However, when a part of society and especially those who are in positions of influence fall to the lowest ebb of shamelessness, when self-respect is merely a nuisance that one unnecessarily struggles with, when servility is confused with loyalty and when ‘baghairat’ as a term fails to do justice in describing institutions and offices that have abdicated from their own inherited authority and forfeited their right to sovereignty – then it is time to up the rhetoric and raise the bar. We must search for a stronger word than baghairat. A philosopher, wondering the streets, was in desperate search for such a very word where he could describe those that he was supposed to look up to, the ones who governed him as he grovelled in the dust –  and was reduced to totally resigning to fatalism. He was reminded of Shakespeare’s famous idiom ‘The Fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings’.

Read More: Arshad Sharif: A symbol of the long march – Lt Gen (retd) Tariq Khan

The Government is convinced that our people on the street strongly believe that it is fate that defines the road that they are travelling on, just as they are sure that it is destiny that has condemned them to the irrelevance they were wallowing in. They meekly struggle to survive from one day to another, fighting over the scraps thrown at them. These are the people that the Government takes pleasure in exploiting. The philosopher searched high and low but was having trouble finding an appropriate term to apply to people who sat in high office who were unmoved by anything, where no insult was strong enough and no abuse shameful enough to bring the office bearer to see reality as it was. Suddenly, he saw a man with a huge pot on his head, speeding downhill on his bicycle, pedalling furiously. When he got to the corner, trying to take a sharp turn, he lost control and crashed into a wall, himself being tossed to the ground.  His pot fell and spilt its contents all over the street. It had been filled with halwa and exquisite fruits/’meywa’ etc all of which was now ruined. The man sat up and started to weep emotionally, crying with pain loudly and in total abandon. When he was consoled, and told that it was merely halwa and there was more that could be easily acquired, where this had come from, so why take this accident so seriously and emotionally? He replied, ‘No, no, you do not understand! On that distant hill, there is a house of my Land-Lord who had kidnapped my wife about a year ago. She has just given birth to a beautiful boy. I was on my way to congratulate the Land Lord and my wife and pray for their happiness and was carrying this halwa to celebrate the occasion with them. But now the halwa is all over the street, wasted and cannot be used’. The philosopher asked him, what was his name to which he replied that it was ‘Gurumchi’. The philosopher was all of a sudden relieved – he had finally found something stronger than ‘bagharait’, which would be an apt word to appropriately describe the people who governed and administered him –  they would now be ‘Gurumchies.’ But whereas the be-alls, the mandarins, movers and shakers, sitting content in places above their station can be appropriately addressed as the ‘Gurumchies’ of this hapless nation, yet these Gurumchies are mistaken in believing that, we the people live by the same fallen standards. But, we, the people are not Gurumchies! We are a proud people who have tolerated their nonsense for far too long and it time to show them now what stern stuff we are made of and better still to discover, what stuff they themselves are made of!!! A Government that runs by blackmailing its own people through clandestine videos, eavesdropping and raiding the Toshakahna when given half the opportunity, is not what we the people of Pakistan are or ever want to be. We are not Gurumchies!

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So, when I appeal to the people, I do so from this short anecdote from history.  The famous confession that was made by Martin Niemoller that he made in 1946 and taking the liberty to put a play on his words, ‘first the Government came for Shebaz Gill and I did not speak out because I am not in politics, then they came for Azam Swati but I did not speak out because I am not a senator, then they came for Fouad Chaudry but I did not speak out because I am not from PTI; and now they are coming for me but there is no one left to speak for me!!! This Government has assassinated people with impunity, they have murdered and they have incarcerated people, who are just people, only people, but people of this country – in my reckoning, the Government, have gone too far. Such conduct is never forgotten nor forgiven.

The Desperate Search for Relief

Arshad Sharif was brutally murdered; a voice silenced, where the motive for his murder is clear and who the beneficiaries are, is even clearer. But the enquiry goes on; while criminals sit as judges as well as the jury – having already concluded the execution themselves, Arshad Sharif’s family is even denied a lawyer as they search for justice. This enquiry will never come to a logical conclusion in the lifetime of this Government – how can it? Now, Zillay Shah, a special person, harmless and innocent has been tortured and killed for reasons he could never have understood and one can imagine the question in his eyes as he must have asked, why was he being subjected to such horrific treatment by the State who held him in such contempt instead of protecting him. So this Nation, is floundering and struggling but not as much from oppression and poor governance, as much as it is, from the moral choice of standing up against its own Government or then resigning to their fate. As this Nation, despairingly lies in desperate search for relief – from any quarter, from any source – divine or human, it might find itself pushed into finally standing up to these small men in big offices who wield authority, far beyond their capacity and way above their capability.

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The world too has now started to take notice and Pakistan is on the radar for an aberration that is in place. Some insist on labelling it as democracy but which is in fact, universally understood and recognised, to be nothing better than tyranny. When Nations look elsewhere and externally for help, it is time to sit up and acknowledge that matters have gone awry. The nation has lost confidence in the justice system, the media shamelessly builds false narratives and does not question the real stories as they unfold before all to see. The government, unsuccessfully tries to shape opinions, violates the Constitution, ignores the Supreme Court and proudly stands in contempt-of-court while it transgresses every modicum of fundamental rights belonging its own citizens. Whereas the right to violence is the sole privilege of the State, but this right is always and only applied, with good conscience, for the well-being of the people within that State. It is not a license to the State to lay into the people, maiming, murdering and wounding people or destroying their property and disrespecting the privacy of homes and families. So now where lies the State, its obligation to protect and preserve life and property as its minions’ kill people on the street and smash cars and property at will?

The universal principle is that governments always look for stability while the opposition is always in search of chaos. In Pakistan, it appears that it is the opposite – the opposition has so far demonstrated unprecedented restraint in the face of humiliation, intimidation and insults, while the government is going out of its way to disrupt, destroy and coerce. There is continual oppression by the government, and a total one-sided attitude being demonstrated and displayed by the Government, in an in-your-face manner, where they don’t mind and we the people don’t matter. The Government insists on a highly unusual and unprecedented use of Government machinery, supporting one party and disrupting the affairs of another. This may result in equally unusual responses and with reciprocal      measure in proportionate effect and pain. When a government is bent in perpetuating and resorting to crime and lawlessness against its own people then its own people will ultimately rise and express the popular will by means that may overwhelm the government, thereby restoring and re-establishing the lost rule of law and the right to life that every nation deserves but one that is so conspicuous in Pakistan by its absence. Then, after having over thrown an authoritarian government whose only goal appears to be to enslaving its own people, the environment can and may very quickly change and escalate. There could be retribution, accountability and pay-back with terrible consequences for all those found responsible for the evil that they perpetuated. The government is culpable in the country’s situation today – its lack of economic credibility, its irrelevant foreign policy and the skewed domestic method to madness – it is only fair that everyone must be warned, ‘that every dog has his day’ and that we, the people, are not Gurumchies!!! Do not make the mistake of judging us by your own fallen standards.

The Role of Armed Forces 

I have often been accused of not being critical of the armed force and highlighting their role in what all is happening in the country. The Army is an institution that I have served in for 38 years and I shall never criticise the Armed Forces publically just to entertain a few but am always available to the Armed Forces to discuss, debate and develop progressive ideas within the constitution – but these will always be closed discussions, behind doors and not for the public. The nature and character of the armed Forces do not lend themselves to a public debate by convention, norms and tradition. One does understand the general argument, that then, the Army should never dabble in public affairs and to this extent I am in total agreement and would strongly suggest that the Army must stay away from the current political conflict and not be a party to it.. I have also been asked to recommend reforms for the Army – I would gladly be willing to do so but I find no cause for any reforms. It is still a very disciplined and efficient force that continues to be operationally ready in almost every aspect, despite diminishing resources and a relatively limited budget. What people are really complaining about is the Army’s interference in politics and civil affairs of the country – this should never happen but such interferences will not be curtailed by reforms – and will only be managed by following the rules, functioning by established ethics with integrities governed by the values of the State, Nation and the Constitution. This is the responsibility of the leadership and not the rank and file. The leadership is a product of a political preference and not necessarily an institutional preference and as such one sees that whenever such a privilege or an authority is extended to the likes of the Government we have today, for selecting the leadership for the Army, there are attempts to misuse it, where the selection is often misconstrued and applied with blatant disregard for merit and value. If anything, it politicises the Army and the matter is further aggravated when there are extensions on the plate as well. Here is where the reform is required – establish a system that is consistent, certain and ensures institutional continuity.

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Today, if one were to survey the overall posture of the armed forces in the country, it would become very apparent that the rank and file, those in uniform, are not involved in any political activity. This is barring a handful of officers, who are in continual touch with members of the sitting government because of the nature of their position and the duties that they undertake. The army as a whole is still aloof from the political activities we are witnessing. No soldier or officer can be seen in any political activity throughout the country from the coast to the mountains. Whereas, some may argue that it is the latent strength of the military which is used as a potential in the backdrop by the Government to enforce opinions and views through extraordinary measures; but the reality is that, today, no combat soldier or officer is involved in the political activity one is witnessing. So how does one explain what is perceived to be the extraordinary influence of the Army in the day to day politics and does the Army really have such an influence? The attempt at shaping the environment is a product of government machinations using the traditional instruments at their disposal i.e. the police, IB, NAB, Election Commission and other such elements of government machinery. Intelligence agencies enjoy disproportionate authority and influence over these government institutions and the law allows their actions to continue free of any enquiry or legal implications. These government institutions have lost considerable space and are no longer as autonomous as they should be and remain at the beck and call of the intelligence agencies. Though some of these intelligence agencies are staffed by the Armed Forces, with their officers seconded to them, the agencies are technically, constitutionally and legally under the Prime Minister. Thus, the question is, does the Military influence political matters, (as publically confessed by one Chief now retired) or does political activity direct/instruct and demand a peculiar support from a military posture suited to political interests. Or then, is it a matter of mutual benefits at an individual level but then what are these – we do know that it is not at an institutional level; this is something that one would have to get to the bottom of at some later stage through a White Paper etc. and correct it. This is where reforms, if any, would be urgently needed. Regardless of who is doing what, the fact is that by and large, officers, the rank and file, are not part of the ongoing political circus.  It is hoped that this remains as it is, regardless, of how the situation unfolds in the immediate future or how urgent the need for a military intervention may appear, in support of this highly unpopular government. On account of the current perception, the Army is accused of being the leading factor in the regime change as well as perpetuating this unlawful government. The Armed Forces have lost a lot of prestige, and their reputation has taken a huge hit, as they suffer the consequences of the perception that has gradually been built accusing them of influencing the political landscape. What role the military actually played in this unfortunate chain of events, I leave for another day and better still for a proper enquiry – wild accusations will not do and will not serve the purpose leading to reforms or any restructuring which we all are so much in wait for.  It is one of the objectives of a fifth dimension war to first create a divide between the rank and file and the military leadership and then, later, between the armed forces and the people of the country. We must never let this happen and the Army needs to take immediate corrective measures to address this perception in substance, form and fact. Nevertheless, the Army does not need me to defend it and has the depth and inherent honour to redeem its own reputation just as it always does. It is prayed, that the Army takes stock of the situation and addresses it as quickly as possible.

Conclusion

In a very sincere and honest appraisal – the government has grossly miscalculated the situation. Their assessment that an exaggerated social media campaign is creating a wrong or skewed perception is very erroneous. Whoever is insisting on stating this, is leading the government down the garden path where faulty decisions are made and viewed as inherently anti-people and anti-State. This is how it will be perceived even if it’s not true and one ought to remember that perceptions are more important than reality. The government’s mistaken belief that it can have its way by oppressing people into submission is blatantly overstated and is in fact, fast pushing the people into a response. I would like to remind this Government, we are not the ‘Gurumchies’, that they perceive us to be and woe the day when the tides of the masses and mobs turn upon them. Any reaction by the people now would be extremely detrimental to the country, its stability, the cohesion of its institutions and to overall National Unity. The government must take in this reality and strongly consider the situation as it is, before it is taken out of their hands and is instead played out on the streets. There is still time to take corrective measures – have faith in the people and in the nation itself – you, the government, do not know everything and are in fact divorced from reality. Let matters be settled by the natural course of events like other civilised nations do – through popular will. The course of action should begin immediately through the Courts, who must apply themselves, without prejudice to all and with malice towards none. The next step would be to hold free and fair elections, allowing over-seas Pakistanis to vote and to conduct the elections through a digital system (time permitting and if not then those areas where it is possible).  It must be immediately ensured that every institution remains within the ambit of its mandated, constitutional authority – nothing more. Just as these steps are very easy to take, they are equally difficult to implement because of the fear of reprisals and revenge. Such a fear can be partially mitigated by a national dialogue; after all, regardless of what some think, that it is they alone who know it all, we are still all Pakistanis and can talk to each other. Though the people have lost faith in the government, its institutions and its functionaries, there is still time to reconcile and listen to one another, arguing our point of view with positive intent, mutual understanding and hope. One must understand that these internal arguments must not get played out on an international canvas, where they appear to be going at the moment. Such events, if left unmanaged, lead to intrusion into the affairs of the State by others and in so many ways.  Let this be an appeal to those who matter, after all, for how long will you consider your own people to be Gurumchies like yourselves – devoid of honour and dignity. They are not. We are an honourable people, do not incite us into a response of retribution – we are now getting very close to it.

‘There is a reason you separate the military and the police. One fights the enemies of the State, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the State tend to become the people.’ William Adams