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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Saving Pakistan?

The author is expressing a mixed view of the Army's role in governing the country, commending their resolution and confidence but also suggesting that if the Army continues to govern, it may lead to the need for a new social contract and constitution.

“Whither is fled the visionary gleam? Where is it now, the glory and the dream?”

-William Wordsworth

I was optimistic about the care taker government. With some generosity and a little naivety, I even allowed myself the luxury of hope and expectations. Given – hope was limited and expectations small, yet, I was reduced to bewildered disillusionment and disappointment.

The Unfulfilled Promise and Disillusionment

That having given appropriate allowances to the caretakers and extending them the benefit of doubt and in cognisance of their qualifications, their experience, the families they represented and the big names that they carried – I was of the opinion, that self-respect, conscience and reputation, would be their guiding beacon. That a body of men and women would uphold the constitution and standby their country; bold men and women, righteous and upright, people we could be proud of. I got it all wrong.

Once being thrust into the corridors of power and having been afforded the opportunity, they typically undertook to let themselves down unequivocally – apparently they suffer no remorse from all that goes on around them and that what is so visible. Seemingly immune to shame or embarrassment, they bravely march on – with fanfare and cymbals clashing. They have failed to protect or uphold the law of the land, neither did they ensure space to the judiciary to function without fear or fraud, nor have they stood with the people in these trying moments. Uncertainty has perpetuated, instability expanded to new levels, collective existence has become questionable – individual survival is suspect – yet the show goes on. Stern stuff these people are made of, impervious, thick and impregnable – nothing gets through, nothing impresses them.

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Denial and Lack of Accountability

Our finance minister, offended for being misquoted, where it was alleged that she had stated that had she known how bad the situation was, she would have turned down the offer to hold this positon, denied she had said it at all. Implicit in her outrage, is the commitment, that she will somehow, right the wrong that we lesser mortals have been made to suffer every day. When she finally discovers the obvious, that the tragedy is far beyond her capacity, then will our honourable lady succumb to the usual defence, that the problem has a history and is politically a hereditary one? Her colleague, the honourable PM, on the other hand, decided to take a different route. A more aggressive one.

When told that the situation was getting out of hand, people were leaving the country, that there were demonstrations against high energy costs, the escalating price of fuel and an unprecedented growth in the state of inflation– he said – with a straight face – ‘so what!’ that such agitations are common place and being exaggerated because of vested political campaigns. He said it with contempt and the arrogance of only someone totally oblivious of the reality. Denying that there was a problem in the hope that it would not be visible or downplaying its magnitude so that it would not need his immediate attention, was his claim to fame – a shot at national strategy.

The Familiar Pattern of Leadership Crisis

It has been famously said, that, ‘if at first, you cannot impress them with your brilliance, then dazzle them with your bullshit’. History is replete of similar phenomenon, where men and women, entrusted with the destiny of their people, have been reduced to a state of stupor, denial and confusion when confronted with a crisis which appears to beyond their intellectual and cerebral reach. It is why, people have often concluded, with logic and wisdom, that, ‘if one puts a clown in office, expect a circus’. In our context it goes beyond the level of a circus and has morphed into a wild, wanton extravaganza – a carnival of fools – where everything goes and anything is acceptable.

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Our situation has closely arrived at near anarchy and chaos and this growing crisis is only exceeded by the indifference shown by our government. One is reminded of the French Revolution, where when the hungry people of Paris were clamouring for food outside the gates of the Palace, Queen Marie Antoinette, on enquiring about the ruckus, was informed that people had no bread. She conveniently asked, “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche?” (why, then, don’t we give them cake)?

A Message to the Caretaker Government

It is a sign of being totally detached from reality, indifferent to the ground situation and helpless in the wake of the terrible condition this caretaker government is confronted with. I am tempted to draw their attention, with humble and earnest sincerity, about the horrible end suffered by these nobles and rulers. Whereas, I would be last person to put all the nation’s problems at the feet of this caretaker government but when things are awry and people go amok, it is difficult to predict what the people will do.

When Julius Caesar was murdered and Mark Anthony incensed the crowds by his famous speech – (friends, romans and countrymen), mobs roamed the streets of Rome in search of the senators who had murdered Caesar. On mistaking Cinna the poet for Cinna the senator, they decided to lynch him for the crime they thought he had a hand in. On learning that it was Cinna the poet, they lynched him anyway, citing that they were doing so because of his bad verses. This is mob mentality. The Romanovs of Czarist Russia saw a similar fate – no one survived the onslaught when it finally came, but as Pietros Maneos wrote about that time, “I knew it was time to cease being a Romanov so as to become an Abramovich”.

So, when will the caretakers descend from their high perch, down to our level, and acquaint themselves with our total lack of entitlement, our search for equal opportunities and our quest for justice? We the people are crying hoarse, that this is our country too, we shall not leave if we can help it but if one can still blatantly allow the disproportionate distribution of wealth through criminal means, then we the people can only ensure that that there is an equitable distribution of misery by our own measures – beware. The question that comes to the fore is – “are you, the caretaker government, standing with the people, and if not, then who do you stand with?”

If you cannot identify with your own people then your people, also cannot identify with you. You will be seen as mere mouth pieces, puppets and poodles – mandarins, paid to do the bidding of other people without a mind of your own. You are nobodies, sitting in powerful laps pulling faces at the humanity you were obliged to serve, but the sun will set and one day you will return home – everyone knows, there is a time when he has to become Abramovich!!!

You, the caretaker government, are becoming an accomplice to very grave violations of universal fundamental and individual rights, you are now abetting tyranny at its worst and you are collaborating in crime against your own people. You are doing this willingly, knowingly and with the total awareness of the situation. Your only task was to ensure free and fair elections on time or then, administer a possible alternative, which was to extend your stay and reform this country. You are not willing to do either.

On your watch, today, there is a total suppression of information, trials in camera, press censorship like never before. Denial of reality, ignoring the truth, avoiding public reactions and responses. This has led to building up a false perception about an artificial environment where you find comfort hiding behind invented narratives. Law, moral code or ethical conventions do not matter because people handling such matters have never been groomed to recognise these values or live by them. Such people cheat, two-time and deceive the nation with engineered plots and accounts that are getting more and more incredible and far-fetched by the day.

You the caretakers, are willing partners and are open to manipulation, direction and guidance from elsewhere and unable to exercise the authority vested within your position, office or person. Having authority devolved upon you, yet, on taking up office, you dishonourably surrendered us to authority that lay elsewhere. You have done so for petty gains and personal interests as you prance about in abandon with pomp and panoply – hoping that protocol can disguise who and what you really are. You listen attentively to what we say but other voices dictate what you must do, you see us as we point to the direction you must take, but you look for guidance from elsewhere, when we suffer you are pained with feigned concern but the hurt you feel is administered from other sources. You are not true to yourself, how can you be true to us, the people and this country?

Leadership Vacuum and Army’s Resolve

With the glaring incompetence displayed by this government, a dysfunctional civil bureaucracy with a political confusion to boot, the powers-that-be, have now apparently jumped into the fray. The political process has broken down and has now been reduced to brokering, auctioning, haggling and bartering individual consciences, scruples and integrities in the bazars of London and Dubai.

Our country and its people are sold and bought like cattle at cattle-mandis. We are done with this democracy and with these politicians. Finding no other recourse to put the country on an even keel, my institution, one that I have always been so proud of, the Pakistan Army, has boldly put its best foot forward and decided to deal with the malaise that we all stand testimony to. They have now openly and publicly announced their entry into the world of agriculture and a green Pakistan, The Special Investment Felicitation Council, the extraction of national minerals, leading the business community and even improving the taxation system amongst other important sectors of governance such as foreign policy etc.

There is a committed resolve to improving the economy of the country and the national financial health and it has been bravely stated so, with compassion and concern. This is how it’s been done by others elsewhere before and so a precedent exists. With the very limited leadership available in the country, it is not surprising that the Army has found it within itself to come forward, in deep consideration that they themselves are the best and undisputed players who can take this country out of the doldrums and put it back on the path to progress.

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For the Army to show this resolution and confidence as it initiates new policies, better strategies, preferred procedures and firm rules, is impressive and laudable; after all someone has to do it and we finally have people willing to do it when others could not or were not willing to. However, in the interest of the country, if this is the only recourse, method and manner in which we are destined to be governed, then having a caretaker government is not only superfluous but an unnecessary entity. In fact, democracy itself then becomes an unsustainable idea and a new social contract should be drawn up between the state, the people and the powers that wish to rule this country – a fresh constitution should be in the offing, empowering the Army in matters of State. In my very humble capacity, I would recommend that the Army come out of the closet fully and declare itself instead of parading stooges and a sham government in a futile attempt at presenting some sort of democratic process. Time to stop beating about the bush.

This apparent new power centre that we see has always been there, lurking in the background, influencing, urging, assisting and prodding – it is thus nothing new but now in its current posture it is far more visible, interactive and aggressive. With such a proactive involvement, the paradigm of responsibility and accountability has also shifted and now rests at the feet of a different alter; that of the Army’s. The new edifice is obliged to answer to any failings or shortcomings in undertaking the charge that they have taken up so selflessly and voluntarily. It is a colossal responsibility and the Army and its leadership must obviously be conscious of the vigorous standards, their omissions and commissions, by which they will be judged. To err maybe human but now there is no more space for error in any capacity, moral, intellectual, administrative or managerial.

While they, individually and collectively willing wear the mantle of high moral and intellectual rigours in governance and administration when a country is already faltering precariously, I am sure that they are well aware, that it is they who are already faulted for and blamed, rightly or wrongly, for the sorry situation that the country is in. The overall and general perception that prevails amongst the masses is that how then, can the cause of the problem be the solution to the problem. This perception must be addressed immediately and cannot be simply wished away but can only be dispelled by steps that have a visible practical manifestation and produce immediate results.

Some views on the matter are to arrest all politicians and extract the illicit funds they have collected and return these to the national exchequer, deal with smuggling, focus on the informal economy – people may see some light at the end the tunnel by such aggressive but productive measures. Furthermore, undertake meaningful national reforms across the board, keeping the future in mind. Cosmetic fidgeting will not do and slogans without substance will not matter. Looking at this situation, is the Army confident that they have the capacity and potential to deliver? This for now shall remain a judgment call, but one hopes that this judgement is based on grounded facts, reason, rational and substance; not just catchy songs and colourful posters. Time of course will tell by absolute results in every field and I really hope that my institution can prove that when all else failed, when no one else was found up to the task, it took it upon itself to serve the country and its people.

Importance of Seeing Reality for What it is

Having said as much, a word of caution is proffered with all humbleness – don’t let the situation be painted in distorted colours by flowery briefings or situated presentations – do not lose touch with reality, taking comfort in institutional ignorance, old clichéd reasoning or simplistic opinions based on rhetoric; it is a dangerous trend. Give the press a complete free rein; listen and watch, analyse and respond – never fear information and counter propaganda professionally and sensibly – this will help in grappling with the blows of reality. It is the best intelligence system one can establish and trumps all doctored summaries and conclusions. A relevant quote in this connection is, “Lacking its own ingenuity, the parasite fears the visionary. What it cannot plagiarise, it seeks to censor. What it cannot regulate, it seeks to ban.” Andrew Ryan. Such an approach blinds one from realistic hypothesis and evaluations leading to serious but irreversible mistakes.

This trend of miscalculating and misconstruing reality is a process of building a false perception; it is common and inflicts many; it is known as the Dunning-Kruger phenomenon. This ‘Dunning–Kruger effect’ is a process where people with limited competence in a particular domain overestimate their own abilities. It is an effect that is often misunderstood as a claim about general overconfidence of people with low intelligence instead of specific overconfidence of people unskilled at a particular task. Anyone can get carried away by such a phenomenon but the real danger lies in the fact that the aberration is neither realised nor understood and such people continue down the road to self- destruction oblivious of their own role in the tragedy which they themselves are responsible for perpetuating. Thus it would not be wrong to surround oneself with diverse opinions, people with capacity, capability and ones that you can trust.

People who will always tell you the truth regardless of how bitter it may sound. It has a far greater benefits than listening to only what one wants to hear. Let the organisation be encircled by competent people, qualified and knowledgeable – regardless of colour, caste, creed or ideology, who are selfless and objective in their approach. It is the only way one will find the instruments and implements to race ahead with courage and boldness. Saving Pakistan is a difficult task and we can only pray that we all see success in this.

Yet one last word for the caretakers, it should be obvious to all by now that this government is irrelevant, superfluous and more for form than effect. One would be found wanting if he did not recommend to the caretakers that they read Oliver Cromwell’s speech in full, but for now their attention is drawn towards an appropriate quote from it, “You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately …… depart, I say, and let us be done with you. In the name of God go”.

‘I believe in benevolent dictatorship provided I am the dictator’

-Richard Branson


Lt. Gen (retd) Tariq Khan retired as head of Pakistan’s Central Command and has led Frontier Corps to victory against TTP. He has written and lectured extensively on the issues related to Afghanistan, the United States, and the Taliban. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.