A day in the lives of nations | Talat Hussain


What is a day in the lives of two of the world’s most important, nuclear-armed nations? Not a long time, we can all agree. But then there are days that in twenty four hours tell you tales of decades, both past and coming. Last Friday was such a day.

That day our country generated the following media reports:

“The Supreme Court on Friday formed the Joint Investigation Team with an initial budget of 20 million rupees to take the case of [the] Panama leaks to the logical conclusion. The JIT will be housed in the Judicial Academy Complex and will have all the powers that [the] Supreme Court has vested in it. Opposition called it a “historic day”, dubbing it as the final nail in the coffin of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.”

The same day, Friday, we made headlines for another reason: there was a bloody clash involving the Afghan forces on the Chaman border. Kabul fired volleys of shells into our territory taking the lives of 11 citizens and injuring almost 40. The border incident was a mini war as Kabul claimed that it had also suffered a dozen or more casualties.

The same day we had this news: the Supreme Court blasted “a leader” for lying to the people by distorting and misquoting its Panama leaks judgment; leaders, remarked one of the honourable judges, must not stoop so low. That very day, Imran Khan, held a rally in Nowshera where he ran old footage of Ayub Khan’s famous visit to the US – trying to establish that ‘great leaders’, in contrast to Nawaz Sharif whom he mocked by showing clips of his unimpressive interface with Barack Obama, are received warmly by other nations. What escaped his lionisation of Ayub Khan was the military dictatorship’s calamitous impact on Pakistan’s unity and how the foundation of Bangladesh was laid during Ayub’s era.

Imran also missed out the fact that Ayub had given a free path to the US for using Pakistani territory; he was serving Washington’s core interests with great diligence and therefore enjoyed a ‘darling status’ in the cold-war era. How Washington caused Ayub Khan heartache by withdrawing the ‘;most favoured dictator’ status was also part of the past that was not displayed before cheering crowds because it did not fit into the thesis that Ayub was great and Nawaz is useless. This happens when history is read on smartphones through Wikipedia and aided by Google. Or when we don’t want to have any sense of history except what suits us.

On Friday, the prime minister and the army chief also had a meeting. News channels reported the meeting cleared the confusion created by ISPR’s tweet exactly seven days ago. What these news reports failed to recall was that the tweet was slightly more than confusing. It was a demarche from a parallel authority to the country’s prime minister that the latter’s directive was not acceptable. Having cut the PM to the size of a doormat, the parallel authority then engaged with the same PM to clear the ‘confusion’.

That decision-making has since been in a state of dysfunction, with one ‘camp’ feeling mortally wounded and the other enjoying the high-five moment, was also a subject that some authors took up in their articles on Friday. Reading the papers of the day (any other day as well) left no one with any doubt that the army commands all the policy shots in critical areas and governments follow suit or in case of disagreement adopt the most effective posture – say nothing.

It does not need a genius to figure out that the Friday meeting and claims of clearing of confusion apart, the fissures between the two camps will only widen in the coming days. At a time when war clouds around our borders and inside the country are thickening we have declared a war upon each other. Now is that smart – strategically, tactically, operationally?

And what happened in India on Friday? From India came the following media report: “India launched a communications satellite for its smaller neighbours to share, [as] part of its efforts to build goodwill in the region and counter Chinese influence…

“So far Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives have signed up to make use of the satellite… Their leaders linked up via the satellite…the South Asia Satellite will offer participating countries television services and communications technology for bank ATMs and e-governance, and may even serve as a backup for cellular networks, especially in places where the terrestrial connectivity is weak, the Indian foreign ministry said.”

The BBC reported: Mr Modi has called this satellite an “invaluable gift” to India’s neighbours. This “gift” from India has no parallels in the space-faring world. All other current regional consortia are commercial for-profit enterprises.

“So it seems Mr Modi is placing the ISRO in a new orbit by providing this space-based platform that would have cost the participating nations almost $1,500m (£1,158m).”

Here’s the analysis: in terms of future-grabbing focus, it is clear which way our arch enemy has decided to head, and what is and has been our course of thinking. India, even though hobbled by massive internal problems and grinding poverty affecting half of its population, has developed a steady internal consensus on its place in future history. We, on the contrary, are caught in a spiral of internal experimentation and jockeying for personal glory and grandstanding.

The issues that buffet us are issues that have kept us down since independence: destructive and all-consuming political belligerence. Politics, not exactly a noble man’s game in India or elsewhere either, has become particularly poisonous over the years. Now it has started to border on suicidal. This has sapped the energies of everyone and has caused nationwide exhaustion with what are perceived as endless political dramas. As a result, even slightly more positive news looks like mere propaganda (Nawaz Sharif inaugurated the Head-Race Tunnel of the Neelum-Jhelum Hydro Power Plant on Friday) that will bring no change.

The precarious state of civil-military ties, whose template was set during the days of Ayub Khan, now looks dangerously disturbed. And it is not about Nawaz Sharif. It is about every civilian ruler this country has had except for the likes of Moeen Qureshi and Shaukat Aziz. This disturbance is at its peak at a time when there ought to be absolute harmony in the functioning of institutions so that critical decisions can be taken and implemented.

This structural problem of governing Pakistan has come about after decades of tussle and upmanship. Its present state makes all future electoral exercises redundant. No matter who is in power, you can’t have two forces pulling in opposite directions and pretend that the country can be run effectively. There cannot be a democracy, in name or in substance, where the executive authority of elected offices is taken over by preferences of individual institutions. If an army cannot be run by two parallel commands, how can a country run with several commanders calling the shots? It cannot, and that is a fact that we have not understood 70 years into existence.

The Friday news comparative analysis may have oversimplified complexities in the lives of India and Pakistan as two nations, but what is not debatable is that the perquisite for steady national progress is political stability, unity of command and economic growth spread over decades, which itself will only come from broad national consensus on the rules of behaviour by different institutions. Countries that abide by these pre-requisites will grab headlines for launching regional satellite systems; those that defy the logic of these conditions will get attention for launching JITs and tweeting tweets.

The writer is former executive editor of The News and a senior journalist with Geo TV.

Email: syedtalathussain@gmail.com