What a way to run a country


The corps commanders, representing Pakistan’s unofficial politburo, speak about the situation in occupied Kashmir and ask the world to take cognizance of Indian atrocities. What they say is true but the question can be asked whether it is their job to give vent to this truth.

But then the government whose job it is to do this is in a state of suspended animation. It is paralysed and other things prey on its mind. For form’s sake a cabinet meeting is being held in Lahore where the prime minister after his arduous journey from London – aboard a specially commandeered PIA Boeing 777 – is still apparently recovering from his wrapped-in-mystery heart surgery.

We can be sure that every effort will be made to show that the PM is fully in charge, his hand on the nation’s affairs, and there will be the usual clichés about Kashmir. But who will have missed this that the corps commanders have spoken first and PM and cabinet will be going through the same motions afterwards?

This is the reality of power in Pakistan today. The army is exercising the real authority, pulling the levers from behind. The army hasn’t grabbed power. Power has slipped away from the government because there are things it should have done, like declaring war on terrorism, which it didn’t do. And because its moral authority stands drained because of Panamagate.

To make matters worse, the government has no Plan A, no Plan B. It is just cursing its luck and looking at the calendar, desperately wishing for November to come sooner than it does when the army chief’s term will end. This is the government’s real problem, Gen Raheel and his public standing. The N-Leaguers were hoping to feast untroubled at their banquet of power. After the Musharraf years this was to be their grand vindication and triumph. And Gen Raheel Sharif has spoiled the fun of their banquet.

He has said categorically that he will go in November and is not interested in an extension. But the Noonies don’t believe him. For paranoia (wehm) even the great Hakim Luqman had no cure. And the N-League is beset by paranoia. Its leaders don’t look at their own failings. They don’t look at Panamagate. They blame the army for their troubles. Even behind Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri they detect the army’s hand. And they chant the mantra of democracy once again in danger.

Touched by the same fever, some media-persons have started saying that to dissipate all the conspiratorial talk with which Pakistan is flush at the moment, Gen Raheel Sharif should say it again that he seeks no extension. And an important newspaper declares editorially, “Meanwhile, we hold the general to his word.” This is brave stuff. Let Gen Raheel beware, let him try no hasty tricks…he is being held to his word, by Ardeshir Cowasjee’s old newspaper of record no less.

To satisfy these doubters Lt Gen Bajwa, the army spokesman who has made a name for himself in twitterspace, should leave everything else to one side and issue a tweet every week that the army chief will retire on the due date. But there is a problem even with this. If he does this the doubters will give knowing smiles and say there is something fishy in this too. Paranoia has no easy remedies.

Why don’t we do a simple computation? Gen Raheel would be a chump of the highest order if he goes for an extension. The Noonies would go wild with joy. They would love to give him that because he will be beholden to them, and his reputation, earned the hard way, will be destroyed in an instant…the way Gen Kayani’s reputation took a beating when he took his extension. The N-League’s nightmare would be over and the clouds of Panamagate will disperse.

So let’s not be chumps ourselves. The extension bogey should be buried once and for all. Victor of Zarb-e-Azb, scourge of the MQM, nightmare of the Noonies, settling for an extension… it doesn’t add up and makes no sense.

Weighing on the N-League’s mind and its media brass band is something else….that behind the façade of Panamagate, behind all the talk of terms of reference and a judicial commission to look into Panamagate, something else is cooking, something sinister and fearsome. This is the fear besetting the ruling family. You can judge this from the agitation of the media brass band which on a daily basis plays the tunes of the ruling family.

We’ve had spoons – chamchas – of governments before. But the ones now are in a class of their own. The N-League may not be everyone’s idea of good government but its skill in managing and manipulating the media is unrivalled. This comes from long experience…they’ve been at this game for a long time. Look at the coverage of Punjab’s Fankaar-e-Aala. He can spout what he likes and half the media treats him like a Samson.

But the PML-N’s present troubles go way beyond the thrill of media management. It had few ideas to begin with and after three years in office it has no narrative to sell. Zardari and the PPP were undone by their full term. A similar thing is happening with the PML-N. Its inadequacies are coming to the fore; its incompetence is being revealed. And since there is no answer to this problem – you can’t shed the baggage of the past and become competent overnight – PML-N sympathisers point the finger of blame at the army.

Of course the army is taking the lead in many things. But what has allowed the army to usurp this role? Why didn’t the civilians start Zarb-e-Azb? Why did they have to wait for the army to clean up Karachi? And who set up the offshore accounts and bought the Mayfair properties?

If truth be told, 111 Brigade has been not the destroyer but the salvager of Pakistani democracy. It gave civilian governments the excuse that they were not allowed to complete their work. Nawaz Sharif’s first ouster in 1993 made him a popular leader. His second ouster in 1999 turned him into principal defender of democracy. Had the army been foolish enough to remove him at the time of the dharnas in 2014 he would have become permanent martyr of democracy.

What the PML-N is now experiencing is an advanced form of Chinese torture – it is not being removed from office and its weaknesses are coming into the open. And far from arresting this trend or doing something to improve matters the geniuses of the PML-N are flying around in Boeing 777s, building bomb-proof walls around their private estate, Jati Umra, spending the country’s scarce resources as if there was no tomorrow and making a laughingstock of themselves. Look at N-League partisans. Even they wear slightly embarrassed looks these days. Yet they blame the army.

Given this situation, what to talk of Gen Bajwa’s tweets Gen Raheel can stand on his head in front of the GHQ and proclaim his innocence and the Noonies won’t believe him. Behind every door they see his shadow. And this will go on until a) Panamagate’s chickens come home to roost and we see a new turn in Pakistani politics or b) November comes first and Gen Raheel finally hangs up his boots. When the latter happens the Noonies won’t believe their luck.