By Asif Haroon Raja : –
It is being generally opined that repeated takeovers by the military blunted growth of democracy and became the major cause of Pakistan’s sad saga. It must however not be forgotten that all martial laws and military takeovers were legalized by the higher courts and backed by the politicians in opposition and rejoiced by the people. But for the deplorable conduct of the politicians, the Army could not have snatched power. Ayub Khan’s ten-year rule is internationally acclaimed as the golden period of Pakistan. GDP rose to 7% and all-round reforms were undertaken. Pakistan is surviving economically because of dams and irrigation canals made during Ayub’s tenure. Pakistan armed forces became a robust conventional force and it successfully blunted the nefarious designs of five-time superior Indian forces to capture Pakistan’s heartland in the 1965 War.
The economic graph of the country remained at 7% during Gen Zia and Gen Musharraf’s tenures. No military ruler bled the nation white. Popularity and graph of progress of each military rule declined when politicians joined the military government. Bureaucrats too fared poorly. The four Army rulers had not only put the derailed nation back on the rails but also gave a lot to the country in terms of development, accountability, good governance and continuity. Law and order situation was kept under control.
The armed forces have maintained and further improved the existing cantonments and developed new ones. FWO and NLC have contributed a great deal in development of road infrastructure throughout the length and breadth of the country. The NLC also beefed up the road transport service to carry heavy loads. Welfare organizations like Fauji Foundation/Fertilizer/Cement etc are all self reliant and profit running/ tax-paying setups, which not only cater for the well-being of retired officers and men, but also handsomely contribute towards national growth. Fauji Foundation is running chain of top class Askari banks, high quality schools/colleges as well as hospitals all over the country. It has now commissioned windmill project in Karachi to boost energy. Army/Navy/Air-force Housing Directorates have spread a network of high quality housing schemes for the retiring officers and now for lower ranks as well. Top quality hospitals are run by armed forces where civilians can also avail the medical facilities. Well equipped
Armed Forces Rehabilitation Centre in Rawalpindi effectively treats the disabled and war injured soldiers. As welfare measures, welfare shops, resorts in hilly areas, sport complexes, swimming pools and jogging tracks are run by the armed forces. The Army has earned a name in the UN and is the most respected and in great demand for UN Missions in troubled countries. The ISI is rated as number one intelligence agency in the world since it has thwarted the combined efforts of six intelligence agencies to denuclearize/balkanize Pakistan. The Army is maintaining minimum nuclear deterrence and is guarding strategic assets with resoluteness. It has inbuilt accountability system and makes no compromise in discipline and strives to keep the units/HQs operationally/technically fit.
The Army is now busy fighting the faceless enemy to rid the nation of the menace of terrorism which has become an existential threat. It has lost 5000 soldiers to keep Pakistan safe. Besides counter insurgency, the Army is also engaged in developing FATA and Balochistan, looking after one million displaced persons from North Waziristan and in winning the hearts and minds of the troubled regions. Despite frantic calls by all and sundry, the Army leadership has desisted from seizing power and has played a definite role in strengthening democracy.
In comparison, performance of political leaders has been dismal. All told 9 general elections took place between 1970 and 2013 in addition to party-less election in 1985. Unfortunately, all were rigged, which brought to fore false mandate. Rulers and not leaders with a fake mandate left no stone unturned to wreck and destroy the nation. Their sole objective was to make hay as long as the sun shone. Both the PPP and PML-N in their respective two tenures each from 1988 to 1999 tried to control the Khakis but couldn’t. Army played no role in shortening their tenures. Similar attempts were made by PPP regime in their last tenure but again failed. Even the present regime yearns to harness the Army for unexplainable reasons.
While ZA Bhutto laid the foundation of nuclear program in 1976, Pakistan achieved weapon-grade nuclear capability during Ziaul Haq’s tenure. Zia and Musharraf however should have constructed Kalabagh Dam, which would have countered India’s blackmailing tactic of flooding or drying up the three rivers. All the four military rulers during their 33-year rule opted for controlled democracy to gain legitimacy of the West rather than striving to take Pakistan out of the well of poverty and illiteracy and making it a model welfare State as envisaged by Quaid-e-
Azam. Ten-year unadulterated military rule free of political influence and Bureaucratic negativity could have made Pakistan an Asian Tiger.
Economic indicators during the 34-year rule of politicians remained downbeat. Not a single dam has been built by them. The third PPP rule under Zardari took away everything and gave nothing except for false promises. The present government of PML-N having learnt bitter lessons is working hard to restore the faith of people in democracy. In one and half years it has taken bold initiatives/constructive steps and so far no corruption scandal has come to surface. Although webbed in lot many imperfections, PML-N is comparatively a better devil and is at least striving hard to put the house in order under extremely trying conditions.
Opportunist politicians, who had all along cribbed that the Army rulers never gave a chance to the democracy to grow, are hell-bent to derail the democratic system. Rather than trying their luck in next elections, PTI and PAT egged on by discarded politicians like Sheikh Rashid and Chaudhri brothers of PML-Q ganged up to boot out the ruling government through sit-ins. Two religious parties also joined PAT. They remained under the illusion that Army leadership had gone wary of the ruling regime and would let them undertake unconstitutional steps to seek power even if the government orders it to come in aid of civil power once the red line is breached. They were also assured by the MQM and disgruntled politicians within PML-N that they would join them at an opportune time. Likewise, discontented politicians of PPP belonging to Punjab chapter conveyed their support. While Tahirul Qadri promised to collect a crowd of 12 lakhs, Imran Khan stated that he would be able to muster at least 2.5 lakhs on August 14 to storm the capital city. In their considered view, Nawaz would become history once the gigantic convoy reached Gujranwala.
Despite the fact that all the rosy assumptions proved false and ultimately Tahirul Qadri having taken all rabbits out of his hat deemed it feasible to bow out, somehow Imran continued with his sit-ins and kept his hopes high that he will be able to force Nawaz to step down. He kept playing the theme of rigging even when 5 out his 6 points were accepted by the government. He showed utter lack of confidence in any institution other than the Army and kept ridiculing the politicians, judiciary and Election Commission. Notwithstanding that all what he said was true and required surgical treatment, however, his method and timings were wrong and he was in too great a hurry. He took the fatal plunge without legal, constitutional and political support.
Large crowds he attracted at Islamabad and in other cities further bolstered his spirits and kept him in a trance. Song and dance which became part and parcel of sit-ins, heavy presence of girls and women, free food, daily wages to the people belonging to lower classes and those coming from out stations, together with the comical slogan of ‘Go-Nawaz-Go’ were the major attractions for the sitters mostly belonging to higher middle and upper classes. Rabble-rousing leaders incited the public to take law into their own hands and throw out the government in power by force. A demonstration of this was witnessed on 30 August when the PTV Station, PM House and the parliament building were attacked by the charged up crowds.
Interestingly, Imran and Qadri upped the ante at a time when economic indicators had begun to show an upward trend, investments had begun to flow in, Operation Zarb-e-Azb had entered a crucial phase and the Army required full support of the public, the government and the media. One million people displaced from North Waziristan (NW) needed full attention. While the public got distracted towards Naya Pakistan, the media focused its entire attention towards the merry-making sit-ins and the government got busy in saving itself from falling. Interior Minister’s priority became safety of Islamabad rather than of Pakistan. The paramilitary forces and the police were heavily employed in Islamabad and in other cities to provide security to the protestors. Even the Army had to part with troops to secure the capital city. The diplomatic community and the world at large also got engrossed in politics of sit-ins while Chinese President regretted to visit Islamabad because of disturbed security situation.
Every house in Pakistan got sharply divided over affiliations with PML-N, PTI and PAT and serenity of a house got disturbed. Old politicians with their feet in grave also saw the ongoing power tussle as an opportunity to gain a piece of cake and felt happy to be given a place to stand on the container. Worst of all, the Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and other senior ministers of PTI abandoned their primary duty of serving the province which had elected them with high hopes and joined the sit-in in Islamabad. They also took part in dancing spree rather than spending more time with the IDPs and in removing the fault-lines in KP. They didn’t return even when intelligence reports indicated a deadly terrorist attack on a school in Peshawar.
All this time when the nation remained glued to the TV to watch the stimulating sit-ins, and the media anchors and participants soured their throats in lionizing Imran and demeaning Nawaz, the Army supported by PAF kept vigorously pursuing the terrorists to clear NW of their presence
and to let the IDPs return to their homes. The Operation was extended to Khyber Agency to strike hideouts in Tirah and Bara in particular. Precautionary steps were also taken to prevent blowback in urban centres. In the process, the Army lost 150 officers and men. The Army also had to respond to Indian belligerence along the LoC and Working boundary. The biased media paid little attention to the tremendous sacrifices made by the security forces in making Pakistan safe. But for the 16 December tragedy which befell in Peshawar, the madness of sit-ins would have continued unabated.
The strategic diversion from Operation Zarb-e-Azb to unproductive politics of sit-ins gave a field day to the plot makers sitting in Kabul to defame the military operation, demoralize the Army and cause it unbearable pain. India exploited the political instability and adopted an offensive posture. Modi is on record having stated that ‘India will cause pain to Pakistan’. With hate-filled fugitive Fazlullah and Omar Khalid Khurasani in Afghanistan under the thumbs of foreign agencies, and the internal security apparatus under IB, CID and Special Police as well as the managers of KP involved elsewhere, and the Army heavily involved on multiple fronts, it was easy to plan the dastardly attack. Terrorists who had been up stuck from NW were too eager to carry out a revenge attack and that too after being well paid.
The gruesome attack on APS Peshawar by seven fiends is too painful to recount. It has paled the brutalities of Changez and Halaku into insignificance. While the pain and anguish of the departed 133 innocent students mostly from 8th, 9th and 10th classes and staff members including the principal and teachers is too harrowing to explain, the young ones sacrificed their lives to unite this divided nation. They gave an exit route to Imran and steadied the rocking boat of Nawaz. Imran showed large-heartedness to call off dharna.
Will the politicians ever rise above self-centered interests and promote unity rather than disunity and chaos? The political deadlock which persisted for over four months has once again underscored the point that politicians and not Army are the biggest enemies of democracy. We hope and pray that the politicians and religious leaders would rise to the occasion and rather than indulging in self-defeating tug of war or in power tussle and point scoring, will collectively push the cart out of the swamp and make Pakistan prosperous and a haven of peace.
It becomes incumbent upon Imran to focus his entire energies to make KP better and secure. Nawaz should straightaway carryout constructive reforms in electoral system, depoliticize the
police particularly in Sindh, let the Army establish military courts under Article 245 for speedy disposal of terrorism cases, implement national counter-terrorism policy and national intelligence policy including setting up of joint intelligence directorate, set up counter terrorism force at federal/provincial levels, repatriate 2.7 million registered and one million unregistered Afghan refugees to their home country ASP, improve Pak-Afghan border control and management, convince Ashraf Ghani to wind up Indian 17 intelligence units and four Consulates focused towards Pakistan, and close down safe havens of Fazlullah and Khurasani in Nuristan, Kunar and Nangarhar. The Army should not only try to seal off routes of foreign supplies but also widen the scope of Operation Zarb-e-Azb to all parts of the country to root out all forms of terrorism. The people should play their part by identifying those sympathizing with and harboring terrorists and should remain ever vigilant.
(The writer is a retired Brig, war veteran/defence analyst/columnist/author of five books, Director Measac Research Centre and Member Board of Governors Thinkers Forum Pakistan.)