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Why no one's crying blue murder on Pakistan's streets

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    Why no one's crying blue murder on Pakistan's streets

    Why no one's crying blue murder on Pakistan's streets

    Shekhar Gupta , Indian Express
    OCTOBER 14: If, like me, you too sat up till three on Wednesday morning to witness the turn-of-the-millennium incongruity of General Pervez Musharraf, in full military livery, condemning his country's constitutionally elected government, some of these questions may have crossed your mind:

    How easy it seemed to be for the general to overturn a government with two-thirds majority?

    Why did the coup not bring pro-democracy protestors out on the streets? Not even the lone protestor waving a placard at the tank as at Tiananmen Square?

    Why, on the other hand, it seems as if it has found a degree of welcome not merely among the ordinary people but also from the Pakistani intelligentsia and opinion leaders?

    Why did Musharraf take such a big risk while his predecessor, Jehangir Karamat, had given in without a whimper?

    Why even the supposedly almighty Americans failed to prevent the coup?

    Why, after the coup, Musharraf has dilly-dallied for so long instead of imposingmartial law rightaway?

    For answers to these seemingly elementary questions, you have to go as far back as the summer of 1990.

    This was when Benazir Bhutto, the then prime minister, was in her rabble-rousing elements. Like a megaphone with no volume control, she was egging the Kashmiri rebels on to chop Governor Jagmohan into pieces (usko jag-jag, mo-mo, han-han kar denge). This was winning her brownie points with the army. Until, she made one over-confident error.

    In a speech at the National Defence College, she advised her army to give up the old, ``outdated'' notion that it was the guardian not merely of the territorial but also the ideological frontiers of Pakistan. If armies could protect ideologies, she argued, the Eastern Bloc would not have unravelled so quickly. This is it, said Islamabad's resident conspiracy theorists. Sure enough, she was dismissed by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan backed by Gen Mirza Aslam Beg.

    The lesson: in Pakistan, democracy or no democracy, the army has a special,central place in the ideology of nation-building. To question that is risky. The corollary is the army is the big brother, the elected government survives at its sufferance, its performance constantly watched and evaluated by the GHQ.

    Benazir had lost her job for questioning it rhetorically. Nawaz, on the other hand, has been frontally challenging this special position, getting rid of two naval chiefs, one brilliant army chief and then not only forcing his army into a humiliating withdrawal from Kargil but for also letting everyone know that it, and not his government, was to blame for the debacle.

    He therefore questioned the classical underpinning of the ideology of Pakistani nationalism where you do not question the army. Least of all making it out to be the loser in yet another war with India. The supposed invincibility of the Pakistani army is a myth that has survived a full-fledged defeat (1971), two partial ones (1965 and 1999) and the ignominous end of three military dictators -- Ayub, Yahya andZia. That the soldier is the most honourable member of our society and the politician the most contemptible is not a sentiment confined to Pakistan. Most of us Indians also share the same view. But the fundamental difference is, India, with all its weaknesses and failings has acquired a strong sense of constitutional nationalism. Across the border, it is still defined very much in terms of the Great Pakistani Patriotism (read anti-Indianism) represented by the army.

    In a very complex sort of way -- which for elaboration needs a sociologist's intellect rather than a hack's instinct -- this militaristic anti-Indian patriotism has come to dominate Pakistani nationalism more than even Islam. That is why no one dares to question the army. Except when it has been in power for some time, directly, under a dictator, and the common people begin to feel the pinch.

    Islam always mattered, now matters more

    It is not as if that Islam doesn't matter. Khaled Ahmed, one of Pakistan's most perceptive and incisiveanalysts, has made a persuasive case in a series of articles in The Friday Times as to why Karamat accepted his humiliation so easily. Khaled's case is that whenever the Pakistani army has had a relatively secular, professional and modern chief, his political clout has weakened. Karamat was certainly one in that category. Khaled backed his argument by quoting from a series of unsigned editorials in Hilaal, the Pakistani army's mouthpiece during the weeks the Karamat end-game was playing out, generally lambasting the idea of the pro-western, India-friendly and allegedly modern generals leading the army. The ideological establishment of the army did not trust Karamat. So he quit and went out to play golf and joined the Track-II diplomacy circuit.

    But why did the same establishment respond differently to Musharraf who is by no means a fundamentalist? At least, not yet. He is known to enjoy his drink. His family leads a modern lifestyle. He is by no means an Islamic warrior. He is also a mohajirand, therefore, in the normal course, seen as less martial than the Punjabis or the Pathans. But within the right-wing, ideological establishment, he has won extraordinary legitimacy with something none of his predecessors have dared to do since 1971: put the Indian army on the defensive. Even if briefly.

    His action in Kargil was pro-active. The US South Asian security guru Stephen P. Cohen calls it tactically as brilliant as Pearl Harbour but strategically just as suicidal. But when you are caught up in a blood feud, as many Pakistanis still seem to be, you tend not to look at the big picture. That's why Nawaz Sharif found himself so isolated at home on the Kargil issue.

    The US still has clout over the Pakistani army and it did manage to contain Musharraf when Nawaz signed the agreement with Clinton in Washington. It may still prevail upon him to restore some sort of a civilian rule rather than impose martial law. But it is a diminishing influence.

    Sharif misread Washington's waning clout

    Inthe '60s, Washington more or less had a direct say in the appointment of top generals. In fact, documents declassified by the US State Department include a delightful 1958 note from their counsel-general in Lahore saying how thrilled he is to have spotted a talented, westernised officer called Ayub Khan who could be groomed to take over power in years to come. In the '70s, it found a modus vivendi, facilitated by the Afghan joint venture. Pakistani officers went to its training establishments, their sons and daughters liberally cornered green cards and scholarships at its universities. Washington was in control.

    But the end of the western interest in Afghanistan and the strengthening of sanctions have led to a dwindling number of Pakistani officers training in the US. So that clout is greatly reduced now.

    Even Nawaz apparently failed to understand this. It is not a coincidence that ISI chief Ziauddin, whom he attempted to appoint in Musharraf's place, was sent to the US along with his brother ShahbazSharif last month to canvass for support against his own army chief. It is likely that Nawaz was merely presenting Ziauddin to the Americans to get them to bless his appointment. He failed to see how his rapidly Islamising army holds the US in less awe than in the past.

    Glacial shift in troika's power equation

    Irrespective of who wins this round, both Nawaz and Musharraf would also wonder whether they did not err crucially in failing to understand the fundamental shift in the power equation since the end of the old troika (president, army chief and the prime minister). Nawaz more or less finished the presidency by abrogating the eighth amendment that gave it sweeping powers, and appointed a rubber stamp president. Since the previous two coups were constitutional in nature (his and Benazir's dismissal by President Ishaq) he probably thought he was secure now that he had destroyed the presidency.

    Little did he realise that Ishaq had only acted in concert with the army and now that the presidencywas out of the troika, its powers had not automatically reverted to the elected government. At least not when there was an army chief waiting to lay claim to these. And this was an army chief sanctified, in the popular view, by the alleged near-success in Kargil.

    Similarly, Musharraf erred in assessing the post-eighth amendment situation by presuming that all of the presidency's old powers would vest in him anyway. He now has to contend with a president, a parliament, and worst of all a constitutional system where nobody really has the powers to dismiss an elected government unless he bites the bullet, and imposes martial law.