Another Martial Law?

This a piece authored by Mr Omar Ali. We are grateful to Mr Ali Arqam editor LUBP for sending it to us.

by Omar Ali

Pakistan is in the grip of one of its periodic eruptions of speculation about impending martial law, or at least, it looks like that on TV. For weeks, the largest news channel in the country has been shamelessly promoting the army’s role in flood relief as if the army is an opposition party, bravely stepping in to do work that the “corrupt politicians” who rule the country do not want to do (or cannot do). The fact that the army is an instrument of the state and that its efforts are part and parcel of the sitting government’s response to the emergency has not registered with the anchors at GEO news. But it has not stopped there; various failed politicians who are unable to survive on their own, but always find a happy home under martial law, are crawling out of the woodwork to lament the terrible situation and endlessly repeat the phrase “after all, things cannot go on like this, something must be done”. But what is this “something”? Do they want the sitting government to resign? do they want the opposition to bring in a vote of no-confidence? do they perhaps want the president to dissolve the assemblies? No, none of these legal or quasi-legal alternatives will do in this hour of national emergency. What has set their tongues wagging is the possibility that “patriotic generals” may be forced to step in and save the country. And as if on cue, the MQM’s Altaf Hussain has stepped forward with the suggestion that a “patriotic general” may indeed be better than “feudal politicians”. Naturally all this has raised the hopes of some sections of the Punjabi middle class, who are eternally unhappy with the “illiterate masses” and “corrupt politicians” and apparently go to bed dreaming of Bonaparte riding in on his white horse to “create more provinces and increase national unity and sense of purpose”.

We Pakistanis have a finely developed sense of conspiracy, so when they see the army’s usual supporters out in force, they naturally suspect that the army is behind this and is itching to take over. But this time around, things seem a little different. I participate in several groups on the internet and notice an interesting (and ultimately, hopeful) trend. In the last few days, dozens of correspondents have written in with comments that range from strongly worded condemnation of martial law to tired resignation, but there is very little support for the proverbial man on horseback riding forth to save the nation. Even the supporters of the army are more qualified in their support than they used to be. Some well-meaning souls have said they do not support a coup, but maybe we can do what Bangladesh did; let the army engineer a soft behind-the-scenes coup, install a caretaker regime, conduct some corruption investigations and clean up the major parties a little, and then hold real election and leave. The idea may sound attractive, but suffers from a crucial flaw: Pakistan is not Bangladesh.

Even after some Islamist penetration and some tutoring at the feet of old colleagues from the Pakistani army, the BD army was never the kind of army we have in Pakistan. OUR intervention will not be confined to establishing a semi-competent caretaker administration, providing better security to the commercial classes and arranging elections after a round of corruption investigations. Instead, if the army does carry out a coup, it is more likely to re-impose its old touts in some new incarnation of the eternal Muslim League, continue its love-hate affair with the MQM in Karachi, continue playing off of one set of civilian politicians against the other, continue confrontation in Balochistan AND continue its jihadi double game. In the last, that would mean opting for BOTH one hundred slaps and one hundred onions at the hands of the United States and the Mujahideen, rather than biting the bullet and throwing in its lot with one side or the other.

Another crucial difference is that the army in Pakistan does not get along with any of the major electoral groups that actually represent most of the people of Pakistan. Instead, the army’s preferred allies are the Mullahs and the highly artificial PMLQ. They may use smaller groups like the MQM when it suits them (and abuse them when it does not), but their elitist vision is not the neo-liberal vision (or neo-liberal Western dictation) that appears to have animated the BD experiment in caretaker rule; In Pakistan we have the worst of both worlds: a military elite that is neither a populist anti-colonial force, nor a westernized elite with a neo-liberal pro-western, pro-business agenda. Rather, the only dreams that seem to animate them beyond narrow personal gain are juvenile versions of the “two-nation theory” and “Islamic revival”. Until that changes, any military takeover is almost guaranteed to lead to increased confrontation with India, continued efforts to distinguish “good jihadis” from “bad jihadis”, and endless war in Afghanistan. Their “homegrown solution” to Pakistan’s problems may well be a cure worse than the disease.

But is there even a real threat? There are other possibilities; the habitual supporters of military rule may just be responding to cues (natural disaster, major incompetence) with automatic demands for military rule even though the army has no such plan (much like Pavlov’s dogs would salivate at the sound of the bell even when no food was present). Or (and this may be the most likely scenario) this may just be the army’s way of keeping the civilian government in line, making sure they become even more compliant than they have been in the past.

Perhaps they are just using this campaign as a convenient opportunity to further undermine civilian rule, so that the worthless prime minister can grovel even lower before the army chief and and the army can collect credit for just doing its job (like flood relief) while getting none of the blame for the dismal situation in the country. Last but not the least, some people have mentioned that like everything else in Pakistan, this too may be an American plot. Perhpas the embassy really does feel the current regime is too incompetent and the army should come in to manage a difficult economic and political crisis. Whatever the case, one thing is certain: we live in interesting times.

11 Comments

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11 responses to “Another Martial Law?

  1. Mr Omar Ali first of all i admire you, how apprehensively you analysis the statement of Altaf Hussain. but i am of the view that there should be some role of army in government, so that a balance governance could be prevailed. it is a fact that we the people of Pakistan are unable to live happy under any democratic Govt, we are naturally dictator oriented nation. whether you agree or not, it is there that in there is more corruption in democracy because in democracy there are hundreds who always plunder.

  2. pankaj

    Why does nt the Pakistan army crackdown on the crooks who don t pay taxes

    Is it possible that pak Army and The politicians are two sides of the same coin

    Pak Army is very rich and it does nt pay taxes either

  3. Thanks Raza for sharing this piece with PTH readers,

  4. imran farhat
    salman butt
    shoab malik
    akmal brothers
    asif’
    amer
    azhar ali
    wahab riaz
    the way team perform in batting and got out under hundrads many times i beleive more than seven players involves including team manegment and Pcb too.

  5. @umar the problem is not we need martial law or not the issue is we people of pakistan see some directions but current set up is doing any thing pakistan need a system that works for him not westminister style system we people have problem that our owen interest related to this system in general we whole nation is moraly bankrupt .
    i agree with hasan nisar he saig once turkey been called sickman of europe but mustafa kamal turnaround the nation today pakistan is sickman of asia we need something to turn around otharwise we will sink in hole budd.

  6. Maryanne Khan

    “we are naturally dictator oriented nation”

    hmmmmmm can someone explain this? How can an entire nation be ‘naturally’ inclined towards a dictatorship?

  7. I think he expressed cynicism

  8. Parvez

    Imran, it is the conservative business that put Turkey on road to growth and democracy. Turkish army had put the country to sleep.
    In case of Iranian revolution the force behind Mulla was conservative bazaris and they still hold the state together.
    In Pakistan, the business people are getting stronger with urbanization. They are the ones hurt most by the corruption and when they pick most the assemblies, then you will see reduction in corrupt practices. Right now, they are giving most in charity to flood victims.
    What is holding back economy is the Afghan war and lack of investment in infrastructure.

  9. Zainab Ali

    Another coup might be too damaging for the country, because the sufferings from the flood are far from being over. It is true that the army as an institution has always dealt with emergency situations much better than the civilian government, but in a democratic setup, it is important to realize that the army and the government, both represent the state, so there should be no differentiation.

  10. banjara286

    i’d like the author to consider the following hypothetical scenario:

    a) your nominal boss (in name only) has a hen that lays the proverbial golden egg.

    b) while you don’t own the hen, you have exclusive rights on the egg it lays. you are it major beneficiary.

    c) circumstances have thrown up a vicious knuckle curve, and the hen is mortally afflicted.

    d) you believe that your boss, or anyone else that can get ownership of the hen, has no chance of saving the hen. there is a very real danger that it may die.

    e) you believe you are the only one who can – with your expertise – somehow contrive to save the hen, so it will live and continue to lay the egg.

    f) your useless boss, as also ALL other equally useless contenders who are dreaming of one day owning the hen, would not hear of transferring the ownership of the hen to you, so it could be saved.

    g) from your standpoint, the situation is beyond dire. if the hen goes, your world is finished … no one will be able to help you, or the hen, in that case.

    h) you know of a cunning interlocutor who is willing to whip up a case on your behalf to have the ownership transferred to you, for a generous fee (of course).

    i) there may – conceivably – BE other alternatives to save the hen (not that, with your genes, they would have occurred to you) but it may involve you losing the major share of the golden egg. on top of that, these alternatives will require you to take on a wholly different role in an effort to save the hen.

    j) you have other benefactors (aside from the hen of course) who do not want at any cost that your services – on their behalf – should be curtailed by these rather unappetizing alternatives.

    k) both you, and your benefactors, know that if the hen goes, the game is over.

    what do you decide to do in the above scenario?

  11. Sadia Hussain

    Without any doubt democracy is a formidable source to fight extremism and this can be seen in the case of Pakistan as after restoration of democracy the war against terror was well-planned and the representatives of public were taken into confidence. Also it the war lacked the legitimacy of public support which is vital for keep the moral of soldiers high. Extremism cannot foster in democracy as democracy provides the every stakeholder the opportunity to present their view in front of public without resorting to violence.