“Regime change”: a useless debate

Raza Rumi

The cat is finally out of the bag. The MQM chief has issued a statement on how the country needs to be saved from corrupt politicians. This was followed by his arch-foe Imran Khan who assured the military of his support should they choose to rescue the country. The PPP has issued muted condemnation of this statement while the PML-N has been categorical in rejecting any extra-constitutional intervention. The ISPR has been silent (unlike its vociferous denunciation of the Kerry-Lugar Bill) and so has the apex court that is usually prompt in taking suo motu notice. Overzealous TV anchors have had a field day in proving how terrible the current ‘system’ of democracy is without indicating what the alternative is.
Several wise commentators have also pointed out public frustration over the alleged mismanagement of the floods by the civilians as a genuine reason for a no-confidence in the system of governance. Pakistan’s chatterati, especially its depoliticised, affluent classes, have perfected such an ahistorical discourse to an art form. There seems to be amnesia about the fact that although all military interventions were sought to get rid of the ‘corrupt politicians’ each of these autocratic spells weakened Pakistan. Furthermore, centralised military rule is incompatible with federalism. Pakistan’s existence was, and remains, a compact between its constituent provinces.
Today, many in Balochistan do not sing the national anthem in their schools and its separatists have called for external help. The insurgencies in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa are all too well-known and militant groups are ready to occupy political space and state power. We are on the verge of an economic collapse and political instability is going to fuel the effects of the recent natural disaster. The simplistic ‘get-Zardari’ or nab-the-thieves formula will not work. We have just seen the accountability drama and its abysmal failure under Pervez Musharraf. Can we afford another charade? Definitely not.
The rumour factories are churning out several scenarios. First, of a brutal martial law, permanently etched in our collective consciousness, which will take care of these politicos. Second, a national government through an in-house change (hoping that perhaps the courts will oust the president). Third, a Bangladesh-style recipe whereby the judiciary will assume executive power until the next election. A senior bar representative has already floated this idea. The sad reality is all these solutions have failed here and elsewhere. Our TV anchors should interview someone from Bangladesh about the (non)-workability of such an arrangement.
It is callous to indulge in these debates when millions of flood victims are displaced. Civilian governments must be held accountable through legislatures, the media and citizen groups. The electorate, within two years, will cleanse this crop of politicians. The army has an important role in ensuring stability. It must not be swayed by such game plans. Pakistan’s drift into political anarchy will benefit al Qaeda and further weaken a dysfunctional state.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 5th, 2010.



Filed under Pakistan, public policy

25 responses to ““Regime change”: a useless debate

  1. libertarian

    Kayani and the Army would have to be particularly dumb – or filled with misplaced patriotic zeal – to take over this ship. With 0% growth and up to 25% inflation forecast for the next year, whoever occupies the gaddi is toast. The PPP is doing everyone a favor by taking the fall. If they were smart – or not so greedy – they would abdicate right now in favor of whoever else wants to run it.

  2. Raza Raja

    Although PPP and PML (N) have been incompetent but frankly army will be far worse..
    People have short memories and have forgotten how they were begging Musharraf to leave around 3 years ago. In Pakistan, it is always this strange circle. Politicians indulge in choatic fights, people look towards army. Army intervenes. temporarily there is stability and then army indulges in excesses and people start crying for democracy. This repeats full circle..

  3. DAsghar

    Raza Bhai,

    101% Agreed with your analysis. I have written along those lines at PTH and other sites as well (of course not as eloquently as you), evoking the same arguments and points. It is about time that Pakistanis as a whole stop waiting for that angel and messiah and exercise their voice at the ballot. Democracy is not the perfect solution. But democracy needs accountability and rule of law. Once we learn that we have to follow the law no matter what, the rest will all fall in place.

  4. I too tend to agree what has been written. Army rule is no the solution – but neither is the present state of affairs where the decisions of the epic court are being neglected. A governemnt which has no respect for the rule of law is the worst punishent for a nation. I do not know how long we have to suffer.

  5. Feroz Khan

    @ Raza

    These rumors of change are just that – mere rumors. The Pakistani army may be a lot of things and not all of them good, but it does have a sense of institutionalism in its ranks. Coup d’ etats cannot happen without the full agreement of the corps commander and no decision of such importance can be undertaken without first reaching a consensus of all the corps commanders.

    Secondly, the army’s institutional interests suggest that it is more worried about the insurgency than the civilian politicans and their antics. The Pakistani media, still in its teen-age years and still prickly, needs to listen to what the army has been saying. General Kiyani has been on record as having said words to the effect, though the reference was towards India, that the army plans according to the capability of the enemy and not its intentions.

    Who has the capability to deny the army its role in Pakistan? The reality is that a Taliban take over of Pakistan cannot be actualized as long as the army is capable of resisting it and it is the only institutional obstacle to the Taliban, which suggests that they would not be in favor of sharing power with it and will like to see an end to it. The army knows this; that unlike the civilian politicans, who can be co-opted, there can be no political understandings with the Taliban.

    Pakistani army wants to defeat the Taliban insurgency more than intervene in national politics, because what is at stake is the very institutional existence of the army itself.

    Politicans always look to the army once they have made a pig’s breakfast of things and need to be rescued.

    Kiyani will let the politicans sweat, because this time around, the army is of the opinion Musharraf’s coup was the last one. Too much has happened and changed in Pakistan since 1999 and the army is more interested in restoring its public image than see it tarnished further and this is important to understand; the army’s influence in Pakistan is directly proportional to popular good will towards it. When the army loses it; it has always turned over the political power to the civilians (though not always in at the right time – it takes a while for the message to sink through those helmets into an even slower brain process).

    Presently, the army own calculus of self-interests rule out an intervention in politics.


    P.S: Raza, sorry for this long post. 🙂

  6. Cat-astrophe

    “The cat is out of the bag”.

    “When the cat is away, the mice will play”.

    “Who will bell the cat?”

    I meow over Pakistan’s perpetual cat and mouse game.

  7. Feroz. Thanks for the long post. It is an excellent and rational analysis. However, the problem is that our history is full of instances when rational self interest is not always considered. I only hope that you are right.
    Sent from my BlackBerry® Smartphone. Typos are regretted

  8. YLH

    Even Imran Khan has now gone public saying that he would support no unconstitutional move, including the dreaded Bangladesh model, and would support any constitutional change. On a show last night, he for once correctly pointed out that the stagnation in terms of politicians in Pakistan has to do with repeated coups and is not a failure of the democratic system.

    We must put our faith in the democratic system and allow it to correct its own problems. There is no other way. If someone doesn’t like the PPP, either produce numbers in the parliament or wait for the next elections.

  9. Indian

    What a sensible and an excellent article. Hope many Pakistani’s read it.
    Pakistan is burning and it’s the politician that did it all says most of the Pakistani media and almost all the commenting public in many such forums. Bring in the Army says some and looks like this invitation is getting some support.
    Politically what can be a more correct statement than this, except that it’s such a fallacy!
    The Pakistani politician, otherwise known as the whipping boy of the Pakistani media and public seems to be the prime villain in the whole scheme of things gone wrong.
    The heroes and the good guys are who else, Pakistani Arm and its satellites.
    Such is the blurred vision (except of course the author of this article and a few more that consistently talk sense in Pakistan) of most of the Pakistani’s they simply seem to forget about the destroyers of all institutions in the country!
    The so called good guys, which are the Pakistani Army, are the real villains and they are responsible for the current state of Pakistan that includes Karachi.
    Since such is their powerlessness one can get away easily by bad mouthing Politicians and hence the Pakistani media and general public are “not afraid” to ridicule this class. But when the talk is about the Army, their empire and their slaves, everyone is tight lipped out of sheer fear.
    Yes. Politicians of your country are corrupt. So are they in many places. The Indian politicians are kings of corruption yet they have not allowed their country to get destroyed. That’s because they do not have the army breathing down their neck and trying to control everything. Your politicians are nothing more than Puppets at the hand of the Army.
    These rich but really poor politicians are not allowed to look into the mighty corruption of your army, enquiry about the eating up of your country’s meager resources by the Army, question army on their investments and businesses, and evaluate army for their effectiveness and so on.
    Hence without looking into the institution that is consuming the bulk of your country’s resources one cannot do anything for your country! What a politician can do when he cannot even question 50% of his economy (approx the size of resources and activities the Pak army keeps under their belt)?
    It’s like finding fault with a manager of a loss making store where the 50% of transactions are done by the security guards, who have no obligations to open up anything.
    Simply speaking, the politicians have been given a free hand only to make some quick bucks and nothing more. They are also doing just that.
    The moment the politician tries to do something different than what is expected out of him by your Army, we know what happens to that politician.
    Bhutto tried something different and got hanged for it. Nawaz too tried and was almost hanged. Poor Benazir paid with her life. But now Zardari knows this and seems to have made a deal with the Army. He survives, as of today. We do not know what will happen to him tomorrow. In short, poor Zardari is just a punching bag created by the Army till it gets ready to mount the horse once again. To be fair Zardari initially assumed that he had powers and began to talk sense like enhancing trade with India, improve Pakistan’s economy and blasphemous things like “lets put aside Kashmir for a while” and so on. Probably he was warned by the Army and now doesn’t utter any such things. The other one light at the end of the tunnel is Nawaz who inspite of almost going to the gallows, courtesy Musharaf is still taking a very firm and principled stand for Democracy. As for Imran Khan, the only positive creation in his life is the grooming of Wasim Akram (I consider Wasim one of greatest cricketer ever that played this game). The rest, he has always been a muddled person and now as a politician a potential stooge of Army and Taliban combo.
    To the point, the Pakistani Army has got all the authority with absolutely no responsibilities. The last thing Pakistan wants is for them to run the country once more. An army’s work is to protect a country and not play politics. Once they do it, the surely will mess it up.
    Karachi being a mess is no news as Pakistan itself is in such a mess, it is a miracle that it is still surviving! That speaks a lot about the people, who if only keep Army and religion away from their daily life, can make it to the top bracket countries.
    Pakistan and hence Karachi, a mess created by the Army, rubber stamped by the puppet politicians and endured by millions of silent populace. This silent majority who are too scared to take on the Army seek solace in religion. Unfortunately this institution in your country being captured by Wahabi mullahs and other mind benders is another story. That’s even a greater mess.
    Finally Pakistan from being a terrorist abetting country has now become a terrorized country whose residents have allowed them to be terrorized by a gang of uniformed war mongers and fanatic mind benders.
    If Pakistan has to survive (it certainly will not collapse as even Myanmar having much worse rankings in development indices than Pakistan still survives as a country, courtesy the huge Myanmar army. But as a people the Burmese are in such a bad shape, only the North Koreans and Somalis are worse off. Frankly Pakistani’s do not need a country that continues to be called as one just because it has got a huge Army) as a country that does justice to its millions of common folks it has to first clip the Army’s wings, make them subordinate to the civil society, subject them to audits and punishments. If not it will be another Myanmar with the real population having just about nothing and suffering yet as a country will hold out with only the Army and its lords enjoying the meager resources.
    Hope Nawaz Sharif, Zardari and other democratic politicians will stand up to the Army to stop your country from turning once again into mere garrison.

  10. Ammar

    Economic instability and rampant extremism are the two most crucial problems faced by Pakistan and unless we eradicate extremism we cannot have economic growth. The fight against extremism is therefore important for bring prosperity to the country.

  11. Natasha

    Another military rule will probably prove to be the last nail in the coffin. However a constitutional change must come. I am not in favour of giving these goons a free hand for 5 years. We’ve had enough.

  12. tilsim1


    “Civilian governments must be held accountable through legislatures, the media and citizen groups. The electorate, within two years, will cleanse this crop of politicians. ”

    This is absolutely how it should be. Military intervention will once again set the process of self-correction back. It should be out of the question at all times but particularly now. However, we have to accept certain things. For example, it will take long to see real results. We must not be impatient in our frustrations. Just remember how the alternating democratic dispensation of the 1990s did not see meaningful change such that people welcomed General Musharraf and his agenda to sideline the PPP and the PML-N. However, whilst that coup ushered in some important and positive changes, it weakened democratic forces and extremism made giant inroads.

    Now Altaf Hussein and the media are understood to be inviting the generals to bring about a revolution and dispose of the feudocratic parties. The Pakistan army are part of the system, not outside it so a revolution is an impossibility. Real change comes from the people. Altaf Hussein ought definitely to know this.

    So what are some of the action points?

    1) Citizens pressure on politicians to improve their performance has to be kept up. It is their poor record and corruption which principally invites military takeovers and results in a docile accepting public.

    2) The middle classes (even though their numbers are small) need to be much more active in politics and to join the mainstream parties to work for democratic reform within and to challenge the power of the feudocrats . The MQM, despite criticisms attributed to them, provide an important example of lower middle class political empowerment. They still have a way to go to get away from personality politics but they certainly have bought effective leadership forward like 39 year old Mustapha Kamal, former Nazim of Karachi.

    3) Compulsory classes on citizenship, ethics, integrity, critical and evidence based thinking should be part of the national educational curriculum and public broadcasting.

    4) The lawyers and the courts must guard against becoming hand maidens’ for Islamists.

    @ Indian

    Pakistanis have mixed feelings about the military’s contribution – criticism is not at all rare these days but they are also one of the few operationally effective and loyal institutions in the country so they also get praise and support for this.

    Because of the mixed feelings, criticism of our army’s dominance on the national scene is best received when made by a Pakistani to a Pakistani audience. That said, I read your analysis with great interest and you are on the button.

  13. Hira Mir

    The instability in the political leadership in the country demands majority of the people to get united and protect the National security.

  14. Ammar

    The obsession with revolution is incomprehensible as we view it as the ultimate solution but we fail to understand what needs to be done. While our governance structures are not perfect but our voices are needed so instead of waiting for revolution let’s embark on evolution, stop bribery fight intolerance do little things in our own capacity.

  15. Feroz Khan

    @ Natasha (9 September 22, 2010 at 2:38 am)

    This government must be allowed to finish its elected mandate at all costs. This also means that if the same people are elected, they have to be accepted as the de jure democratically elected government and their new mandate respected.


  16. Feroz Khan

    @ Hira Mir (September 22, 2010 at 2:42 pm)

    Please define national security?

    This argument, to protect national security, has been the touchstone of denying the due process of law in Pakistan.

    On the basis of this argument, individual rights have been violated; precious economic resources have been appropiated by the military; policies have been created, which have now started to haunt us; the system of democracy has been periodically derailed.

    National security and it protection in Pakistan has turned out be a Faustian bargain, which is proving to be very expensive.


  17. Yasir Qadeer

    It is not the system that needs a change but rather the way we operate it and the way we look at it. Till the day we think inside the box with a conservative perspective, nothing would change. We must open ourselves to liberal values and think outside the box.

  18. Hira Mir

    @feroz. National security includes security of you and I. Maybe the means of gaining this as you mention in your comment might be wrong but the idea is perfectly fine which will let you and I walk down our street freely rather than being bombed by a Taliban.

  19. Feroz Khan

    @ Hira Mir (September 23, 2010 at 1:21 pm)

    What allows us to walk down the street is law and order. Every street corner in Pakistan is manned for war; there is police, and there are rangers and there are pickets, but do you feel safe to walk down the street?

    National security generally refers to the protection of the state’s interest from external and internal threats. The doctrine of national security means that the security of the state is paramount and the interests of the person, will always be subordinated to the needs of the state.

    Pakistan has sacrificed a lot for the sake of national security and what have we gained?

    People, who give up their freedoms for getting a little bit of security end up having neither and that is the case in Pakistan; we have no freedoms and we have no security thanks to the logic of “national security”, which has ruled us since 1958.


  20. Hira Mir

    @feroz. Freedom and protection of each individual citizen at this time of turmoil leads to a whole national security. Yes feroz I would agree with you with much of what you say has weight 

  21. Feroz Khan

    @ Hira Mir

    You said, “Freedom and protection of each individual citizen at this time of turmoil leads to a whole national security”

    Please, explain this statement.


  22. Hola

    “they are also one of the few operationally effective and loyal institutions in the country so they also get praise and support for this.”

    Who is responsible for making other Pakistani institutions dysfunctional, so that the country would depend solely on the Army ?

  23. Hola

    My previous comment is addressed to Tilsim sir.

  24. Hira Mir

    @feroz. The security of every individual citizen is at major stake due to the Taliban in the country. Accumulatively this means that the masses are in danger and so is our country.

  25. ali hamdani

    Regime changes has only given more space to the Taliban to operate and thus will give in future. Instability is what the Taliban want in the democratic process.