More fairly tales from the gos­sip front

The Pak Banker - - Front Page -

DEMOC­RACY suit Pak­istan? Not as much as gos­sip and con­spir­acy. The land of per­pet­ual ru­mour, that’s the Is­lamic Repub­lic: one ru­mour scarcely sub­sid­ing be­fore an­other sets the gos­sip mills work­ing again, gen­er­at­ing the same heat and pas­sion.

Re­mem­ber Me­mogate? The heav­ens were sup­posed to open up. The trail was all set to lead to the Pres­i­dency and mighty changes were fore­told. Even those who should have had their senses about them lost the plot and waded in. But when the sounds of the ini­tial mar­tial mu­sic died down the expected bang was lit­tle more than a whim­per.

As the Supreme Court (SC) had taken up Me­mogate with great aplomb, the whim­per might have in­duced some em­bar­rass­ment.

Now Is­lam­abad’s chat­ter­ing classes, no end to their ex­cite­ment, are in the grip of a dif­fer­ent set of ru­mours. A pe­ti­tion be­fore the Is­lam­abad High Court is call­ing into ques­tion the ex­ten­sion in ser­vice so gen­er­ously granted to Gen K two years ago by the smartest politi­cian this side of Suez, per­haps even fur­ther be­yond, the pres­i­dent of the fic­tional per­cent­ages. In these more en­tre­pre­neur­ial times, what is ten per­cent be­tween friends?

A sin­gle mem­ber judge had not ac­cepted this pe­ti­tion for hear­ing – surely a pru­dent my lord. But af­ter an in­tra­court ap­peal, a division bench has ad­mit­ted it, set­ting the ru­mour mills wildly churn­ing. The lawyer be­hind the pe­ti­tion, a re­tired colonel, for­merly of Gen­eral Head­quar­ters’ le­gal wing, says the ex­ten­sion is against the law and vows to pur­sue the mat­ter even unto the SC. Surely, a fool­hardy ex colonel.

In hap­pier times all ru­mour trails led to GHQ or ISI. Now some see half of them lead­ing to the au­gust cham­bers of the SC, their lord­ships per­form­ing the labours of Her­cules as they go about set­ting things right. Vis­i­ble to some who claim to have right spec­ta­cles, a power shift has taken place in Is­lam­abad, the su­pe­rior ju­di­ciary spread­ing its wings and giv­ing ev­ery ap­pear­ance of as­sum­ing in cru­cial re­spects the role of the ex­ec­u­tive.

Who cares about the ex­ec­u­tive? But the same can­not be said of the Gen­eral Staff when the Gen­eral Staff is shown to be un­happy. Its dis­con­tent is writ­ten all over the re­cent press re­lease from ISPR, the army’s pub­lic re­la­tions wing, the warn­ing pretty sub­tle and del­i­cate but com­ing across un­mis­tak­ably in that one phrase “...try­ing to as­sume more than one’s role will set us back.”

Pray, whom does this barb fit? Not the pres­i­dent who has turned sur­vival into an art form and is con­tent with that. Not the prime min­is­ter who con­sid­ers him­self lucky the way he is. Not Par­lia­ment which huffs and puffs about sovereignty but is rec­on­ciled to its sta­tus as lead­ing na­tional de­bat­ing so­ci­ety... some pomp and pageant, not too much, no power and re­spon­si­bil­ity. Not GHQ which would have had no rea­son to is­sue a warn­ing if it were grab­bing more author­ity. If the warn­ing comes close to any­one it is to their honourable lord­ships.

Fool­ish the in­no­cent souls who thought the Gen­eral Staff was wor­ried by the stric­tures passed against Gen Beg and Lt Gen Dur­rani in the As­ghar Khan case. Re­tired gen­er­als and spent car­tridges: not much dif­fer­ence be­tween them. Gen Yahya was dubbed a usurper by the SC af­ter the 1971 war, that too when he was safely out of of­fice. The army lost no sleep over that.

The past is an­other mat­ter; it is the present which counts. Call­ing into ques­tion the ex­ten­sion cre­den­tials of the vic­tor of Swat, the gen­er­alis­simo of the western marches, this is se­ri­ous stuff. How dare any­one do that? To horse then and let the bu­gles be sounded.

To my un­trained eyes this is what it looks like. And in Is­lam­abad I have heard talk of a ju­di­cial ref­er­ence be­ing made ready. Pushed by whom? I ask. An­swers not very clear but no short­age of swear­ing and desk-thump­ing to drive home the point that ‘they’, and a quick swipe at the shoul­ders to in­di­cate who ‘they’ are, had seen red, con­vinced that a line had been crossed.

“Who will rid me of this tur­bu­lent pri­est?” cried Henry Sec­ond and his barons took care of Thomas Becket, Arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury. This seems to be the grow­ing sen­ti­ment in Is­lam­abad: how do we get rid of med­dle­some priests?

Their lord­ships were on safe ground when deal­ing only with the hap­less PPP gov­ern­ment. What could Zar­dari do? Noth­ing. Ma­lik Riaz of Bahria Town, some­body’s se­cret weapon, came out with em­bar­rass­ing dis­clo­sures re­gard­ing Ar­salan Iftikhar’s fi­nan­cial deal­ings... a great deal of money chang­ing hands. But even this as­sault was par­ried, at least for the time be­ing, by a length­en­ing of ju­di­cial pro­ce­dure. A one- man ju­di­cial com­mis­sion to probe these charges... even cer­ti­fied sim­ple­tons would have a hard time be­ing taken in by this.

All this was fine. But by in­trud­ing into mil­i­tary ground that car­di­nal er­ror is be­ing com­mit­ted of which Napoleon was guilty in his time and Hitler in his: open­ing too many fronts at the same time. Zar­dari alone of no ac­count but Zar­dari plus Ma­lik Riaz plus the Gen­eral Staff and we are speak­ing of a for­mi­da­ble coali­tion.

This at a time when one’s own bo­som is none too clean, Ar­salan the fly in the oint­ment. Is stained cred­i­bil­ity any kind of ar­mour to wear in the field? And Ma­lik Riaz again seems to have a bounce in his step. Look­ing de­feated some time back, he re­turns to the fray with re­newed con­fi­dence. Who’s given him his vi­ta­min shots?

So do what do the skit­tish pun­dits say? That this un­cer­tainty will lead to tur­moil, ju­di­cial ref­er­ences and lawyers’ marches, and more dirt fly­ing around. Add to this the tur­moil in Balochis­tan and the tur­bu­lence in Karachi and this be­comes a sit­u­a­tion tai­lor-made for heav­enly in­ter­ven­tion. The prospect that this un­folds: great dis­or­der un­der the heav­ens and an ex­cel­lent sit­u­a­tion.

Ex­cel­lent for whom? Not elec­tions surely. The first chance in 65 years – the sum-to­tal of Pak­istani ex­is­tence – and our gov­ern­ing classes on the way to fluff­ing it. In war and peace all other fac­tors are of no avail if luck be miss­ing. I am sure we have a lucky star some­where but it seems to be re­mark­ably well hid­den.

None of this should be taken too se­ri­ously: fairy tales, as I said, from the gos­sip front and our chat­ter­ing classes never seem to stop chat­ter­ing. Maybe we are on course for our ren­dezvous with sta­ble democ­racy and our first demo­cratic tran­si­tion. Maybe. Mean­while ar­ro­gance, for­merly in mil­i­tary uni­form, now marches in the civil­ian cam­ou­flage and the mean­ing of moder­a­tion is lost.

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