Nothing but a lie...

There are some people in this world who are just so brave, brutally honest and awe-inspiring that one cannot help but respect them. Many names come to mind when one thinks of Pakistanis who inspire these feelings. One such name is senior Baloch nationalist leader, Sardar Ataullah Mengal. A man of integrity, Mengal sahib is known to be a progressive, secular, liberal Baloch nationalist. When he was chief minister of Balochistan in 1972, he focused on education and industrial development for the neglected people of his province. Unfortunately, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto dismissed the Balochistan government and Sardar Ataullah Mengal and other Baloch nationalist leaders were arrested. He spent many years in jail due to trumped-up charges in the Hyderabad Conspiracy Case. His 23-year-old son, Asad, was killed by intelligence agencies in Karachi, while his other son, Akhtar, who also served as chief minister of Balochistan, was arrested during the Musharraf regime. Despite his personal loss and suffering, the powers-that-be have not been able to break Mengal sahib’s spirit. He remains steadfast in his commitment to the Baloch cause.

In an interview with a private news channel on December 25, Sardar Ataullah Mengal refused to use the word ‘establishment’ for the army and the ISI because he thought it was a very polite term used to hide their names. He also made some statements that should give all Pakistanis some food for thought. “If you think there is any government [hakoomat] other than the army, you are mistaken. There was army’s rule, there is army’s rule and there will be army’s rule because they are the real rulers of Pakistan,” said Mengal sahib. This is an uncomfortable truth.

Pakistan is at a critical juncture. After nine years of military rule, democracy was finally restored in 2008 after an election. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) formed a coalition government but from day one moves have been afoot to undermine its credibility. Palace intrigues are a norm in our country. After more than three years of being in power, the democratically elected government is now under attack from all sides, be it the military ‘establishment’, the judiciary, the opposition or the general public. This government tried to appease the military in every way possible. Even after the May 2 raid that led to Osama bin Laden being killed by the Americans, the PPP stood by the military high command, much to the chagrin of those who have been asking for civilian supremacy for decades. The Memogate scandal changed everything. The military seems to be upset with the PPP but the government has finally stood up to it and made it quite clear that it will not go down without a fight. Some say tensions between them were somewhat defused after Prime Minister Gilani took direct digs at the army and the ISI that led General Kayani to issue a rather defensive statement that the army is “fully cognizant of its constitutional obligations and responsibilities”; others believe that the military has not backed down since it issued a veiled threat to the PPP when General Kayani said that “there can be no compromise on national security” in the same statement. This cat and mouse game will not end until and unless the issue of civil-military imbalance is addressed.

Those who are disillusioned with the current political setup need to realise that ours is a nascent democracy. The crises plaguing our country cannot be dealt with overnight. When a weak government is not allowed to function and conspiracies are hatched to destabilise it at every opportune moment, it can hardly deliver much. Despite all the problems this government faced, it did some amazing work in the shape of the 18th Amendment, the NFC Award, partial reforms in FATA, pro-women legislation, building a consensus on the war on terror, etc. This is not to say that the criticism levelled against the incumbents is completely unfair either. It could have performed better.

In this ‘land of the pure’, it is easy to blame the political class for all ills. What is more difficult is facing reality. The bitter truth is that since there is no civilian supremacy, the military top brass, both in the past and the present, has treated our country like its personal fiefdom. Let’s not forget that a large chunk of our budget goes to the military — the same military that has sent civilian governments packing many a time in the past, the same military that is killing its own people in Balochistan, the same military that has given overt and covert support to militant outfits, the same military that has a big hand in strengthening religious extremists, the same military that is involved in exporting terrorism across the border.

Sardar Ataullah Mengal pointed out the elephant in the room: “Until the politicians send the army back to the barracks, politics is nothing but a lie.” These words should serve as an eye-opener for not just our politicians but the entire Pakistani nation. Each democratically elected government should be allowed to complete its tenure. If the people are not happy with the ruling party, they should vote them out in the next election. The military will go back to the barracks and politics will be left to the civilians only when democracy is strengthened. Let’s work on achieving this goal.

(Originally published here)


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