Descent into anarchy

January 11 saw a lot of action on the part of both the government and the army. It all started with a harshly worded press release issued by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) regarding Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s interview to the People’s Daily Online of China. It said: “There can be no allegation more serious than what the Honourable Prime Minister has levelled against COAS and DG ISI and has unfortunately charged the officers for violation of the Constitution of the Country. This has very serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences for the Country.” The ISPR’s threatening tone is unacceptable because constitutionally the military as an institution is subordinate to the prime minister and parliament. The ISPR’s press release smacks of the military mindset bogged down in the past. They should not forget that the country and the world have changed. It is not easy to browbeat a democratically elected prime minister as it was in the past. The military must, under all conditions, respect the supremacy of parliament where the elected representatives of the people run the affairs of the country. Apart from the ISPR’s press release, we saw Prime Minister Gilani dismiss the Defence Secretary, Lieutenant-General (retd) Naeem Khalid Lodhi “for creating misunderstanding between the state institutions”. This was in reference to Mr Lodhi’s affidavit in the memo petition where he stated that the Defence Ministry had “no operational control” over the military and the ISI. Cabinet Secretary Nargis Sethi has been given the additional charge of Defence Secretary. Then there was another important development. Brigadier Sarfraz Ali has been given the charge of the 111th Infantry Brigade or Triple One Brigade even though an ISPR spokesman said that this is a routine posting. All these ‘developments’ were seen with interest not just in Pakistan but the entire world.

While all this was going on, Prime Minister Gilani gave a surprising statement saying that the army chief took his permission before issuing a clarification through the ISPR. First the prime minister makes adventurist statements in an interview related to the army chief and DG ISI and then he backs down from it. Why is Mr Gilani doing this to his own cause and credibility? Is this deliberate? If it is, then the apprehensions of a clash of institutions will turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy but if it is not deliberate, then he should be more circumspect in his statements so as not to cause more confusion and commotion. Whatever the prime minister’s reasons, it would not be wrong to say that a clash between institutions does exist. The military and the judiciary seem to be on one side while the civilian government on the other. Mian Nawaz Sharif has gravitated more and more towards the military-judiciary’s side and thrown all caution to the winds on his earlier democratic stance of not destabilising the system. The suspicion in the mind of some observers is that an indirect coup might be in the offing against a democratically elected government. If something like this happens, we could have anarchy on our hands. Instead of further destabilising the country, it would be better if all state institutions remain within their parameters. All politicians, especially those in the opposition, should support democracy. Just like Pakistan cannot afford another direct military coup, it cannot afford an end to democracy either.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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