Clarity of purpose —Salman Tarik Kureshi

Like other professionally run outfits that place a premium on executive effectiveness, our military detests indecision, incompetence, uncertainty, nonconformity and unnecessary shades of grey. In these qualities, it is not unlike corporate executives, bankers and business barons

If an opinion poll were to have been taken the day before the coup d’etat of October 12, 1999, while the results may or may not have shown a strong rating for the then sitting government (that of Mian Nawaz Sharif, with the ‘massive mandate’), they would certainly have shown a rating of zero for General Pervez Musharraf. And yet the very next day people were distributing sweets in celebration of the latter’s takeover. The General continued to gather in harvests of hurrahs.

And, even after the series of monumental blunders committed by him and those around him, and despite opinion polls pointing to the collapse of his public standing, he is still around. And he still occupies both the official residence of the Chief of Army Staff and the office of the President of the Islamic Republic.

Now, this is not an essay on the validity or otherwise of opinion polls. It is a comment on the effectiveness of the clearly focused military mind. The General and his praetorian forerunners were always clear-sighted about the operations that carried them into the highest of state offices and equally direct in the manner they used this office thereafter. Contrast this clarity of purpose and executive effectiveness with the confused motives and supine inaction exhibited by most of our civilian heads of state and government.

As we have seen, even Pakistan’s most powerful international ally, the United States of America, has usually found it more comfortable to work with a hypocritical Zia or a wily Musharraf than with such as the wildly popular but unpredictable Zulfikar Ali Bhutto or the solidly pro-business but Islam-leaning Nawaz Sharif.

(As a side note, I need to ask if there is some kind of relationship between Republicans in American office, temporary business booms and generals running Pakistan. The manner in which these keep coinciding, underlined today by the Bush administration’s continuing fondness for Musharraf, makes me reluctant to abandon the thought.)

But, to return to the concern of today’s essay, let us consider a certain unseasonably warm October night back in the year 1954. The nation’s first Assembly, the one that had been presided over by no less a personage than the Quaid himself, was still extant. The Prime Minister in office was a highly respected man, who had been one of the leading lights in Pakistan’s independence movement.

And yet, even seven years after Independence, the Constituent Assembly had failed to frame a Constitution. The much respected Prime Minister had got himself into a violent confrontation over a religious controversy. The Muslim League, which had spear-headed the Pakistan Movement, had been decimated in provincial elections in the larger eastern wing. The country was perceived as being totally adrift.

General Mohammed Ayub Khan, the first Pakistani Commander-in-Chief of the Army of this young Republic, was one of those troubled by this legislative and executive drift. He thought as follows on the night of October 4, 1954 (as recorded as in his autobiography):

“I was staying…at a hotel in London…on my way to the United States. It was a warmish night and I could not sleep…I was pacing up and down the room when I said to myself, ‘Let me put down my ideas in a military fashion: what is wrong with the country and what can be done to put things right.’ I approached the question much in the manner of drawing up a military appreciation: what is the problem, what are the factors involved, and what is the solution…? So I sat down at my desk and started writing.”

This military man then proceeded to outline an entirely political plan for his country’s future. His impatience with, indeed contempt for, his civilian superiors and their failure to act towards objectives he felt to be self-evident, are clearly expressed in his book. Military officers are accustomed to executive action and effective administration, familiar with the process of setting objectives and mobilising men and materials to achieve them. So were the British-trained civilian bureaucrats of the time. Together with their armed counterparts, they provided the ‘steel frame of the administration’.

Less than three weeks after that London night, top bureaucrat Malik Ghulam Mohammad acted. With “a general to the left of him (Ayub Khan) and a general to the right (Iskander Mirza)”, he dissolved the Constituent Assembly and sacked the government. A busy time was to follow, as those who had brought about this civil-military coup proceeded to actualise Ayub’s midnight diary notes.

Pakistan became a member of the SEATO defence pact and the Baghdad Pact (subsequently CENTO), thus making this country a strategic element in the American cordon sanitaire surrounding communist USSR and China, and ensuring the inflow of weaponry, technology and funds to our armed forces. American aid for the economy, under the PL480 and US-AID programmes, was negotiated. The provinces of the Western Wing were amalgamated into the ‘One Unit’ province of West Pakistan, with its capital at Lahore. A Constitution was finally promulgated.

But unstable ‘civilian’ kinds of governments managed to re-emerge under the Suhrawardy, Chundrigar and Noon administrations. The barely framed Constitution was abrogated by President Iskander Mirza, who declared Martial Law and appointed General Ayub as Prime Minister, only to have the latter overthrow him three weeks later. The Army was now in full control and, with the support of a pliant bureaucracy, was in a position to reorder and reorganise matters to ensure that policies were correctly directed and that things got done effectively. Which policies and actions were ‘correct’ was of course not in doubt either.

Please note that there is nothing particularly ‘wrong’ with the military mind. In fact, its preoccupation with clear objectives and effective action is attractive. On the other hand, the civilian governments’ failure to deliver on any kind of reasonable governance — indeed failure to even preserve any kind of minimally democratic character — amounted to gross negligence on the part of the leadership of the time. Certainly, it was the fecklessness of civilian politicians that permitted such a situation to develop and their active collaboration and connivance that promoted this arrogation of functions by the military regime.

Incompetent or do-nothing or internally divided parliaments, however constitutional or otherwise, fail to satisfy the people’s demands. They leave a legislative and executive vacuum of effectiveness, into which could step the more action-oriented, better organised institutions: the civil bureaucracy and the army.

Wind the clock forward to today and what do we see? We see a country caught in the coils of an economic crisis that hurts both the elite and the masses. We observe an armed anti-state rebellion by militant primitives but no coherent strategy or clear will to counter them can be seen. The burning issue of the restoration of the judiciary and other constitutional issues continue to languish for lack of action. Everywhere, among all segments of society, we sense uncertainty, fear, panic and the perception that the country is being run like the fief of an absentee landlord.

Are you listening, Prime Minister Gilani? Mr Zardari? Mr Sharif? Is it worth pointing out that while General Musharraf is no longer the COAS, he is still the constitutional Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces?

The country’s most organised institution need not share the views of the teeming masses; convinced it knows better itself, it can and does defy public opinion. Like other professionally run outfits that place a premium on executive effectiveness, our military detests indecision, incompetence, uncertainty, nonconformity and unnecessary shades of grey. In these qualities, it is not unlike corporate executives, bankers and business barons, who can usually be counted among those who applaud the periodic military incursions into statecraft.

The writer is a marketing consultant based in Karachi. He is also a poet

Daily Times, 19/7/2008

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