Will he, or will they? Oct 1999, all over again

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By Mohammad Malick

Let there be no doubt, that battle lines stand drawn between Islamabad and Rawalpindi, and there should be no surprises if even the fig leaf of institutional propriety is blown away by the fiery gusts of bellicose rhetoric in the coming days. Clearly, the military, which added a critical new dimension to the ongoing debate on Kerry-Lugar Bill by eschewing official decorum and going ‘public’ with its serious apprehensions, has thought through the consequences and appears willing to go even further. The Presidency for its part, judging by the spate of statements from Mr Farhatullah Babar, appears to be digging its heels deeper for a standoff. And while even the US ambassador has conceded the wrongful insertion of clauses, pertaining to national security and military, the Presidency continues to advocate the inviolable correctness of the aid offer. Tension in the twin cities is thick enough to be cut with a knife. Two power centres are eyeballing one another — each waiting for the other to blink first. And it is in this unnerving backdrop that the House entered its second day of debating the controversial and increasingly divisive Kerry-Lugar aid package.

Nobody can disagree with Javed Hashmi’s lambasting the corps commanders for having the audacity to publicly try browbeating the civilian government on a policy matter. “There are institutional forums for conveying any such legitimate concerns,” he almost yelled and added, “We did not spend years in jails in our quest for democratic rule to be told what to do today by a bunch of generals, or America.” He went on to thunder that unless the Presidency, GHQ and Washington are replaced by Parliament as the citadel of democracy and people’s power, the country will not take off in the desired direction. On dot Mr Hashmi. But having said that, where does the line between theory and academic correctness get smudged by the ugly truth of real politick in Pakistan? Why do the Shahbaz Sharifs of the world still feel compelled to hold secret meetings with the COAS in the midst of an ongoing political drama, fully aware of the inherent perception related complications? Why does an all-powerful president need to ask the COAS to make a call to Aitzaz Ahsan to convey the decision of reinstating apex judiciary and to ask the opposition leader to call off his march? Why does a DG ISI have to play a guarantor on a deal taking place with a dictator and a two-time prime minister and a genuinely popular leader? Maybe the answer lies in Hashmi’s other remark when he so rightly pointed out, “Ours is not a case of a failed state but of failed political leadership.”

As for going public with their threat-like-complaint, the Khaki mind has of course its own rationale to offer. A relevant security official argued, “theoretically, academically, Hashmi is right. But what does the army do when its own government does not own it up. Where do we go to USA? If not the government then who will fight for its protection and integrity with the Americans. Do we just sit quietly and watch the systematic destruction of the institution, and the country itself. If we hadn’t rattled the bag, the deal would have been done quietly.”

Hashmi wanted the House to decide the question of accepting or rejecting the bill, echoing the Thursday stance of the prime minister. But outside, Farhatullah has again dismissed any possibility of “a vote-taking place in the House on this matter”.

As put plainly by a relevant ‘somebody’: “This debate cannot be cursory, the type where you go through the motions of discussing for a few days and then cough up 8-10 recommendations and that is it. This time it is critically serious, harbouring long-term consequences. It must deliver”.

Oh, one thing more. According to the Khaki version, the most critical insertions in the final bill draft were never “shared with them by our man in Washington”. Like for instance, the crippling binding on allocation of funds from own resources for acquiring material for our nuclear programmes, …ceasing of support to terrorist groups by army (implied as such), clause pertaining to the creation of a regional security network and approach and of course the element of micromanagement through an intrusive overseeing of all promotions, administrative measures etc. And with the Presidency needlessly throwing its full weight behind the bill instead of sharing the load with the entire Parliament, the trust deficit between Presidency and the GHQ is growing by alarming proportions.

Senator Ishaq Dar pointed out that the annual aid amount of $1.5billion only amounted to 3% of our annual expenditure. “If we just slash our expenditure by 3%, we could save this peanut offering,” he said. He could be right, you know, if we really want to be a self-respecting and a free nation then we must be ready for making sacrifices, adjustments.


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