Pakistanís Kemalist moment
Ayaz Amir
Tuesday, June 30, 2015

We should be able to see a turning point when it comes. This is such a moment in our historyÖrich with possibility. But it depends upon us, upon our collective wisdom, whether we make something of it or squander the opportunity, like so many squandered before.
Making this a turning point is the army, or rather the military, no other agency. Pakistanís political system, political cl**** political leadership, is a collection of duds, zeroes and ciphers. You multiply them, shuffle them, youíll get more zeroes. Thatís the iron law of mathematics. It is the army which is expiating for past sins and follies by turning a page, a crucial page, and taking on misplaced religious extremism.

True, there were generals of the army who played with the fires of extremism. But that was the past, a past of which there is nothing to be proud. Pakistanís new turning point comes precisely because a new breed of generals, mercifully different from their predecessors, has turned its back upon that past.

To show that it means business, the army has not confined itself to the war in Fata. It has taken on Ďsecularí terrorists as well, the MQMís armed wing in particular. Previous MQM operations adopted the blunderbuss approach Ė lots of noise, little damage. In the current operation there is very little noise, no verbosity of the kind in which the PML-N excels, but plenty of action.

The London angle Ė the Imran Farooq murder investigation, money laundering charges, and now the BBC report alleging Indian funding for the party Ė has compounded the MQMís troubles. Small wonder, it has been painted into a corner like never before.

The public is with the army (except, as we must always qualify, in Balochistan where a different dynamic is at play). But insofar as it is possible to generalise about such matters, there is a rising chorus of opinion wanting the present army-led cleansing operation to be taken to its logical end. It is not just the heat which is making people sick. Long before the heat came, the shenanigans of Pakistanís money-dominated politics Ė mega-corruption, mega-scandals Ė were enough to make anyone sick.

The dharnas and long marches tapped into this feeling. They mobilised large numbers of people, especially women and the young, but ultimately they came to nothing. The yearning for change did not disappear. But it went quiet and became dormant, disappointment turning to disillusionment as the excited crowds returned to the humdrum routine of everyday work.

The current army operation has relit those dead fires. Once again the countryís soft majority is yearning for change, for some difference in their lives and a better destiny for their country. This feeling is centred upon no political institution. It is centred on the army.

Democracy is a sentimental subject in Pakistan. So much of our best poetry is about freedom and breaking the chains of oppression. But we should be clear that this is not the failure of democracy. It is the bankruptcy of Pakistanís banaspati democracy. Should anyone call this a genuine democracy when all it can throw up as leaders are confirmed and certified looters and plunderers, whose primary interest is amassing wealth by fair means or foul but mostly foul, whose money and properties and businesses are held abroad?

There is nothing wrong with billionaires dabbling in politics. The fathers of American democracy were rich landowners (and slave owners). The British nobility, the baronial cl**** laid the foundations of British democracy by challenging and limiting the power of the monarchy. But there is everything wrong with billionaires dominating politics when they become billionaires not through hard work or the spirit of enterprise but fraudulent means and the plunder of public resources.

General Mustafa Kemal saved his country after the First World War. He founded modern Turkey. General Charles de Gaulle gave his country a new direction in 1958, writing a new constitution and creating the Fifth Republic. In our own time Vladimir Putin has reversed the story of Russiaís decline. We should ask ourselves an honest question: can Pakistan afford to continue on its present path at the mercy of men of insatiable appetite and wonderfully clever when it comes to grabbing and acquiring but otherwise of no competence and imagination?

People were not with the army in its previous avatars, when it propped up mediocre dictators and launched adventures like the Afghan Ďjihadí. But now that the army is doing the right thing a powerful constituency has built up behind itÖlooking to it as a beacon of hope and, if this doesnít sound too melodramatic, even of deliverance.

The politicians would never have taken on the Taliban. They were just too afraid and so they ducked behind the most absurd excuses. The politicians had it not in them to take on the mafias of Karachi. This was too big a task for them. It is only the present army leadership wading into these dangerous waters, which is the sole reason why the public is behind it.

A word is in order about the deaths in Karachi as a result of the heat and governmental inadequacy. A ferry sinks in South Korea, causing the deaths of hundreds of passengers, and the South Korean president bows before the Korean people and profusely apologises. Here everyone is blaming everyone else, and no one has the heart or grace to apologise to the poor and the disinherited of Karachi who have borne the brunt of this calamity.

Pakistan faces a critical test late next year when the term of the present army command expires. What happens then? Our policies are personality-driven. A Musharraf comes and Pakistan is pushed in one direction. A Kayani comes and a different tune is played. Raheel Sharif has been the force behind the armyís change of tack, its disavowal of the past and adopting a new course. Can this new course survive his exit or departure?

This doesnít mean an extension. We have seen what an extension did to Kayani. But it does mean mulling over the de Gaulle option Ė changing the constitution and creating space for an empowered directly-elected president with control over the armed forces and substantial say in foreign policy. That alone can guarantee the continuation of the present course, the strategic shift, which the army has embarked on.

Parliament and the political class will not agree to any such arrangement. We can be sure of this. The political leadership is already afraid of whatís happening and where the current reform drive may lead. Trust them not to vote for Kemalism or any Pakistani variant of it. The army is threatening their ascendancy. How can they support this drive?

What will the armyís mood be then? This is the important question Pakistan faces over the next twelve months. The constitutional change alluded to can only be pushed through Ė not at gunpoint which is to put it very crudely but through gentle, and subtle, persuasion. Of course should such a thing happen, we can expect Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani to go into another fit of weepingÖhis democratic sensibilities being very raw to the touch. The nation will have to take this in its stride.

The choice is clear: rapacious political class or cleaning the national stables. Does the republic have anything going for it, courage and imagination to begin with, or is it only good for moaning and breast-beating, and the endless exercise of cynicism? We should soon know.


Published in The News