Tuesday, July 26, 2011

How should the Army handle the free fall?

Former Army chief retired General Mirza Aslam Beg has now come out with an open invitation to the GHQ to intervene although he is confused on how this should be done. His considered view coincides with the growing frustration and lack of confidence in Pakistan and around the world in the political leadership of Pakistan to handle the enormous challenges facing the country.

Regrettably, most of these problems and challenges were born or aggravated because they were either not handled properly or deliberately mishandled.

Beg has joined the growing club of concerned people including some top Pakistani diplomats, former holders of important government positions and known economists and technocrats who think the quality of leadership in Pakistan is so pathetic that severe damage was being done to the State of Pakistan which, if not halted now, could become irreversible and fatal.

A known Pakistani diplomat openly discusses this failure in private meetings saying both the military and civilian leadership did not have the capacity to understand the monumental issues and thus the country was slipping deeper into the abyss with each passing day.

There is not even the capacity to grow up, this diplomat argues, and says immediate changes were needed to put in place people who understand the challenges and can control the damage. About 20 important politicians, economists and technocrats recently met in Pakistan to discuss this leadership crisis and decided to form their own group. Most of them are clean people with a credible record of service and experience.

Top economic managers, the latest being the chief economist and the governor of State Bank, recently resigned in disgust, marking changes in the SBP as a frequent phenomenon.

Key bureaucrats of important ministers have been shuffled so many times in recent months and years that continuity in policies has almost become impossible. These changes were brought about because of a deep-rooted fear that allowing these powerful baboos to settle in one place makes them dangerous.

The Supreme Court has continuously been giving its observations on specific governance failures but instead of improving performance the political leadership has gone into a confrontational mode and defiance, which has brought matters almost to a breaking point. If the SC loses patience and invokes articles of the Constitution to seek help from the Army and or the bureaucracy, a deadlock will become unavoidable.

Politicians and the ruling party have become even more arrogant with every looming crisis, as if the bigger the problem, the more stinking will be their response. So not surprisingly, misfits have been placed to run critical state organs. A medical doctor runs the petroleum ministry, a junior finance minister is catapulted to be full foreign minister, a self-proclaimed non-practising lawyer has been given the law ministry, an MBBS and diploma holder in hospital management from an unlisted US university has been awarded the information ministry, and so on.

Defenders of the present system, including some known campaigners of human rights and liberal intellectuals, argue that disturbing the present system, especially if the Pakistan Army is again involved, will hurt democracy and the country and will help the present corrupt lot, turning them into political martyrs. So giving a chance to the elected leadership is the only way out.

Top business leaders are so frustrated they are even talking in terms of ending their dependence on the port city of Karachi and finding other outlets, which can help them stabilise and grow their businesses. Some are even looking towards exporting goods through the Indian ports. Some even talk in extremes out of frustration.

This frustration is prevailing round the world because Pakistanis living overseas, who send more than 15 billion dollars every year through official and unofficial channels, feel their money is going down the drain. They realise that without this cost-free bundle of billions, Pakistan would just collapse into a failed defaulted state in no time.

So then, is the Pakistan Army the answer to all this as General Mirza Aslam Beg has publicly advocated? I don’t think so, since the Army is too deeply involved in security issues and does not have the capacity, like the civilians, to handle economic, social and political issues of such monstrous size. But what the Army can do is to put its weight behind forces trying desperately for correction of the course to steer Pakistan in the right direction. That is easier said than done.

Defenders of the status quo ask who will determine which course is right; they say the people should decide this through elections. As a principle this may be the right argument but elections do not frame economic policies, they do not decide whether a mega billion deal is filled with black money or kickbacks; voters do not say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to Swiss accounts. There are laws in every society to deal with these issues. What then needs to be done is that internationally accepted principles of governance, transparency, rule of law, merit and right man for the right job must be enforced collectively by the civil society, the media and the military and civil establishment. This will never endanger democracy.

The political leadership should be forced to follow these globally accepted principles and should not misuse their elected status to hide their corruption and poor governance. There will be no threat to democracy if some top thieves and known looters and plunderers are brought to book. If they happen to be political leaders, so be it. So if the country’s top judges reach the verdict that someone is a criminal, then everybody including the Pakistan Army must support and implement their judgment. It is a constitutional obligation of everyone but the top politicians have politicised this, turning it into a threat to democracy, which it is not.

In no democracy of the world are criminals, looters and plunderers given room to be judged by their electorate when their term expires. For minor misdemeanours or even a small politically incorrect statement, leaders are forced to resign. For crimes under the law, elections are not the forum for adjudication.

So General Beg must make it clear that he does not want the Army to derail the political system.

In turn the Army should not shy away from enforcing the Constitution, if so asked.

The free fall of the country into chaos and economic collapse is so rapid that waiting for the next elections so that a verdict on these crimes is obtained by the electorate, would be too little, too late. And for the courts, the civil society, the media and the military establishment, not taking any action would in itself be a crime.

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