All it took was for Khawaja Muhammad Asif, federal minister for water and power with additional charge of ministry of defence, to eat a humble pie, issue a press statement on the eve of the prime minister’s visit to Kakul, and retract his own words from yesteryears.
Suddenly, the welcome accorded to the prime minister and his entourage at Pakistan Military Academy was not frosty, as had been feared, but cordial. The pendulum of civil-military relations that had oscillated to one extreme swung back to the other. The prophets of doom and gloom, who foresee civilian governments sent packing at the first instance of raised eyebrows from the military, held back on their premonitions. The television news networks - always high on emotion and often low on sanity - found their adrenaline overdrive settling down.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s speech was positive, encouraging and forward-looking. Prime Minister Sharif lavishly praised the officer cadets and their chief, Gen Raheel Sharif, as an exemplary soldier from a blue-blooded military family. Such pleasantries and feel-good optics were on display back in 1998 when former military ruler Pervez Musharraf and Sharif started falling out. Some similarities from that era are eerie. Musharraf was handpicked by the Sharifs, like the current army chief. In 1998, army troops were asked to clean up the mess in WAPDA. Some people say it was the beginning of the unravelling of the civilian government.
A few days back, an announcement came from the General Headquarters that army troops would provide security cover to the anti-polio campaign. On the eve of the premier’s Kakul visit, Ishaq Dar, the financial wizard and one of the most powerful civilian officials, met with Gen Sharif at the GHQ and assured him of full budgetary support. If some quarters had expected a full-frontal confrontation between the civvies and the ‘khakis’, it did not happen. Instead, the government officials seemed to be bending backward to bring themselves back on the ‘same page’ with the military. And, Musharraf - the sharp wedge between the military and civilian government - was whisked away to Karachi Saturday evening, ostensibly to undergo medical treatment at PNS Shifa, the naval hospital. Was it a mere coincidence that Musharraf was shifted to Karachi on the same day when Sharif visited Kakul? Speculation is already rife that the flight to Karachi is a prelude to another flight to Dubai.
Early indications are that both military and civilian government have attempted to find a middle ground amid the flaring up of tensions. The brewing tensions never really erupted into an irreparable damage but the fragility of the system, which always teetering on the edges, is a cause of concern. Should much hope be attached with a democratic order if it is so fragile that even rudimentary signs of troubles and disagreements can start shaking the whole foundation? Certainly, the system needs sturdier shock absorbers and a functional mechanism for crisis resolution. And, for stability of the country - and the much needed economic progress and prosperity - need for institutional harmony and respect for constitutional demarcations is a must.
Tailpiece: The assassination attempt on intrepid journalist Hamid Mir is cowardly and condemnable. Journalists in Pakistan are working in an increasingly hostile environment, facing dangers of varying nature. The government needs to ensure their safety and mere lip service won’t do. It was also quite unprecedented how an avalanche of accusations was flung within hours of the attack. The nature of accusation is grave and serious. It calls for an urgent, quick and transparent investigation. Those who have taken law into their hand must be brought to justice.
The writer is Resident Editor, The Nation in Islamabad.