There are two broad ways to look at this. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has surrendered to the powerful military. He has accepted the formation of military courts which will undermine the judiciary and the democratic system as a whole by further blurring the lines which separate powers between institutions, and can only come to life after clauses in the Constitution related to fundamental rights and basic structure have been rendered ineffective. The growing role of the military, during a democratic government’s rule, has been facilitated by the latter’s failure in taking on responsibilities that clearly fall within its domain. Also, PM Sharif’s track record, rather ironically, suggests that he has never been completely averse to the idea of turning to the military when thing turn sour. His previous stints in power are also marred by invitations to the military to perform tasks that ought to be carried out by the civilians; formation of military courts in 1997 is one example, where he was presented as a defendant in a hijacking case later, after having been ousted by the then COAS General Pervez Musharraf.
Times have changed. The PM hasn’t. He still seems to believe that merely moving things from his plate to the military’s is a job well done, when it is really a job not done at all. Where in the 20-point National Action Plan (NAP) can we find what has been missing all along and has landed the political leadership where it stands today? Reforms. They are what governments usually bring about when systems are failing to deliver. The proposed establishment of military courts has been justified by citing various shortcomings of our criminal justice system. The PM, instead of rallying his colleagues in the parliament around a comprehensive reforms agenda, has deemed it sufficient to simply concede by embracing the traditional diagnosis along with other, slightly more reluctant political actors. In matters that involve expanding the military’s role, doing is easy, undoing is not, as the PM, one hopes, must understand quite well.
Perhaps one can shine a different light on the landscape, which doesn’t make it all appear so grim. A petty, bickering political class has finally woken up to an inescapable reality; the country is in a state of war. It has set aside differences and apprehensions, and is attempting to unite behind an agenda to eradicate terrorism. Bringing structural reforms, overhauling entire systems, changing mindsets and reshaping narratives through education and other similar solutions require time, precisely what the country doesn’t have. These measures, being degraded as mere fire-fighting tools, are exactly what are needed since there is actually a fire to fight. Rights and civil liberties are indeed compromised during “extraordinary times” such as these, with several examples from recent history following 9/11 and 7/7, coming from countries with well-established democracies and a far more evolved culture of rights. However, this optimistic approach too will eventually turn skeptical or even cynical, if the government doesn’t compliment the military’s efforts with efforts of its own. If it doesn’t begin taking necessary initiatives, it will continue to lose control and space like it has been since coming to ‘power’.