“Now I am a journalist, so of course I am inclined to always want to defend the freedom of journalists but you know I also have to consider what’s happening in Pakistan today. There is a real security problem in Pakistan. We just saw yet again in Peshawar, a suicide blast which killed a senior politician again very close to the run-up of the election. We have got the Army and the military saying itself that the election itself they believe could be targeted. Other politicians have been named as potential targets. Army has a duty to the people of your country to secure the country first and foremost. Now is it not a real possibility that the kind of things you are saying, the inflammatory language you are using is undermining the ability of the military to meet that duty?
–Stephen Sacker, BBC Hard Talk
In one pointed question and retort, Stephen Sacker summed up the nature of threat Pakistan faces today.
The looming reality that a pliant pro-western, pro Indian and anti-military regime of Nawaz Sharif may give way to a patriotic political dispensation is too difficult for the western and Indian shadow to digest. The time to defeat the new realities is too short. This explains the proliferation of fiercely anti-military narratives that aim to turn around the spectacular military success of WOT, restoration of peace and secure environment for development into an ugly instability on meaningless and inconsequential issues.
To the chagrin of international agenda, military has resisted direct intervention and let democracy take its course knowing fully well that this is what the international backdrop wants as cause for intervention. It aims to dump all failures on the shoulders of the military. The objectives are clear; make Pakistan weak, create fissures, exploit fault- lines, make the military irrelevant and take away the jewels.
The anti-establishment media is pathetically deficient in public appeal and more likely to pursue the lines of outside propaganda. This means that willingly or naively, they are vectors carrying an international propaganda and plan of destabilisation.
An article by Financial Times calling Elections 2018, the ‘Dirtiest elections ever’ and Economist calling out ‘Time for Pakistan’s generals to stop meddling in politics’ sum up the tirade.
BBC Programme Hard Talk between Stephen Sacker and Abdullah Hussain Haroon was a flimsy attempt by the Dawn czar to pursue the anti-establishment narrative. Stephen Sacker appeared a more rational and realistic Pakistani than the Pakistani himself. I hope the commentators and observers of Pakistan’s politics noticed when Hussain disclosed that most of the information he received on Dawn Leaks came from abroad. This raises many sensitive and pointed questions; like what did he mean by abroad, how the information reached abroad, were the conference rooms bugged by hostile agencies etc. This narrative is effectively creeping and exploited by political parties and the pseudo liberals to brand the Elections 2018 as contentious, dirty and manipulative.
This is what I have been consistently calling Pakistan’s Present and Future War.
Over the past decade, the military establishment has concentrated on neutralising the kinetic threat only to realise that operations other than war threaten far more damage. The military is being sucked into the vacuum due to lack of public discourse because none else is prepared nor has the wherewithal and plans to counter it. This absence of a national security narrative as a public discourse has led to the quick proliferation of the international overhang. This overhang comprises non-kinetic threats to ditch Pakistan deeper into the instability curve. It is invasive because the public has not been educated to counter it.
This inadequacy reaffirms my explanation that no political party is keen to contest Elections 2018, on the main issues identified as ‘Backdrop of US Policies in Region’, ‘Economic Development’ and ‘Water’. This reluctance to address major issues can be explained by inherent incompetence and refrain from contentious issues lest these cut into the popularity and vote banks of political parties. This leaves very few to rebut the anti-state onslaught of the international shadow; military establishment by consequence becomes a fall guy. The patriotic media and opinion makers who do so are branded as lackeys of the establishment.
No political party is ever known to produce objective research papers on broad spectrum national security mainly because this is the domain of intellectualism and not power hungry politicians. Parties are least known for discussing national issues in internal discourses. The eagerness is always about how to win. PPP was an exception in days of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Benazir. As of now, Asif Ali Zardari will watch the whole show with inaction, identify gaps and keep his relevance. He holds the aces.
While one part of spectrum doomed to fail in elections promotes such narratives to cover incompetency and lack of public appeal, the other by lip service wishes to use it as an afterburner to zenith. Neither is equipped nor proved its competence to take the bull by the horns.
With five days to go, this onslaught will become more vitriolic and caustic. With political incompetence writ large, the onerous task of restoring stability will fall once again on the shoulders of Judiciary and some parts of executive. Politics will eagerly reap the fruits it was ever so reluctant to sow.
But there indeed exists an ugly dimension not subscribed by the western media.
The election campaign has reached the nadir of a Royal Rumble to win by hook or crook. The electoral campaign hinges on unprincipled politics and injustice. Most parties are hell bent playing to the gallery; where they think it matters. There is no space for egalitarianism, ideologies and interests of the masses. Towards the fag end, the campaign has taken an ugly dimension of name calling, derogatory language and cruelty. The spate of suicide bombings has made electioneering vulnerable.
The military is not part of this development. Do and you are doomed. Do not do and you are still doomed.
The corrupt elites threatened out of power and endeared by international establishment will call foul at every imaginable provocation. The heavy presence of over three hundred ( ADD thousand) serving and retired military men will become an issue and reason for Hussain Haroon and his ilk to yell foul. The wheel will keep spinning long time after the elections are concluded, results announced and a new prime minister called to prove his majority.The problems that Pakistan faces cannot be resolved by isolationist politics. Even if the ‘prime minister to be’ secures a majority in Parliament, the crucial legislations will not be possible. It will be worse if it is a hung house? Permutations and combinations will throw up more choices. If the indecision drama or obstinacy goes on, elections could be recalled. Senate will always stand in the way. What compromises will the largest party be willing to make in politics and vitriol for the greater cause of Pakistan?
The man with a ‘crown of thorns’ on road to Calvary will have to make tough choices. Like Jesus Christ before Pontius Pilate, his closest ilk will be Peters first to disown him. The cuckoos will keep ticking away. That’s when leadership outside the party will be put to test.
The writer is a political economist and a television anchorperson.