Khaki shadows?

Source:  Tribune Published in Current Affairs on Monday, October 16, 2017

All of a sudden everyone is gripped with fears of a martial law. What happened and why is such alarmist talk refusing to ebb away? Here are ten reasons:

1. Major General Asif Ghafoor, director general of the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), said rather categorically at a news conference on Saturday the army believes in civilian supremacy and there is no threat to democracy from the armed forces. He also rubbished talk of a technocratic government and downplayed the spat with Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal. This statement should in itself put an end to the intensifying debate over khaki shadows. But it will not.

2. At this news conference, the DG ISPR also said he was pained at the statement of the interior minister. He also defended the decision to have the army chief talk on the economy at a public forum while also saying that what he himself said about the economy being if not too bad then not too good either. In other words, he stood by what he had said earlier. Most likely, so will the interior minister.

3. Has a collision course been set? Post-Panama, this slippery slope has been punctuated by (and not limited to) the following: Inclusion of serving officer in the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), the control of the Judicial Academy premises by the armed forces and the leakage of Hussain Nawaz’s photo, repeated insinuations by the PML-N that the ‘establishment’ (read: the army) is pulling all the strings against them, the appearance of banned militant groups as political players in the NA-120 Lahore by-poll (blamed by the PML-N on the ‘establishment’), the appearance of the Rangers at the accountability court and disallowing the interior minister entry into the court, the military spokesman justifying the Rangers’ act, the army chief giving a speech on the economy followed by the military spokesman saying in a TV interview that our economy is not in too good a shape, the interior minister firing back a statement saying the military spokesman should avoid commenting on the economy. The military and the ruling PML-N are speaking at each other, not to each other.

4. Columnists and commentators are alluding to the fears of a martial law or a technocratic government being imposed on the country. The opposition politicians are expressing concerns about the upping of the ante by the PML-N. Imran Khan is busy painting the Sharifs as anti-army, anti-judiciary party while Leader of the Opposition Khursheed Shah says he is fearful of where the situation is heading. Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said in his latest speech in Karachi that development and progress can only materialise through democracy and only the citizens have the right to chuck out a government.

5. Is there a way that the sitting government can be chucked out? The options are non-existent short of an outright military takeover as has been done in the past. The courts can of course provide a legal cover to a takeover as has been done in the past. But based on these past experiences, we know the consequences and the repercussions of such an act. So if we go by the Constitution there is no way to remove the government short of having the highest court in the land declaring somehow that there exists a Constitutional logjam as a result of which the running of the State has become impossible. Such a situation does not exist as of now despite an air of mutual acrimony.

6. If the government is removed, it will be done so by subverting/suspending/circumventing the Constitution. In other words, it will be an unconstitutional act. The simple fact is that either something is constitutional or it is not. There is no middle ground unless the Supreme Court creates ones. But how many times can the court do so in the full and ruthless glare of history and yet win public approval for it now and in posterity?

7. Why the lengthening khaki shadows then? We know it was the PML-N that started insinuating not-so-subtly that the ‘establishment’ had a role in Nawaz Sharif’s ouster. On the face of it, there is nothing concrete to back up these allegations except whispers and suggestions and anecdotes that are not shared in public. Perhaps there is some actual evidence available with the government through its own official or unofficial sources, but since such evidence has not stood up to public scrutiny it carries less weight than something obvious. Yes, something as obvious as the Rangers stopping the interior minister at the court gates or the interior minister stating there’s a ‘state within a state’ and that the DG ISPR should not speak on the economy.

8. If we assume the government does have some evidence — actual or circumstantial — to back up its beliefs then it will opt to ramp up pressure by using all megaphones at its disposal to cry foul to pre-empt what it fears may be foul play. The evidence is unlikely to see the light of day but it will become fodder for statements emanating from various people within the party to keep the pot boiling. In their logic, this is the way of resistance.

9. The ‘establishment’ speaks through the DG ISPR and then through its various sympathisers and unofficial spokesmen (and spokeswomen) in the media. While the official voice is circumspect, the non-official ones unapologetically ask for the government’s head. Democracy itself is questioned often. To gauge the temperature of the ‘establishment’ one only has to listen to the unofficial voices carefully. Khaki shadows are also lengthened or shortened to an extent by various such choreographed and synchronised voices.

10. In essence then, the situation today pertains less to the prospects of a martial law and more to jostling for space within the governance spectrum. The ‘Establishment’ appears to be flexing its muscles without ripping off its shirt to show those muscles. This jostling between the PMLN and the ‘Establishment’ is taking place in gray areas that lie within the contours of the Constitution. And yet there is friction and fears. Pressure can be brought to bear in many innovative ways.

Khaki shadows are indeed lengthening but democracy does not seem to be under any imminent threat, unless of course something radical suddenly happens. This is why sane minds need to sit down together and bring the temperature down. Investing in chaos may pay short-term dividends for some vested interests but will be an absolute disaster for the evolution of Pakistan as a democratic and progressive country.

Author Information

Written by Fahd Husain

More by Fahd Husain
Read all from Fahd Husain»