Thursday, 21 August 2014



  • Written by  Farooq Sulehria
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First things first. The so-called Azadi (Freedom) March by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI)  and Revolution March by Tahir-ul-Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT), would not have been tolerated had these emerged from Sindh or Baluchistan. Likewise, the media would not have devoted attention to any such march the way above-mentioned marches have been covered: a wall-to-wall coverage in the press while non-stop live broadcasts beaming into every household with a TV set in Pakistan.
A band of determined Baloch activists literally marched from Quetta-to-Karachi-to-Lahore-to-Islamabd a few months ago. The whole march was nearly blacked-out in the mainstream media until it arrived Islamabad. Noted anchorperson Hamid Mir was warned not to invite representatives of the Baloch marchers to his talk show, Capital Talk on Geo TV. He did not listen. Rest, as we know, is an unfortunate episode of recent history.
The Baloch march was perhaps not as mammoth as Azadi and Revolution marches, arriving on board busses and posh cars. However, the Sindhi nationalists in their hundred thousands have marched to Karachi, from all over Sindh in recent years. While every corner meeting under the auspices of MQM finds detailed coverage, Sindhi processions have met with a media silence.
It is, therefore, not surprising that Pakistan Army’s top brass in a meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on August 19, advised the latter to avoid the use of violence against the Azadi and Revolution marchers. The News reports, ‘As the PTI and PAT protests in Islamabad entered into the fifth day on Tuesday, the army put its troops on high alert soon after a two-and-a-half hour meeting between Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif and Army chief General Raheel Sharif. According to sources, other military leaders were also present along with the COAS Gen Raheel Sharif during the meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The sources said the military leadership advised the prime minister to resolve the issue politically and avoid the use of force against the protesters’. The prime minister duly obliged. The Newsfurther reports that the prime minister ‘has directed the authorities not to use force against the marchers as they include women and children (1).
This is not to imply that the Punjabi ruling class would fight shy of shedding the blood of Punjabi workers and peasants. However, the place that the Punjab---lying on both sides of the GT-Road---occupies in Pakistani hierarchy is a privileged position. It is not a coincidence that army refused to fire on protestors in Lahore during the anti-Bhutto agitation in 1977. However, the same army commanded by General Zia-ul-Haq was pounding the Sindhi villages with gunship helicopters a few years down the line. As of writing these lines (August 21), Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri  have taken the federal capital hostage. One wonders if a BNM march on Quetta would be tolerated with equal level of forbearance?
A soft coup:
‘From czar-like prime minister to deputy commissioner-type character’ reads a much-quoted newspaper headline about the ongoing political theatre in Islamabad. Describing the situation, Reuters claims: ‘as tens of thousands of protesters advanced on the federal capital to demand his resignation, Sharif dispatched two emissaries to consult with the army chief. He wanted to know if the military was quietly engineering the twin protest movements by cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan and activist cleric Tahirul Qadri, or if, perhaps, it was preparing to stage a coup. According to a government insider with a first-hand account of the meeting, Sharif's envoys returned with good news and bad: there will be no coup but if he wants his government to survive, from now on it will have to share space with the army’ (2).
In April, a Viewpoint editorial had suggested that military would not stage a coup for the following reasons (Excerpts):

1. A military coup requires a clear rationale, no matter how bogus it may be. The Musharraf case can be neither a rationale [for domestic and international consumption] nor an actual motive. At the moment the only sellable pretext is a Taliban insurgency. However, it is exactly because of the Taliban factor, that the military will stay away.

2. The military in power will not have a civilian cushion in case of a likely failure to subdue the Taliban insurgency.
3. If, as a result of a coup, the military takes the helm it will have to own its Taliban policy. The civilian cushion available at present, will not be available. 

4. The economic crisis has rendered the Sharif government extremely unpopular in less than one year. Likewise, in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province, the PTI-JI government is proving to be a big disillusionment for its supporters. In power, the military will have to take responsibility for the economic mess it can not manage [even when it is largely responsible for it].

5. As a result of the Advocates Movement and the bankruptcy of the Musharraf dictatorship, mass consciousness even in the Punjab, situation is not very favourable for a military coup 
Through the Azadi and Revolution marches, army has staged a soft coup. The Economist has aptly commented: ‘Whether or not Mr Sharif survives, coup-prone Pakistan’s strides towards greater democracy have been severely damaged’ (4).  If any thing, these wrong marches have led to anti-freedom and ‘counter-revolution’. A visionless Muslim League leadership has only abetted in the soft coup by effortlessly capitulating.
Visionless civilian leadership:
In the first place, democracy’s best defence is to make it a source of improved living standards for a vast majority. A democracy that does not help lift millions out of poverty and fails in addressing grave problems besetting the country, breeds disillusionment in politics. A depoliticized population is a poor shield against military adventures. The performance of the present government has hardly inspired any section of the population. Hence, no spontaneous counter-mobilizations have been witnessed as could have been the case had a popular government been besieged by anti-democratic forces.
Secondly, political challenges should be dealt with politically. The PMLN government resorted to administrative means to diffuse the challenge.  Or, secret deals and negotiations with the army were attempted. All these efforts may help Nawaz Sharif to survive in the days to come. But the cause of democracy has been dealt another severe blow.  Lack of vision has helped amplify the blow.


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