Thursday, January 12, 2012

Pakistan at the crossroads, once again

Pakistan army, in a charged political environment, has decided to provide security to Mansur Ijaz when he lands in the country to testify in the memogate case. Pakistan’s military chief met top commanders at the general headquarters Thursday amid a widening rift between the powerful armed forces and the civilian government.
The meeting lasted for 10 hours which was not only attended by the corps commanders but by the Principal Staff Officers of Pakistan army as well. The meeting took place in the backdrop of a standoff between the government and the armed forces over the memogate scandal which is being probed by a judicial commission.
However, it is not clear from whom the army would protect Ijaz, a shadowy character who has blamed Pakistan's former ambassador to the U.S. Hussain Haqqani for dictating to him a memo asking then U.S. army chief Admiral Mike Mullen's help against a feared coup when Al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden was taken out by U.S. Marines in Abbottabad on May 2 last year.
But it is clear that army is behaving, instead of a state institution, as a state unto itself by speaking to the government through the media, and that too in a threatening tone. It is one of the rare moments in the history of the country that army is hurling threats at the government instead of toppling it. Many observers are of the opinion that Pakistan's army never wants to usurp power when the state coffers are empty, which is the situation right now.
The May 2 incident rid the world of a high-profile terrorist, embarrassed Pakistan's armed forces, especially its intelligence outfit the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and offered the civilian government an opportunity to reclaim its authority by rolling some key heads heads on many counts. But, in the flush of misplaced nationalism, the whole political disposition became jingoistic in tone.
Instead of taking them to task, the president, the prime minister and the parliament stood by a demoralized army whose ego had been injured not by the presence of Bin Laden but by the U.S. Marine's sting operation. In Pakistan, the strength of a civilian government lies in the weakness of the army--and that was that moment. Now the armed forces are beating the war drums as democracy seems wobbling.
However, leaders can turn their weakness in strength by showing perseverance at a time when the system looks shaky and the adversary indomitable. As the Persian proverb goes: mardee wa namardee qadme fasila daa rud [Manliness and unmanliness are just a step apart]. At a critical moment, like the present one, just a step forward or backwards makes a difference.
It is now a defining moment for democracy in Pakistan. If the prime minister and the president show enough courage by not stepping back, they can save democracy--and their necks too; if they step back, then its a setback both for democracy and their own political careers.

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