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Another coup in the works?

Pakistan

16 years ago, on a Tuesday afternoon, I was sitting in my drawing-room along with my family eagerly waiting for the 8 P.M “PTV Drama”, when suddenly the transmission went black. My father was the first one to comment on the situation, “Something is going on in the federal capital”. After 3 to 4 hours, “PTV” came back to life and started to air pro-military songs. That was good enough evidence for my father to tell us that the military had taken over the country. As a 7th grader, I had no interest in who ran the country; I was only worried about my favorite drama for which I had to wait for another week. The next 9 years of my life explained to me the difference between a democratic government and a military rule. While the following 8 years taught me that the democratic system practiced in Pakistan is anything but democratic.

Former President, General (r) Pervez Musharraf, had a rather peaceful stay in office for the first 8 years, until he decided to suspend Chief Justice of Pakistan (Iftikhar Chaudhry) on 9th March 2007. Mr. Chaudhry refused to resign and decided to fight the legal battle against his suspension and was re-instated by Supreme Court of Pakistan on 20th July 2007.

But the tension between the Judiciary and President’s Office only increased with the passage of time. Finally on 3rd November 2007, Mr. Musharraf imposed emergency, preempting a negative decision against his re-election as president and suspension of constitution in 1999, hence Mr. Chaudhry along with several other judges were sent home. The decision resulted in a country-wide lawyers movement, which was ably supported by political parties and media. Mr. Musharraf started to lose his grip on power; he handed over the Army command to Mr. Ashfaq Pervaiz Kiyani. The assassination of Benazir Bhutto was the final nail in the coffin of Musharraf’s rule and after 2008 general elections; PPP and PML (N) forced him to resign as President.

After the resignation of Mr. Musharraf, 18th amendment was unanimously passed by the parliament and we were assured that doors on military-coup had been closed forever in Pakistan. Ironically after only 8 years, once again there is buzz of another military-coup about to take place in the country. During the last 8 years of democratic governments, a similar kind of buzz could have been heard in the power corridors on as many as three occasions. First, when Mr. Nawaz Sharif led the long march for restoration of judiciary, second during the “memogate” controversy and lastly when Mr. Imran Khan and Mr. Tahir ul Qadri, invaded Islamabad last year. On all three occasions, military-coup only remained a threat which didn’t materialize; it may have weakened the democratic governments but didn’t overthrow them.

So what is so different this time around? It all started, when operation “Zarb-e-azab” entered its final stage and shifted its focus towards the cities. The operation in Karachi targeted  hardcore criminals and terrorists at first, and then it focused on their facilitators. But when it decided to cut off the financial corruption and terrorism nexus, all hell broke loose in Sindh.

The political parties in Sindh even started to threaten the military command when some important “front-men” of the political elite got arrested. But the army leadership has time and again reinforced that this operation will be taken to its “logical conclusion”. This is the statement which is making everybody nervous, because if the military leadership has decided to erode “financial corruption” from the country, then this will not stop at Sindh. The press conference of Mr. Shahbaz Sharif, explaining the “clean” financial record of Sharifs, exemplify that PML (N) is also feeling the heat.

All four military-coup’s happened in Pakistan; suspension of the constitution mainly because of “financial corruption” carried out by the democratic governments. The problem is that they did make some cosmetic changes in first couple of years. But after that a “King’s party” was being formed consisting of the same politicians and for next 8 to 10 years, a strange kind of military backed democratic set-up run the country. If we look objectively, military-coups in Pakistan can be defined as shifting from parliamentary to presidential system.

In the last few months, we have been peppered with the term “compulsive intervention” from different sections of media. Some very serious political analysts are not ready to comment what will happen in next 6 to 8 months. What will happen when the course of “Zarb-e-azab” will be towards Punjab? Names of few federal ministers are already afloat in the media, who are believed to be involved in corruption.

Let’s not analyze this situation from a philosophical perspective, because if everything was done according to the book then we wouldn’t have 4 military takeovers in our history. What would be the perspective of a layman about this situation? Does he care who runs this country? For that matter even the elite or educated class doesn’t care much about it. Every common Pakistani wants a prosperous economy and a terror free society, the two biggest problems faced by one and all at the moment.

The corruption and specifically financial corruption is the cause of both these problems. So how does it matter to an average person, if military takes over and removes this evil once and for all? The political parties are bankrupt at the moment in terms of popularity, like the previous four times common man will not be there to support them. But the biggest question of it all is that whether this dream of eroding corruption will come true fifth time around?

The current military leadership’s popularity is sky-high, the love for the armed forces have never been in question; this is the one institution people love unconditionally. They have already made the difficult decision of venturing into the terrain of corruption. The most difficult decision will be whether to takeover or not because the political parties have already started to create hurdles in their work and it can come down to a situation where “compulsive intervention” might become a necessity.

If that stage comes when there is no other option than to takeover, the biggest test will start after that. If the fifth military-coup would have to take the same route as the first four one’s then it will meet the same fate of its predecessors. But if it takes a different route and actually starts a ruthless accountability of everyone, be it politicians, bureaucrats, civil servants etc, it can change the future of Pakistan forever. It’s a very difficult path to pursue because there is so much mess everywhere that almost every institution needs an overhaul. There will be pressure from within the country and outside, resistance and dirty games will be played to make sure that status-quo should remain intact.

But if this target is a bit too difficult to achieve than it will be better not to intervene, let the democratic system reach its own logical conclusion. Because the history teaches us that half-hearted coups haven’t benefited Pakistan much, the same politicians go in exile during the military rule and come back with new false promises. People get fed-up of the confused military backed democratic set-up and once again start to look towards the tested politicians, who always have an excuse that they were not given proper time and ousted prematurely.

Letting the democratic system time to expose these politicians will be painstaking and time consuming. It may hurt the country even more but its effect will be permanent and long lasting, and the rest of the political class will be at least not “corrupt”.

This is the critical decision the current military leadership has to take. There is no institution in Pakistan more powerful than the military, whether they decide to come forward or run everything from the shadows, they have to make sure that no one should be spared. Everyone who is living beyond this means in this country must be held accountable and if found guilty, punished accordingly.

The sound of their “boots” even behind closed doors is intimidating, but if they decide to open closed doors, they must make sure an uncompromising merciless accountability of everyone. If the fifth military-coup does indeed happen, they have to make sure that it should be the last one in Pakistan, there shouldn’t be any need for another coup against corruption in the future.

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