Military’s role - Ahmed Quraishi - Tuesday, February 01, 2011

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Scenes of ordinary people embracing soldiers and taking out their wrath on everything representing failed politicians happened for the second time in a few weeks. An uprising led by middle and lower-middle class citizens welcomed the Egyptian military’s deployment on the streets. Rioters obeyed orders given out by military officers. In sharp contrast, the same rioters pounded every symbol of the politicians, beginning with the police and its intelligence apparatus that protected an incompetent political system. Unlike Tunisia, Egypt has a robust and plural political culture controlled from the top. And yet not a single politician from any party dared join the protestors. Nor did the demonstrators demand the politicians to come out. In this context, how the Egyptians embraced the soldiers who came out to restore order is important.

Desolate Pakistanis flooded by water in far-flung parts of Balochistan and Sindh also embraced military rescuers while stoning the cars of visiting politicians. This does not mean people want military rule. The Egyptians want their military to ditch the corrupt elite and side with the creative, educated and honest people. Egyptians want their military to ally with them against a failed political system. This simply shows the military institution in countries with underdeveloped political systems have a role. The system cannot evolve on its own because we are not Sweden or England and conditions do not simultaneously exist for democracy to produce the same results here as it does in its European home turf. But democracy is a good system and we need it, albeit with local conditioning. In our case, a strong hand that inspires confidence and enforces discipline in the shape of a strong federal government is necessary for evolution. What is needed is military’s support for change and not a direct military rule. But the lead – both for change and governance – must come from the educated middle and lower middle class Pakistanis.

Tunisians and Egyptians begged their military to break its traditional ties to a political class that is tested, tried and failed. Similarly, Pakistan’s military establishment has grown too comfortable with a corrupt and incompetent political elite. Over five decades, our military establishment developed dependencies on elite politicians. This mutual dependency prolonged incompetence and corruption. The mutual ties became so strong that a former military chief who launched a coup in 1999 in the name of change ended up restoring to power the worst of the worst in Pakistani politics.

Look at what the Tunisian military has done. Key ministries of interior, defence, finance and foreign affairs were entrusted to technocrats and independent figures without any political affiliations. The new faces include an internationally acclaimed Tunisian filmmaker, a web designer and blogger, and political activists. The military, bowing to public pressure and possibly internal pressure as well from the rank and file, moved from the first hours to arrest corrupt relatives of the deposed president who were pulled out from airport departure lounges. The military did not hesitate in issuing arrest warrants for a president who looted public wealth. No deals were cut with foreign governments to house exiled corrupt Tunisian leaders. Even the tainted president of France found it difficult to grant asylum to close relatives of the former Tunisian president. This is not to say that the Tunisian military are walking angels. Some of its recent actions might turn out to be half-hearted. But whatever it managed to do in a few days is just a daydream in Pakistan.

Like the existing failed political system in Pakistan, many arguments can be made in favour of Hosni Mubarak. He stabilised Egypt and allowed its middle class to prosper and progress. But his government is incapable of unleashing the full potential of his nation. The common thread between Tunisia, Egypt and Pakistan is the middle class. The Pakistani middle class and the business class are responsible for most of the innovation in the country in the fields of culture, sports, music, film, education and science over the last two decades. The same is true for Tunisia and Egypt. Our existing political system is a roadblock in our progress. The required changes are nearly impossible to undertake from within the system. Our politics has degenerated into armed conflict. Political parties have become instruments for creating and sustaining linguistic divisions. They are unable to recognise that the fourth and fifth generation of Pakistanis is the most assimilated and integrated since independence. Technical issues like water-sharing and dams are politicised and foreign powers keep the ruling elite busy in ‘imported debates’ on religion vs secularism and whether the Afghan war is ours or not. It is not that Pakistanis are hopeless. It is a corrupt political system that pushes them toward these self-created divisions.

Pakistan’s military can play a major role in sustaining democracy in the country by ditching a failed political class. Tunisians have done it and the Egyptians are next.

The writer works for Geo television. Email:

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