COMMENT: Symbiosis —Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur - Sunday, March 13, 2011

Source :\03\13\story_13-3-2011_pg3_2

The intricate relationships within the establishment are lucidly defined by the infant’s physical and emotional dependence on the mother, the army being the mother of all

Pakistan’s politicians, politics, realpolitik, institutions and rulers defy definition and comparison and, therefore, defy comprehension. They are an oddity and are very much the creation of a particular mindset and beliefs that exist only in the ‘land of the pure’. This creature, usually called the ‘establishment’, is unique; had it had a counterpart, the situation here would certainly have been duplicated and replicated elsewhere as well.

At least some good has come out of the enormous amount spent on Benazir Bhutto’s murder report as investigators have successfully defined the hitherto vague and ambiguous term - the establishment - and have solved a long running mystery. The establishment, however, did not take this exposure too kindly and rejected it forthwith, further reinforcing the belief that the definition fitted perfectly.

The report said, “The establishment is generally used in Pakistan to refer to those who exercise de facto power; it includes the military high command and the intelligence agencies, together with the top leadership of certain political parties, high-level members of the bureaucracy and business persons that work in alliance with them. The military high command and intelligence agencies form the core of the establishment are its most permanent and influential components.” I would include in this report the judiciary, the IMF, the World Bank and the US.

This definition pinpoints and highlights the intimate relationship between the various fountainheads of real power. All refuse to admit that they benefit from this convenient arrangement that they have cobbled together. A show of discord (as over the National Accountability Bureau chairman’s appointment) is simply to enhance their market value as no one really cares for the people.

Shahbaz Sharif’s recent appeal for the judiciary and the army to get involved and then the Supreme Court’s (SC) advice to the Balochistan government that it should take premier intelligence agencies on board forced me to try and find an explanation to give an approximate idea of the existing reality.

The fact that our politicians want the army and the judiciary to be involved and the judiciary wants the army’s intelligence agencies to be involved exposes a very symbiotic relationship within the establishment, which frequently is reiterated and reinforced. This symbiotic relationship has definitely resulted in the erosion of the rights of the population in general and nationalities in particular because in it the people have no role or voice.

The quest to understand how Pakistan’s politics, politicians, clerics, institutions and the armed forces operate symbiotically led me to look up the word ‘symbiosis’ and its different aspects. Symbiosis in biology relates to the living together of two dissimilar organisms, as in mutualism, commensalism, amensalism or parasitism. In psychiatry, it is a relationship between two people in which each person is dependent upon and receives reinforcement, beneficial or detrimental, from the other. Further, more interestingly, in psychoanalysis, symbiosis is the relationship between an infant and its mother in which the infant is dependent on the mother both physically and emotionally.

Amensalism is defined as a form of symbiosis in which one species is harmed or impeded and the other is unaffected. This association between the two is detrimental to one of the species and is also known as antagonism; this is how the relationship of the establishment with the people is. The establishment thrives while the people suffer.

Mutualism is defined as the symbiosis of relation between two different species of organisms that are interdependent; each gains benefits from the other. It is also a biological interaction between two organisms where each individual derives fitness benefit, i.e. increased survivorship. This typically involves the exchange of substances or services. This symbiosis describes specific interactions that cannot be performed alone, and in this association both parties benefit and cannot survive without each other. The politicians and the army, variously backed by other parts of the establishment thrive through mutual cooperation while people suffer immeasurably.

Commensalism is defined as the relation between two different kinds of organisms when one receives benefits from the other without damaging it. It is a type of interaction involving the joint utilisation of benefits although the relationship is rarely equal - the relationship between the army, politicians and political parties comes to mind.

Then there is parasitism, which is similar to predation but differs as parasites act slower than predators and do not always kill the host immediately. Gradually, these parasites gain enough strength to become predators - our parasites of the past, ‘the strategic assets’ have now become such.

Sometimes there is an evolution of symbiosis and what begins as a parasitic relationship might, over the course of time, evolve into a mutualistic one as the two organisms evolve to minimise damage to the host. This change usually takes places between different parts of the establishment who realise that it is to their advantage to cooperate and keep the people under their thumb rather than fight over who gets all. The relationship between the politicians, army and judiciary is now evolving and the survival of one depends upon the survival and strengthening of the others. Their preferences are prompted by their need to survive and benefit.

All these explanations are apt and indicative of the situation but I think that the intricate relationships within the establishment are lucidly defined by the infant’s physical and emotional dependence on the mother, the army being the mother of all.

Balochistan’s chief secretary, in his report to the SC, admitted that 56 of the 123 disappeared people (according to them) in Balochistan were still missing and that the bodies of 123 people in very precarious conditions had been dumped in different places. Earlier the attorney general had accused the Frontier Corps (FC) of abductions but the chief justice — overlooking the atrocities being committed against the people, was more concerned about professors, doctors and teachers leaving the province, about children not going to school and the national anthem not being sung by them — suggested Balochistan’s government’s cooperation with premier intelligence agencies.

This - Shahbaz’s appeal and Altaf’s frequent appeals to ‘patriotic generals’ - are not random but are clear proofs of the evolution of symbiosis in the establishment here, the mock showdowns notwithstanding. This sort of cooperation, with the increasing tendency to overlook injustices by all elements of the establishment, simply finishes off any hope of even mock checks and balances and certainly does not augur well for the people. Expecting any part of the establishment to act as a ‘saviour’ and inviting them for salvation is inviting unmitigated disasters.

The writer has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He can be contacted at

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