Democracy can relax and pro-government loudspeakers in the media – a veritable stable, their hearts bleeding for democracy – can take a break. The tide in the affairs of men has passed. There is a moment for such things and when it is over not even the blue pill can bring back the old excitement.
Remember the time when the actor Hugh Grant was caught with a lady of the night, Divine Brown, near Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and taken to a police station and charged with lewd conduct in a public place? This was way back in the summer of 1995. Here was a famous actor who, we could be forgiven for thinking, would never lack for female company and here he was caught with Ms Brown in his car.
Heidi Fleiss, a famous Hollywood madam before her ring was busted – (incidentally, like the honest person she was she never revealed the names of her famous clients) – was asked in a TV discussion to give her expert opinion why Hugh Grant hadn’t taken the trouble to go to a hotel. In such pressing matters, she opined, delay could prove fatal because “…gentlemen often find that the moment has passed”.
It’s the same regarding the tide in the affairs of men. One moment it is there and then it’s gone. And as the Bard goes on to explain, miss the flood and you have ample time for regret: all your life “…is bound in shallows and in miseries”.
Pakistan’s Morsi moment is over – this the moment when Egypt’s elected president, Mohamed Morsi, was deposed by his defence minister, Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi – the Egyptian military and the middle class tiring of the Muslim Brotherhood after a year of its being in power.
With the military here winning laurels and acclaim for its all-out war against the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), and the political class getting flak for being ineffectual and corrupt and not taking bold decisions, there was a danger that the Egyptian experiment could be repeated here. If that had happened there would have been the inevitable distribution of sweets, as in all previous military interventions, with optimists proclaiming the birth of a new dawn – as they always do before the mood turns sour and disillusionment returns.
At the time of the Islamabad dharnas (sit-ins) in August 2013 it would have taken not the 111 Brigade but the stroke of a feather to bring down the civilian order, so powerless and hapless it looked. But better judgement prevailed and nothing happened.
Ominously, however, the army’s shadow lengthened. After all, the biggest things happening were the war in the tribal areas and the Rangers’ operation in Karachi, and the kudos for that was going the army’s way. The ruling politicians were reduced to saying that civil and military were on the same page – this phrase, ‘the same page’, indeed worked to death by ministers seeking to put the best face on governmental helplessness.
That period lasted for a while. If during it the army had thought fit to do an el-Sisi, whatever the international ramifications and these could have been pretty serious, at home, as already stated, there would have been loud applause. That critical period seems to be over. The government looks settled in and prime minister and cabinet more confident and composed than before.
It is not just the local elections and the ruling PML-N’s good showing in them. Nor is it the apparent downslide in the PTI’s fortunes. These are not very convincing explanations. The main thing coming to the government’s rescue and seeing to the passing of the Morsi moment is, quite simply, time. All the talk of the military’s successes against terrorism has begun to wear off, people getting used to the improved law and order situation and now taking it for granted.
And the army chief has just one more year to go. His term lasts until November 2016 but within a matter of a few months he will start looking like a lame-duck and by next summer we can bet our lives there will be animated discussion in the media about his likely successor. In the US the presidential cycle starts way early. In Pakistan talk of change in the army command starts early.
Time was when Lt Gen Asim Bajwa’s tweets had a certain ring to them. Now they give the impression of someone protesting too much. The army chief discussed this and he discussed that…there can be too much of a good thing.
Was the chief’s American visit all that necessary? What was so important that he had to convey there? The Americans are maintaining a relatively small presence in Afghanistan but basically they have ducked out from there. Our soldiers are doing a much better job in our tribal areas than the Americans ever managed to do in Afghanistan. This doesn’t mean we sprout arrogant wings but too many Washington visits don’t add to national dignity. All right, the Americans understand our point of view better…big deal.
The Iranians are holding up the front in Iraq. They are engaged in helping Assad in Syria. They provide help to Hezbollah. They have cut a nuclear deal with world powers but on an equal footing. Do they feel the need to explain their point of view to the Americans all the time? And why, oh why, must we have India on our minds so much? Why must all our discussions be so India-centric?
We are told RAW is up to no good in Balochistan. That may be so but what are ISI and Military Intelligence for? The CIA in the days of the cold war never complained about the KGB or the KGB about the CIA. They did to each other what they had to do.
There will be cloak-and-dagger stuff between us and the Indians for a long time to come. But complaining about Indian interference to outsiders is not likely to cut much ice especially when we have outfits such as Hafiz Saeed’s dedicated to the creed of cross-border ‘jihad’. One image of these outfits is enough to drown out all our protestations.
But regarding the Washington compass, what was the point of the PM’s visit? What was the striking purpose served by the army chief’s visit? The PM can afford pointless visits. He has nothing to lose. Draw up any itinerary for him and he would prefer going via London because substantial business interests and comfortable flat are there. The army chief because of the halo around his head has to be more careful. And from Washington he flew off to Brazil…good God. And the air chief recently was on an extended tour of the Middle East. These guys love travelling, don’t they?
So the good news is that whatever the state of civ-military relations, democracy, having weathered a series of storms, is safe and secure. The time for a Kemalist intervention has gone. Armchair warriors can rejoice. Weather pundits would have noticed that there is less talk about that miracle called a ‘national government’ and the army chief’s near-demigod status is showing signs of wear and tear.
To sustain this change of mood and temperature two things the PM has to watch. It’s not arrogance so much as cockiness which has been his undoing in the past. For his own good he has to curb that tendency. And there’s something more devastating in his armour: the itch which overcomes him from time to time to create a crisis where none exists. He has been his own suicide bomber many times in the past.
There was a small news item saying that the Sheikh-ul-Islam, Pakistan’s contribution to unintended humour, is weighing the possibility of his return. What stunt is he thinking of pulling this time?
Nooras everywhere and we are stuck with them.