Author: Dr.Shireen M Mazari
With an increasingly public persona of the COAS, many are referring to a ‘soft’ coup having taken place – some gleefully, others with a woeful shrug of inevitability. After all, there has been no doubt post-the APS tragedy that the army, specifically the COAS, has been calling the shots on so many policy fronts – way beyond the traditional domain of the military. Not that many are complaining as they see a resoluteness and clarity coming from Sharif the General on policy matters and in the carefully orchestrated public narrative, the latter thanks to the Goebel-like ability of ISPR’s Bajwa.
Unfortunately for the country, the democratic civilian power wielders, through their clumsiness in governance, their inability to be resolute, their lack of policy clarity, have created a vacuum of governance and policymaking. Vacuums always get filled and, beginning with the need to act decisively against terrorism, this vacuum of governance and policymaking is getting filled rapidly as the political leadership fails to sense the public mood and move decisively in the arena of effective governance.
When the APC was held and a National Action Plan (NAP) drafted by the national political leadership, it was expected the latter would have taken control of overseeing the NAP’s implementation. Instead, while the political leadership showed vacillation on the NAP’s holistic implementation, the COAS got cracking on those aspects of the NAP that were to be acted upon by the military – from Operation Zarb-e-Azb to the Rangers operation in Karachi. The civilian government’s only visible action was to get through the legislation for military courts and begin executions on a mass scale.
Yet, most of the 20-point NAP, which should have been spearheaded by the civilian government, continues to remain either dormant or acted upon erratically by the civilian leadership, undermining its credibility. Nacta has yet to be strengthened and made the core organisation for the war on terror including joint intel. This is one reason intelligence remains a weakness in our fight against terrorists, as the latter are pushed into a corner by the military.
While we are finally seeing the forcible closure of some proscribed groups’ offices and the Rangers’ operation has seen the weakening of militias in Karachi, there are private militias and armed political entourages operating in other parts of the country.
As for hate speech and extremist material, that is another area in which the general perception is that an overall strategy to control this menace punitively has yet to be effectively implemented by the government. The issue is linked to the registration and reform of madressahs and here again the civilian government vacillated till the COAS sat in on a meeting to get things moving. How far they have actually moved remains to be seen.
Movement on a cohesive policy for choking the financing of terrorists and their organisations, also the responsibility of the civilian authorities, remains in the preliminary stages. Again, little has been done by the government to formulate laws and take effective action against religious persecution of non- Muslims. The process of Fata reforms has yet to begin nine months on from the APC and the same void exists in terms of devising a national policy on the issue of Afghan refugees.
Balochistan reconciliation is moving at a barely discernible pace and so far there has been no response to Brahamdagh Bugti’s offer of renouncing violence and the demand for an independent Balochistan. Perhaps the most dormant of the NAP points, which the civilian government was to move on, has been the revamping and reform of the criminal justice system.
So here we have a visible juxtaposition across the country of a civilian leadership, instead of being in charge of the NAP, either being dormant or being goaded into action by the COAS. Ironically, the narrative is also seemingly being controlled by ISPR while the media representatives of the civilian government either react slowly to events or speak with diverse voices.
Nor is it only in the context of the NAP that the civilian government has, by its lacklustre ‘leadership’ and lack of resolute clarity, allowed a vacuum to be created. In accountability also the government has failed to move and instead has got mired in its own mega scams. In Karachi that vacuum of accountability saw the Rangers move in and tread on PPP-sensitive toes, which finally lead to the end of the ‘reconciliation’, a polite name for muk muka, thrust on the long-suffering nation by the PPP and PMLN.
Perhaps nowhere has the policy vacuum been more evident than in the field of foreign policy. The Ufa debacle revealed the chaos that pervades the PML-N’s foreign policy-making. Post-Ufa, we saw the absurdity of the debate on whether or not the government would send its national security adviser to Delhi for talks when the Indian military was on an unprovoked killing spree along the LoC and Working Boundary.
With no clarity of policy, the drama kept going till the last minute and eventually India took the narrative under its control as it had done at Ufa. Ironically while the NSAs meeting got cancelled, the Rangers-BSF meeting was held – which raises the question of what policy this duality of approach emerged from.
More critical, the foreign policy vacuum was filled with the COAS’ Defence Day speech, which was a clear message not only on what our India policy should be, as Kashmir was restored to centre stage, but an equally clear message to the US and Afghanistan of our expectations. The clarity of what was effectively a foreign policy speech was not lost on anyone. That such a speech should have come from the PM House was also not lost upon the national audience.
The problem is that as the government gets embroiled deeper into trying to resolve its self-created crises, be it the LNG issue or the Nandipur scam to name just two, and fissures become more evident within the civilian leadership, the policy vacuum expands across a widening sphere of issue areas. And that vacuum is being filled by a no-nonsense COAS and his media-savvy lieutenant. A nation that looks for charismatic ‘saviours’ rather than institutional and systemic course corrections is watching in adulation as it sees Sharif the General being in every place at the right time while Sharif the PM moves laboriously behind him in time and place.
Unfortunately, at the end of the day the military mind cannot fathom the complexities of policymaking beyond military operations. Their prism is as narrow as it is orderly; but there are too many determinants that make decision-making a complex task needing to be viewed through a wider angle.
But when civilian leaders abdicate their responsibility then someone will fill the vacuum. It is not a coup by any definition – simply a filling of an ever-widening vacuum left by the civilian leadership. When the nation, yearning for security, justice and peace, sees its elected leaders hesitant, unresponsive and only safeguarding their own interests, it turns despairingly to the bold and decisive alternative – forgetting to remember lessons from its own history.
The writer heads the think tank, Strategic Studies Institute Islamabad, and is also a PTI member of the National Assembly. The views are the writer’s own.