No Order Without Politics

Indian Express , June 13, 2007

Since the day he joined the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) as a cadet, General Pervez Musharraf has been used to taking orders from his superior officers and giving orders to those below him. Based on his lifelong career as a soldier, he considers the people of Pakistan his troops and the civilian politicians who joined the King’s Party formed after Musharraf’s 1999 military coup as junior and non-commissioned officers. Those protesting against him are seen by Musharraf as the enemy.

The general is now beginning to voice the worry that his ‘subordinate officers’ are failing to motivate ‘the troops’ sufficiently. He is afraid that the failings of his officers’ corps will cause him to lose the most important battle of his life.

The training of a military officer prepares him for waging war not for effecting compromises or conducting politics. Former Pakistan army chief, General Musa Khan, used to say that he was trained to “locate the enemy and liquidate the enemy.” He found this training useless when dragged into politics as governor of West Pakistan during the late 1960s.

Protests broke out against Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s military dictatorship soon after Musa Khan became governor. The retired general found himself at a loss, he later said, in “figuring out how to deal with my own people, angry with our government and refusing to take our orders.”

General Musharraf recently complained that the more than one thousand elected officials of the ruling coalition who enjoy state patronage because of their membership of the King’s Party, are doing little to defend their benefactor. Musharraf’s complaint reflected the surprise Ayub Khan had expressed when members of his party disappeared after the popular agitation against his rule began in 1968.

Both Ayub Khan and Musharraf never grew into politicians and could not see that those who join the King’s Party for perks and privileges are risk-averse individuals in search of benefits. They should not be expected to jeopardise their political futures in times of political crisis for their patron.

Musharraf has been as contemptuous of Pakistani politicians as were generals Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan and Zia-ul- Haq. He once spoke of how he would “rather kick” Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto than negotiate with them if these leaders with considerable following did not show signs of “seriousness.”

The difference between General Musharraf, on the one hand, and Bhutto and Sharif, on the other, is irreconciliable not because of the alleged corruption of the former prime ministers, but because of where each comes from. The general derives his power from his command whereas the political leaders have a voluntary following. Every general president’s rise to power is an accident of history.

In their cantonments, generals learn to ensure that the walls of buildings are whitewashed, their unit gets its funds, exercises are conducted in an orderly fashion and the goings-on remain confidential. They extrapolate this experience to running the country.

Technocrats are brought in to ensure that funds are plentiful. Summary justice is introduced to eliminate ‘corruption’.
Obedience is sought from everyone. But nations are not military units. They need someone to aggregate interests and the inter-play of these interests, rather than the good intentions of the commander, determine a nation’s long-term direction.

Two years ago, when most people saw Musharraf as firmly entrenched in power, I had written: “Pakistan’s politicians have many flaws but without politics, Pakistan cannot have a stable future. The general remains a general and under his stewardship Pakistan is on the path of further institutional erosion. It seems that a military leader simply will not write out the military from the script of Pakistan’s power game. Military intervention is part of Pakistan’s problem, not its solution.”

Today, as Pakistan reels from the mass movement instigated by the removal from office of the chief justice, those words seem eerily prescient.