By Omar Ali
Its always hazardous to comment on “proximate politics” and the threat of a coup has not yet disappeared in Pakistan, but it does seem to have receded a bit, even if the story is by no means over and the struggle continues. Still, the fact that it has not yet happened is a huge disappointment for some media persons (Kamran Khan comes to mind) who were all dressed up and ready for a coup a few days ago and now look visibly depressed (though still hoping that the paknationalist judiciary will deliver what the paknationalist army did not) and for sections of the middle class. And behind these disappointees there is another section of even more seriously heart-broken people: the young scions of Pakistan’s inbred military-bureaucratic elite, who were already imagining themselves taking over PIA or Pakistan Railways to “reform” the institution and fix the mess created by “corrupt politicians”. I feel their pain..
For background, a quick review; pressure for a coup in Pakistan comes from several sources, including:
1. Many ordinary Pakistanis are likely to be unhappy with a government that has failed to deliver economic growth or basic services (not always the fault of this particular regime, since an otherwise promising country has been set back mostly by the suicidal policies of the national security apparatus, not by retail corruption). But in a more “normal” democratic country, such dissatisfaction should translate into defeat at the next election, not a coup by the army (or by courts supervised by the blessed army). Something more is needed for a coup to happen..
2. The army is frequently described by its boosters in the Western media (including purported liberals like William Dalrymple) as the “only functional institution” in an otherwise dysfunctional country. What is forgotten is that the army leadership is aware enough to realize that they cannot permit other institutions to become “too functional” in order to maintain their dominance of domestic politics. So it is no surprise that the army devotes considerable effort towards sustained propaganda (and covert dirty tricks) against civilian institutions (especially civilian political parties that threaten to slip out of control). It is also no surprise that the possibility of a peaceful and orderly transfer of power under civilian authority is understood by the army an undesirable event. If such a trend becomes too established, the next time around the civilians may try to bring the army under real civilian control. What’s next? Civilians who tell the ISI what to do? Obviously, a soft coup is the preferred option.
3. Newly prosperous capitalists are unhappy with the inefficiency and extortionate demands of politicians. While some can see that previous episodes of military rule did not yield sustained growth or security for them and some are far-sighted enough to realize that the structural problems of Pakistan are not best solved by the army, the thought of a coup is not without its temptations..
4. Last but not the least are the young ones; what a friend describes as foxes waiting anxiously outside the henhouse waiting for the door to be opened. These are the young scions of the inbred elite. Well educated, well heeled and well connected, they have already achieved success in Western banks, corporations and universities. The thought that Uncle Jimmy may get them to come and “rescue” Pakistan airlines or railways or gas delivery is very tempting indeed. Some of them are no doubt connected to established political parties, others have already invested in Imran Khan, but human nature being what it is, a shortcut always looks tempting. Nothing better than a coup…
5. In the good old days, there used to be another interested party, perhaps more powerful than all the above; the US embassy. This time around, that may be the one institution that no longer wants a coup. Will that be enough to keep the feuding civilians in power?
We will have to wait and see….If the PPP can outlast the generals on this one, future generations of Pakistanis may thank them, even if the current generation of poorly fed, electricity deprived, gas-short Pakistanis finds it hard to forgive them for their general incompetence.
Courtesy: Brown Pundits