Under the shadow of uniform

Anyone with a half-open eye can figure out the uneven balance, and one which is tilted favourably towards the uniform.
Under the shadow of uniform
File Photo

Faizabad Dharna

A dharna came to an end in Pakistan. For a while the whole nation held its breath. The situation was on edge. The protest was about the wording of a new oath which was considered to be blasphemous. The Govt. felt it to be a clerical error, the clerics perceived it to be a conspiracy to override the finality of prophethood. In any case, both the parties held their ground and the stalemate continued. When the High Court ordered that the protesters be removed and normal life restored, the police action followed. When things seemed to go out of control, most news channels went off air, and the people went back into the old world mode, letting a string of rumours to flood the atmosphere. Soon afterwards the news came of a large number of people injured, and a few dead on either side. Until the all powerful Pakistan uniform came on the scene (or may be off the scene), like a clown on the Elizabethan stage and wound down the affair which threatened to snowball or was made to threaten into a snowball. An agreement was signed, a Law Minister had to go, and the nation is back on the track; to think about CPEC, future of Nawaz Sharif and the wit of Sheikh Rasheed.

A Weird Agreement and Kashmir

However, the questions remain with people who prefer to think a little backwards to understand the future. Why was it that a serving Major General of the Pakistan Army distributed cash among the 'militant' protestors to the protestors who caused inconvenience to public life for a long time, who damaged public property, who injured and killed men belonging to law enforcement agencies. Was it meant to pacify a volatile component of the society about an equally unpredictable matter of public and religious life? Or was it merely a tactic to cut the civilian government to size? There are many questions which come to mind. And some of them embarrassing at a time when a similar if not the same crisis was quelled across the border in India when a religious cult figure with his huge number of followers was threatening the civilian administration. A good number of people died in the Gurmeet Ram Rahim episode but neither did the army intervene nor did the civilian administration succumb to the pressure. No doubt the issue at hand in Pakistan is much more critical and central to the idea of that country but the manner in which the law minister was made a sacrificial lamb to satiate the religious people is a poor reflection on the potency of the structures of governance. Are people elected to be so shamefully thrown out of offices? The pathetic contrast between the Law Minister's apologetic videos and Khadim Hussain Rizvi's gloat cannot be overstated.

Once again it became clear that the army is a critical arbiter in the fate of the country. You do not need a Slavoj Zizek to dissect the imbalance in the trinity of the civilians, judiciary and the uniform. Anyone with a half-open eye can figure out the uneven balance, and one which is tilted favourably towards the uniform. If a government cannot handle a few thousand people on a road without the moral and physical support of the army, then less said about it the better. The Islamabad High Court judge Justice Shaukat Aziz is right in questioning the role of the army. But the subservience of the army to civilian leadership is an old issue in a country ruled by uniform for half of its existence. And that intervention dates back to Justice Munir's Doctrine of Necessity in 1954 or General Musharraf's thesis of the 'ship with a hole.' These provided easier justifications for the army to intervene in so-called national interest. The Agreement reached out is redolent of the law of necessity and the sinking ship needing the fixation from the tools of the army.

What surprises is that if the army has such a say in removing protestors and sidelining the civilian administration, how much of a role must it have apportioned to itself in such matters as Kashmir? An issue which is officially sanctified and a territory and people regarded as the jugular vein. From the handling of the dharna one can deduce the tertiary role into which the civilian leadership is put by the General Headquarters of the army in the handling of Kashmir. If that is so, and which it is logically, then what are the consequences of the military's role in the ordinary lives of the people of Kashmir? Not that the civilian leadership is handling Kashmir from the Indian side. That is an illusion. It is the defence establishment which runs the show, sidelining political totems in Delhi and Srinagar. Therefore, we have two army mindsets competing for one-upmanship in Kashmir, and the civilians at the backseat. Although it was known from the Indian side, the Faizabad Dharna in Pakistan illustrates in a tacit manner the deterministic role of the army in critical national issues. Without doubt, we in Kashmir are buffeted by two militaristic mind-sets. That is how as a Kashmiri, I am tempted to interpret the start and the end of dharna, and the course of the future.

Bad Augury

There was no harm in letting the dharna move on peacefully, even if it took months to resolve, with cycles of negotiations. That is how normal civilian writ is given space to establish itself. That is how, in the long run, societies grow and evolve. The military intervention has sent a wrong message and undermined the moral and political authority of the elected leadership. The Rizvi-clan has its tails up, because within a few days of dharna, they have won the day, and sent an elected leader home, with a precedent to repeat the same strategy of religious blackmail. What if the source of it all was actually a clerical error (pun deliberate)? What standard and legitimacy is then left with the army? Moreover, the beating which the police received is nothing compared to the moral dampener of their capability by the big brothers in olive green. Not a good augury for the country, in any sense.

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