Ambassador Alam Brohi talks about an important subject
National Security Council – For the past year, the nation is on a political cliffhanger. We witnessed the rising political tempers; a phenomenal increase in the popularity of the PTI leadership; the diminishing political fortunes of PDM; the increasing reliance of the coalition regime on the coercive instruments of the state to face the sole opponent’s juggernaut; a gross violation of fundamental human rights; brazen defiance of court verdicts and flagrant neglect of the Constitution; the economic meltdown. The political situation kept worsening leaving the PDM leaders with a deep sense of frustration and desperation. They were looking for some provocative and offensive event or commission of a blunder by PTI.
Here come the events of 9 to 11 May following the heavy-handed arrest and harsh treatment of the PTI chairman, flashed across all channels and social media. Violent riots broke out. Mass public gatherings took place. The intrusion of instigators in protesting crowds is not unfathomable. The crowds were charged. They were instigated and groups of them became unruly targeting some sensitive places. It was all very unfortunate. Curiously, they found no law enforcers to obstruct their way; no deployments to protect these places. Among the crowds, one could notice young, well-built and masked men vandalising vehicles. Social media is awash with videos showing these men wielding sticks and breaking car windows. The easy attack on the Corps Commander House astonished every onlooker including some retired Generals.
The three-day events proved the antipathy of the people against the perceived political gerrymandering by the security establishment; the street power of the PTI; the depth of its chairman’s cult worship; the administrative complacency and unpreparedness or the absence of will to face the rioters by the PDM regime. The PTI failed to keep the protests peaceful. In reality, it would have been next to impossible to control the mass crowds of that proportion. The PTI leadership alleges the PDM leaders, having failed in their bid to arrest the rising phenomenon of PTI, conspired to pit the new military leadership against the party spawning grave consequences for the national harmony, democracy and constitutionalism.
Contrarily, the coalition regime charges PTI with fascist designs verging on political terrorism; advocates banning the party and holding its leaders and activists accountable in military courts. Notwithstanding the PDM stance on PTI, the security establishment is ostensibly displeased with PTI for different reasons. The privileged position of the security establishment in controlling the political governments during the past 50 years was not so seriously challenged as today. It is also a bitter fact that our political leaders including those of PTI have always willingly accepted such a role of the security establishment if it serves their political purpose in gaining political power. In such a case, their commitment to democracy, constitutionalism and human rights has not gone beyond vapid rhetoric.
The current political scenario involves three stakeholders: 1) the people of Pakistan with an overwhelming tilt to PTI – mainly in Punjab and KP; 2) the PDM leadership holding onto the crutches provided to them by the state’s coercive instruments; 3) and the security establishment. Ostensibly, there is no meeting point between all three stakeholders. The PTI Chairman has become anathema to both PDM and military leadership. He is not ready to climb down from his elevated political perch nor does he want to go into exile. He is determined to fight out his cases in the courts of law. He talks of free and fair elections, the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law reflective of the people’s demands.
Any clash among these stakeholders would be highly deleterious for the country. This is no more political competition. It involves far-reaching consequences for the federation of Pakistan and the security of the country. The security establishment is embroiled in a grave and intractable situation with multiplying security threats to the country. The Pakistan Muslim League (N) and Pakistan People’s Party would like to prolong their power until the deck is cleared for the senior Sharif to return to Pakistan, and positive electoral results at least in Punjab are within sight. This is no way forward.
We cannot afford to eliminate a popular leader from the political arena for political reasons; he cannot be forcibly bundled out to a foreign country; his trial and sentence by a military court would trigger a strong backlash. We are not in the 1970s. The security establishment is determined to address the threat to its privileged position in the governance structure. They want perceived culprits to be dealt with by military courts for speedy trials and sentences. The moot question is whether it would bring political and economic stability to the country. The answer, by all means, is in negative. We have gone through repetitive cycles of such short-term treatment of purely political malaises since the first general elections of December 1970.
The establishment of the much-vaunted National Security Council in Indonesia has become all the more imperative. The Council worked in Turkiye until the failed military coup of 2016 against the populist leader Erdogan. Indonesia has also witnessed long military rules. General Suharto ruled the country for 32 years. After his departure, the Indonesian political and military leaderships sat together and evolved by consensus a formula for the country’s governance democratically and constitutionally giving guarantees to the military establishment against reprisals and interference in the promotions and postings of military officers and ensuring their say in the country’s foreign and security policy. With this formula in place, the country has been successfully put on democratic rails as is witnessed by the fact that President Joko Wododo is in his second term of presidency.
These examples indicate a viable path of action that may ensure smooth governance in the longer run. The Constitution can be amended to provide for the establishment of the National Security Council by the next parliament, if the political and military leaderships sign such a document pledging publicly to follow the Constitution for the sake of democracy, economic stability and national harmony, and ensuring fair elections. This seems to be the only viable way out of the political impasse. The Weekender