As the post mortem of Faizabad fiasco is in progress, all the guilty have dug-in their heels to justify their follies, stupidities, acts of omission and commission as well as comics. They are hoping that soon there would be a divine intervention in the form of yet another bigger catastrophe, turning the national focus away from this one. A candid estimate has it that the incident could cost the ruling party around 20-30 national assembly seats in the upcoming elections alongside erosion of mandate in all provinces. Those with higher stakes like the ruling party are trying to wriggle out of it by rolling of a couple of dispensable heads. The planning and execution of the controversial law ran much broader and deeper than the single ministry’s purview. Then allowing the matter to hang-on to ferment a crisis was indeed a national crime for which responsibility must be fixed and punishment meted out; otherwise it would, endlessly, keep feeding circular conspiracy theory . However, one wonders whether our fragile system would have the strength to undertake this enterprise; or, as per track record, push the matter under the carpet.
Our national system has become quite fragile. After every sit-in, long march or threat thereof and each shady judicial verdict, political system emerges weaker and another chunk of power quietly changes hands, from elected and accountable institutions to shady entities, which are pathologically power hungry, inherently some of these are neither publicly accountable nor responsible. Societal polarization is on rise, truth and logic has since long become a causality, partisan approach has taken the centre stage marginalizing out logical and impartial analysis. Diametrically opposite views expressed by two High Courts of the country, with regard to recent sit-in in twin cities is just tip the of iceberg representing lawlessness within the judiciary.
Floating of no holds barred narratives create an information fog leading to circular conspiracy theory, whereby everybody blames everyone else for the wrongdoing. Much like circular debt of electricity sector, circular conspiracy concept continues to snowball long after the crisis is over. Availability and stature of honest arbiters is shrinking as most of them are continuously getting discredited, and hence unacceptable. Judicial commissions which were once an icon of high hope have stooped so low that these days they become controversial even before they start working on their assignment. This is adding unpredictability to the system.
It is indeed a dangerous trajectory and if the trend continues, there could be a stage when no one is perceived as an honest broker and credible guarantor. Within the national system, all actors—individuals and institutions— are eyeing for absolute power without accepting responsibility. And, in this free for all wrestling, first casualty is national image and pride. The emerging image is of a Banana Republic, having spineless administration and just a semblance of governance.Engineering and reverse engineering in political structures, conflicting judicial judgements, militarized internal security setting, emergence of parallel decision-making centers have made the environment very murky. Social media has taken the role of a spoiler, spread of unauthentic information to a huge number of recipients in near real time could lead the mob to act before authenticity of information is verified. It is especially so when issue has enormous emotive value like blasphemy. Social media could very well be employed by adversaries for creating controlled or uncontrolled chaos at state and non-state level, within a specified time slot to divert attention from something happening in tandem that is more serious and more damaging.
With these indicators, we may be in the incipient stage of fifth generation warfare, wherein wars are won without firing a single bullet; and lost without realizing that war had begun a long ago. Yet, all is not lost, system though decaying, is still functional and people are avoiding to indulge into actions leading to rocking the boat. Two elected prime ministers obediently walked away form their office with dignity, in line with court decisions, ‘jury of history’ is still out with regard to veracity of these decisions. Change of military commands is taking place in an orderly manner, and chief justices are being replaced in a non-controversial manner. Need of the hour is to pause, rethink and at least consolidate on what all is intact.
Siege of Faizabad interchange has happened umpteenth time, each time it paralyses the twin cities leading to a lock-down situation in the federal capital, as most of the people working in Islamabad commute from Rawalpindi. Yet, nothing has been done to offset this vulnerability.
Interior minister Ahsan Iqbal has stated that the “Document of finishing dharna was not desirable but there was little choice because if [the] situation had persisted [for] another 24 hrs there would be riots.” The deal, according to Iqbal, “was unfortunate” and “not an end that we can be proud of”. He also conceded that the Faizabad operation was launched without the ownership of the political leadership.
“On the assurance of the chief of the army staff, we are calling off the sit-in,” Tehreek-e-Labbaik leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi told the crowd. Like a disciplined crowd, they vacated the site. As per written document, the government accepted six of the protesters’ conditions; interestingly, however, Rizvi has declared that additional nine demands had also been accepted but both sides agreed to not to document those; government has not rebutted the claim. Rizvi told his supporters that the army chief himself had become a guarantor.
When the situation spiraled out of control, the government ordered police and paramilitary troops to stand down and called on the army to restore order in the federal capital. Subsequently, Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa went into a huddle with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi where they concurred that army troops would not use force against protesters and would only provide back-end support. This radiated the impression that Army had declined to obey the orders. Though use of military against a highly charged crowd is not a wise option, this saga of tasking the Army and Army wriggling out of it should not have become a public knowledge.
Major demand of protestors was resignation of law minister Zahid Hamid whom they blamed for a change in the oath of elected representatives. Zahid has the dubious distinction that he can draft anything for anyone, he was author of infamous November 03, 2007 emergency proclamation order by President Musharraf. Yet, to give the devil its due, the minster has indicated in his letter to the President of Pakistan that he had long ago offered to resign, he had also conveyed that he was not behind insertion of the text that triggered the turmoil, and amendments to electoral law were framed by parliamentary committee on electoral reforms. If the law minister was ready to resign then asking him to stay on was a foolish idea, strengthening the impression that those actually behind the controversial amendment forced the law minister to stay on as their shield.
Topping of the cake was the sorry state of affairs of superior judiciary. IHC objected to the terms of agreement, besides questioning the role of the armed forces as mediator in the episode. Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, said an acknowledgement in the agreement indicated that the army chief, instead of following the orders of the chief executive, became a mediator. “Prima facie, role assumed by the top leadership of army is besides the Constitution and law of land. Armed forces, being part of the executive of the country, cannot travel beyond its mandate bestowed upon it by the organic law of the country i.e. Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan.”
And just a day after IHC criticized the army’s role as a ‘mediator’, Lahore High Court judge highly admired the same role of the military. Justice Qazi Mohammad Amin Ahmad observed that had the military not ensured an agreement between the government and the protesters there would have been massive killings due to police operation. Everyone knew that it was the army which saved the country from disaster, Justice Ahmad said.
Political analysts are of the view that government decision to give in is a “major embarrassment” and it underscores the rising misplaced influence of religious groups. Senate chairman is of the view that “Parliament would have to re-establish the writ of the state damaged.” He opined that the role of the military in ending the protest through a written agreement was a direct threat to democracy. He termed the government’s role in the whole saga as “pathetic”. Senator Farhatullah Babar said that the civil-military leaders must speak to one another through available mechanisms and not through the media.
The way this avoidable 21-day siege evolved and ended has raised many questions, which need collective answers from the national leadership. There was a nation-wide sigh of relief when Faizabad sit-in ended peacefully, thanks to good offices of Pakistan Army. This wasn’t the first time when Army played such a role and burnt its fingers. A number of times fingers have been pointed towards Army for first constructing such sit-ins and then deconstructing them in a power barter with the executive branch of the government. Like wise the incumbent government is often blamed for trucking with religious extremists for political gains. For their credibility, both need to come clean on these public perceptions.