The Democratic Coup

Establishment of military courts by the government – agreed upon by most political forces – is an admission of State’s failure in making judiciary an effective and efficient organ. History tends to repeat its self when people repeat their actions. Pakistan’s history is marred by a series of military interventions and turbulent democracy. While democratic forces blame the interventions for democracy’s failure, the interveners blame democracy’s failure for their interventions.

The 1977 coup was owing to unrest caused by alleged rigging in general elections of 1976, wherein Bhutto’s PPP secured majority seats against Pakistan National Alliance; comprised of religious and conservative parties. The inability to recover from losing half of our territory in 1971 was also a factor, but mainly large scale protests against the elected government and government’s apparent failure to reach an amicable agreement with the protestors, resulted in General Zia imposing marshal law.

Twenty two years later a rift – growing out of the Kargil adventure – between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief of Army Staff General Musharraf resulted in another coup. Misuse of authority, corruption and an economy in shambles were quoted as reasons for the military’s intervention. The triggering act however was the Prime Minister’s attempt to sack Musharraf while he was on a visit abroad and an attempt to prevent his plane from landing in Pakistan. Musharraf’s coup is said to be in reaction to an attempted coup against Musharraf by Sharif. Like General Zia’s statement to an international news agency in 1977 blaming the government’s inability to resolve political crises for his intervention, Musharraf blamed Sharif’s attempted coup against him.

Fifteen years later, Nawaz Sharif sits at the “throne” again. A distrust between military and civilian authority that is typical of Pakistan and, more so of Nawaz Sharif’s style of governance, exists. Several advisors of Nawaz Sharif have warned him of a conspiracy to oust him by the military, though none of these reservations have been made public. Much like 1977, there are large scale protests against the PMLN government for having acquired power through alleged rigging. Corruption has become more of a conventional norm and the present government stands accused. To top it all off, terrorism is ballooning. Posing a serious threat to Pakistan’s survival. Military seems to be in control of Pakistan’s foreign policy already, a control apparently acquired in the backdrop of anti-government protests this year. Partial judicial authority has also just been ceded to Army by allowing establishment of military courts. “Doctrine of necessity” is yet again ripe for the taking.

Despite Iftikhar Chaudhry’s assertion of having buried it, the doctrine of necessity inherently cannot be buried. The state’s survival shall always be a cause superior to all other considerations, no matter how plausible the threats may or may not be.

However, we may not see a marshal law or a coup. Boots may not have to march in literally. If the other players fold, you win without having to show your hand. The military seems to have gained an authoritative say in foreign policy. The recent burst of terrorism and ongoing operation zarb e azab have given them a reasonable say in devising, and an almost exclusive role in implementing the defense policy. Establishment of military courts stands to give reasonable judicial authority to the army. While the military establishment takes and implements decisions, the government may be restricted to making statements and addressing the nation.

The people – who ought to be the actual beneficiaries of all State policies – are in fear and dejection. The dearth of deliverance and relief have surpassed any and all reservations pertaining to democracy, martial law, coups or soft coups. While the civil and military authorities sit on their see saw, the citizens hang in the balance. The one and only consideration is for Pakistan to survive and prosper. Whatever needs to be done to achieve this goal, must be done. This is the new manifestation of the doctrine of necessity. Without having to throw the driver out, military it seems is once again in the driving seat. Since there is no actual coup, there is no need for a court to validate their actions. Popular public perception is all that matters, and in that this is a democratic coup: supported and validated by popular will of the people. Perhaps this is as democratic as things can be and perhaps now we can achieve what we couldn’t in democracies and coups. Hope is all we are left with, hope is the only driving force.

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