OVER A COFFEE: Memomania: pie in everyone’s face —Dr Haider Shah
It is only predestined for civilian leaders that they should be jailed, tortured, hanged, exiled and put on media trial. After all, to err is civilian
We know that the classical Urdu poet Daagh Dehlvi was fidgety about a new ‘salaam’ (greeting) sent in a letter by his beloved in a famous ghazal sung by maestro Ghulam Ali. Of late the Pakistani security establishment has been investing a lot of its energy and time in knowing who was behind a ‘salaam’ conveyed to a ‘raqeeb ‘(rival) with whom it has been having a strange love-hate relationship. What then followed in the Pakistani media looks like a free-for-all pie fight. The end result is that everybody has a pie in his face except one — the writer of the memo, Mansoor Ijaz. On the other hand, the importance given to a memo by the Pakistani media, opposition parties and the security establishment renders us a laughingstock in the eyes of a giggling international community.
For a guilty verdict in a criminal offence there should be both ‘mens rea’, i.e. guilty mind and commission of the act. The memo written by a shady character did not even get noticed by its recipient(s), so calling it an act of treason remains a moot point. However, there were other instances in the recent past when there was no doubt about both intent and actual commission of the crime as envisaged by Article 6 of the constitution. I would refrain from invoking Siachen and Kargil as examples since they belong to the distant past. But more recently we all saw that the judges of the honourable Supreme Court were detained and an unsuccessful attempt was made to sabotage the constitution. The then army chief was neither placed on the Exit Control List (ECL) nor was any case of treason registered against him. Instead, he was allowed to move to London amid full army protocol. Like the British monarch, the khakis can do no wrong in Pakistan. To err is purely civilian.
More recently, in a WikiLeaks cable the army chief was quoted as discussing political matters with the former US ambassador. This should have caused a major uproar in our media as all military personnel are under oath to stay away from politics. Barring a feeble murmur here and there, the electronic media almost ignored this event and its sensitive ‘ghairat’ (honour) also did not feel a needle prick.
The bold and beautiful media also sheepishly turned its back on one of its own comrades, Saleem Shahzad, who was murdered under very suspicious circumstances. A commission is considering the case at a snail’s pace and it is not difficult to predict beforehand what will be its findings. Similarly, the Abbottabad Commission, riding on turtles, is engaged in a possible whitewashing exercise. If terrorists are allowed entry in military organisations, where they create and run cells unchecked, and consequently GHQ and Mehran base buildings are attacked, it does not matter as it is none of our business. It is only predestined for civilian leaders that they should be jailed, tortured, hanged, exiled and put on media trial. After all, to err is civilian.
Despite my deepest sympathy with the present government over the Haqqani affair, I do not find its conduct very inspiring. If it had honoured the Charter of Democracy (CoD) in the beginning and had worked together with the anti-establishment parties, there would have been a gradual strengthening of civilian supremacy in the country. But instead it opted for very opportunistic politics of appeasement as its poor record of governance made it impossible to be assertive. When the Abbottabad incident happened, it became a spokesperson of the military establishment. It would have therefore been much better if instead of crying wolf through memos it had followed the example of the Turkish government, which wrested power from its military establishment through popular support.
Mr Haqqani began his political life as a radical student leader in Karachi and after many carefully contrived moves, ultimately reached a stage of maturity finding peace in an academic career at Boston University. He had been advocating a paradigmatic change for Pakistan by disentanglement from the jihadi-military alliance. All sensible and sincere observers of Pakistan’s internal problems also arrive at the same conclusion. We should not be in the business of condemning people as guilty without observing due process of law; the process laid down in terms of constitutional provisions and not as per the whims and commands of army generals. If, after due process of law, Mr Haqqani is found complicit in the writing of the memo then one wishes that Mr Haqqani had restrained himself by paying heed to Aatish’s verse: “Payaambar na mayassar hua, toh khuub hua” (if a message could not be delivered, it was for the best). And especially when the messenger is of dubious credentials.
The main opposition party, the PML-N, has come dangerously close to becoming the devil’s advocate by over-orchestrating the issue. In order to attain its short-term objective of weakening Mr Zardari’s hold on power, it might be strengthening the army’s control over state institutions. Already the military establishment has successfully test-fired its stinger missile in the form of an ambitious new leader from the launching pad of the country’s biggest private channel. The PML-N is therefore pursuing a high risk strategy as the clearly partisan electronic media is hell-bent upon installing a new king on the throne of Pakistan. As a major opposition party, it should be using its energies in formulating a viable policy framework rather than mortgaging its politics to the hype created by khaki accusers.
The only character that has emerged victorious in the Memogate story is the one who set the whole storm in motion. Mansoor Ijaz has gained much more than what he had imagined in his wildest dreams. With money and leisure comes a craving for power. Mansoor being a successful businessman was a desperado for glory and recognition. Just with one op-ed slingshot he has conquered the Pakistani media. He must also be rejoicing over the fact that the Pakistani establishment is fully reliant on him in its case against Mr Haqqani.
At a more dispassionate level, the Memogate saga will be seen as an evidence of further ascendency of the military leadership over its civilian masters in a developing country that is struggling with itself for long. The PML-N’s petition in the Supreme Court can prove a slim ray of hope though. It will provide us with an opportunity to see if the honourable judges of the court will be able to call all respondents to the court. The luminaries also include those who, not a long time ago, were responsible for incarceration of these judges. If it fails to happen, the status quo in Pakistan will prevail, the catchy slogans of a newly energised political outfit notwithstanding.
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org