OVER A COFFEE: The boss and ‘boss ka aadmi’ —Dr Haider Shah
When Nawaz Sharif entered the scene with the blessings of the boss, his strong personality did not wait too long to become independent and for the first time in Pakistan’s history a serving army chief was sent home
The manner in which new political outfits suddenly emerge on the eve of major turning points in the chequered political history of Pakistan reminds me of a joke I read in a children’s book. A servant was asked by his master to look after a big pot in which some food was being cooked while he was away. After a while the master returned and asked if everything was okay. The servant replied that he saw a small mouse jumping into the pot. The master asked alarmingly, “Then?” The servant replied, “Do not worry, I have put a cat in the pot.” The furious master shouted, “Oh now a cat is also inside the pot?” The servant calmly replied, “Do not worry sir, I have seen a stray dog outside. I am going to get it for the cat.”
The boiling pot of Pakistani politics has been dealt with not much differently by the establishment. In the beginning the civilian bureaucrats exercised a firm control over power when they wore the mantle of power. When under the spirited leadership of Maulvi Tamizuddin the then Assembly endeavoured to regain its power, the move was thwarted by Ghulam Muhammad with the active connivance of the then judiciary. As the throne passed over to the army generals in 1958, they dealt with the challenge posed by the civilian politicians in two ways. One, by direct intervention and declaring martial law. Second, indirectly through pliant politicians or other ambitious public figures.
In 2001, I was assigned the task of supervising anti-smuggling intelligence in Balochistan. Conventional wisdom suggested that a good rapport with a resourceful organisation would be very helpful. I would refrain from naming the organisation as it is considered sacrilegious to say the sacrosanct name, especially if you are not ‘bawazoo’ (ablution). We are not uncivilised like the British and the US who openly name the CIA or the MI6 in media reports. So like other civilised media persons of Pakistan, I would also call it a sensitive agency. To cut the story short, I first telephoned the director and after receiving a positive nod reached his official premises. There I had to sit in the waiting lounge as the ‘boss’ was having a meeting with an important local politician. Those were the days when plans were underway for electing Musharraf for further five years as president. I could see officials of the organisation going to the boss’s office along with their prized ‘catch of the day’. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men were being brought together to help the humpty dumpty stay firmly seated on the throne. I waited for many hours observing the hustle and bustle and finally came to the conclusion that far greater issues were being attended to there so I left the scene leaving the netters deal with their fish.
From Burma to Pakistan, the boss likes to retain ultimate control in his hands in our part of the world. ‘Boss ka aadmi’ (BKA) is never allowed to grow too big for his boots. When any BKA starts showing signs of independence, a new BKA is recruited to take the place of the old BKA. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was a BKA during Ayub Khan’s era. He saw the opportunity of exploiting the anti-India and anti-US fervour of Pakistanis and after mixing a bit of leftist ideas with a bit of jingoistic pan-Islamism, he was able to launch a successful political party. The former BKA could not last long as an independent leader and was eliminated from the political scene altogether. Mr Junejo emerged as a new BKA after the party-less elections of 1985. Political leaders and parties gradually grow, leaving behind their past roots in royalty and the establishment. For instance, the modern Labour-Conservative political divide was ‘Whigs vs Tories’ (Court party) rivalry in the 18th century Britain. Junejo was considered a very docile personality by Ziaul Haq and hence was made prime minister by the ‘boss’. But after becoming the chief executive even a soft-spoken Junejo started asserting his power and trespassed the forbidden territory of Afghan policy. No wonder he, along with his Assembly, was sent packing.
Confronting political parties and their leaders head-on is not always very productive. The boss therefore uses the formula of the servant in dealing with potentially troublesome parties. In order to keep the tide of the PPP under control, the MQM in Sindh and the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) in Punjab were launched. When the MQM became threateningly too powerful, the MQM (Haqeeqi) and ‘Punjabi Pakhtun Ittehad’ were created. Benazir Bhutto was reluctantly handed over power in 1988 but was compelled to agree that foreign policy was a no-entry zone. “George, be a king,” was the advice given to King George by his mother. If Junejo could also not resist listening to the inner voice of becoming a PM, how could an assertive and popularly elected leader like Benazir play second fiddle for long? As the governance perception was not very impressive, the task of the boss was made easy to show her the exit door soon. When Nawaz Sharif entered the scene with the blessings of the boss, his strong personality did not wait too long to become independent and for the first time in Pakistan’s history a serving army chief was sent home. But the boss staged a comeback and Nawaz Sharif was soon behind bars.
Historically the political forces of the smaller provinces have remained anti-establishment while Punjab had always been the bastion of pro-establishment politics. In an ironic twist after the 2008 elections, the smaller provinces-based parties are either pro-establishment or at least not anti-establishment while the Punjab-based PML-N emerged as an anti-establishment political voice in national politics. As the present government suffers from a credibility crisis, the establishment is worried that the former BKA would prove very dangerous in his new populist anti-establishment role. So a new BKA was deemed necessary and the ever ambitious Imran Khan was ready to play this role. He, along with Mehmood Ghaznavi Saani (Shah Mehmood Qureshi), has now promised the youth that a revolution is coming riding over the shoulders of Musharraf’s former team. Up till now it was only Musharraf’s dog that had been welcomed at Imran’s residence. Now almost the whole team has been greeted by welcome banners. The PPP government deserves some credit here. Now even the harbinger of revolution is using ‘mufahimat ki policy’ (reconciliation policy) as the core doctrine of the promised revolution. It is Pakistan. Our Che Guevaras and Fidel Castros on a nod from the boss can turn the tide of revolution against any former BKA.
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at email@example.com