Power equation in Pakistan

The Law Minister of Pakistan, Zahid Hassan, has resigned. The resignation came as a sequel to the change made in the form of affirmation of oath by a member of Pak Parliament relating to the finality of Prophet Muhammad. The phrase “I solemnly swear . . .” was replaced by “I believe…” The change saw a little known organization Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) come out in the streets of Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Karachi. Numerically they were in small groups but these groups brought life to a standstill in the main cities of the country. Matters came to a head and the protest demonstrations ended only with the resignation of the Law Minister and the restoration of the status quo ante in the wording of the oath of affirmation.
When the civil government of Pakistan sought army help to remove the protesters from the streets they had blocked, the army’s terse response was that it could not “turn against its own people’. The excuse was laughable because the army has time and again turned against the people, the most notable (and notorious) example of which was the massacre of the Bengali people in the then East Pakistan in 1971. Clearly, the army was siding with and supporting the TLY, an organization which the English language press in Pakistan dubbed as ‘zealots’, ‘fanatics’, ‘hard-line Islamists’ and ‘bigots’. The TLY was condemned as an organization of ‘hot-blooded’ people with ‘dark passions.’ But nothing availed and ultimately the Law Minister had to pay the price for the ‘sin’ he had committed by quitting the Cabinet. Some Pakistani commentators have hinted that the TLY is a creature of the army.
The Zahid Hassan episode has brought out the stark reality of the impotence of the civil government in Pakistan vis-à-vis the army. It is the army which rules behind the façade of a democratically-elected government. Ultimate power lies not in the people of Pakistan but in those in uniform. Even if the civil government tries to make the functioning of the administration more tolerant and less fanatic, it can do little in the face of the opposition from the army. It is the army which calls the shots. The recent developments in Pakistan have a lesson for India as well. The lesson is that when one arm of the State, namely the army, gives indulgence to intolerants, fanatics and bigots and indirectly encourages them, then democracy becomes a farce. Fortunately for us, the army in India is a traditionally apolitical organization totally loyal to the democratically elected civil government.

Wednesday, 29 November, 2017