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Principal Contradiction Revisited

by Ejaz Haider
Courtesy ISPR

Courtesy ISPR

The exercise of power beyond the ambit of law and Constitution is the real issue.

Some days ago I wrote about the principal contradiction as an analytical framework, citing Mao Tse-Tung’s essay On Contradiction. I argued that often we mistake secondary contradiction(s) for the principal contradiction and even more often some of us think that fuming is a substitute for serious analysis. I stressed that this country has had a history of the military undermining politicians and political governments and we must, therefore, be careful in trying to huff and puff to blow the house down.

My point was apropos of the current political discourse and events which have, arguably, put the prime minister in a tight spot. I was told, subtly, and by some crudely, that the issue was about institutionalizing and that there was no danger to the current PMLN government. It was only about the Sharifs.

While no one in his sane mind could argue against clean politicians and governments or institutions (rules of the game) that work and are made to work, my point was that nothing happens in a vacuum. The military is known to have made use of such moments in Pakistan’s history and it is a disruptive force with its own organizational interests. That, in and of itself, doesn’t mean the military is not earnest in what it thinks it is doing. Quite the contrary. Almost always does it think it is bulling in in the larger interest of the state. Nearly, though not always, its litany of complaints against the politicians, observed tactically, also make sense. They do come across as a motley crowd that is driven by interests other than that of the state.

But this is precisely where we tend to lose sight of the bigger picture and undermine, to invoke Agency Theory, the first order of agency (from the people to their representatives), a much broader concept, in favor of the second order of agency (from a government to its functionaries), a much narrower concept. Ironically, that’s exactly what the military does when it impinges on the first order of agency, arguing that it is violating the second order because the politicians have violated the first order of agency and lost the trust and confidence of the people they represent. In other words, they (military) are temporary disrupting the second order to put the first order of agency right.

Since my argument there have been three other developments. The Army, which took over operations in the kacha from the police, has successfully captured Ghulam Rasool alias Chhotu with some of his men, ‘proving’ that what it can do no one else can. The police is as inefficient as the civilian governments. The Army chief, General Raheel Sharif, speaking at the Corps of Signals Center in Kohat had a few obiter dicta for the politicians: “[The] war against terrorism and extremism being fought with the backing of entire nation cannot bring enduring peace and stability unless the menace of corruption is not [sic!] uprooted. Therefore, across the board accountability is necessary for the solidarity, integrity and prosperity of Pakistan. Pakistan Armed Forces will fully support every meaningful effort in that direction, which would ensure a better future for our next generations.”

This is clearly a policy statement on governance for which the Army chief has no mandate. But that’s the de jure position. The de facto situation is determined by historical precedents. Predictably, since then the media, mainstream and social, have debated this statement. There was no comment from the government. Remember that the man at the helm is the same P.M. who, in 1998, forced an Army chief to resign for merely suggesting the formation of a National Security Council.

Today, April 21, the Army chief “retired due to fault” 12 officers, including one 3-star, one two-star, five brigadiers, three lieutenant colonels and one major. I was sitting, working on another story and realized there were a dozen calls and messages from my office, asking me to comment on the situation. TV channels had one theme: now that the COAS has cleansed his organization, what is he signaling to the politicians and how will the government, groaning under the weight of Panama Papers, react to this. Will the government dither still in the face of this development? Will the Army, bent on cleaning the Augean Stables, put up with continued procrastination by the government?

As should be evident, this was the point I was trying to make when I argued that nothing happens, or can, in a vacuum. Here’s how this goes de jure.

The Army chief is mandated to keep his house clean and in order. He has used his mandate. We don’t know what the process was and of course the timing of this move is intriguing. But one can assume that the legal requirements, under Army rules, were fulfilled. In fact, the Army chief might want to consider many others in the long line of generals who can be tried under the constitution by the civilian government.

The Army chief, under no known rules, laws or provisions of the Constitution, is mandated to go beyond his remit. He cannot even act against Air Force or Navy personnel, let alone signal to the government of which he is a functionary. This is the legal-constitutional position regardless of any wrongdoing by the government. For that, there is the Parliament, civil society, the courts and other legal and agitational mechanisms for redress.

But history is the story of de facto might more often than de jure technicalities. That’s what is important and that’s what can’t be ignored. De facto, commanding over half-million men under arms, he is the most powerful man. That is both the reality and anomaly of this country; that is also the bane of this country.

Finally, the issue is not about intentions. General Sharif is known to be an upright and earnest soldier. It’s about the exercise of power beyond the ambit of law and the Constitution. The issue is also not about whether politicians should or shouldn’t face accountability. They must if they have done something wrong. The issue is about the framework in which things happen or are made to happen. That is where we have had problems. That is also where the principal contradiction lies.

Haider is editor of national-security affairs at Capital TV. He was a Ford Scholar at the Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C. He tweets @ejazhaider

The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect, in part or whole, those held by Newsweek Pakistan.

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Tariq Parvez April 22, 2016 - 6:28 am

A brilliant analysis. Spot on.

mani April 23, 2016 - 3:04 pm

the writer has missed the point. It may be true that the COAS has superseded his own position and interfered where many should not. Yet again, desperate measures call for desperate actions and I think the COAS has done an excellent job. The pseudo intellectuals who may agree with what the writer has argued, just do not get the point. It is not about who should supercede who , rather it is the USA motto- do what you have to do to survive. The COAS is doing just that. You think the US does not let think tanks intervene where they should not? think again. This democracy is all a farce and not suited for us since most of our population does not have basic education and a joke of a government has come into power which also shows the intellect of our very own people. as mentioned in the article, If we leave things to the corrupt bureaucrats, Pakistan shall be overtaken by its enemies within months with their aide. The army is a blessing and if you do not appreciate that, then go back to your ancestral India.

Sulaiman Ijaz April 22, 2016 - 8:50 am

Sir, could you please try and write in simpler language? A good writer gets her point across. A great writer does so with short sentences and simple prose. Thanks in anticipation

Ghazanfar Hussain Khan April 22, 2016 - 9:58 pm

The writer is of Pakistani origin but failed to understand the “framework in which things happen” in Pakistan. The law there is made by the corrupt for the more corrupt and of the corrupt. If we go by that only then it’s doom for Pakistan forever with no chance of any improvement. It’s not a democracy as is known in the western world. I wish the writer was more unbiased , more pragmatic and had more close contact with the masses in Pakistan before writing such serious stuff.

Srinath April 23, 2016 - 12:43 pm

Totally agree with Ijaz. And yes, I suggest he should subject his write-ups to readability test to make his thoughts more meaningful.

Imran Ahmed April 23, 2016 - 11:35 pm

Our military officers all take an oath to obey the federal government and not to engage in politics. Too many of them forget this oath. Officers are subordinate to their civilian government and have to work under the law to serve the people’s representatives. If corruption or other criminal activity is detected it should be brought to the attention of the prescribed authority. The military has no remit inside our borders unless to assist government when ordered to. The function of a military is to obey and to assist government, not to give orders nor advice or to make policy.


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