Truth is Bitter

Whenever the military took over in Pakistan, the initial response
of the public was positive, but every time the military left,
the situation was even worse than before.

By Lt. Gen. Naeem Khalid Lodhi (R) | March 2020

We have all heard the story of the four blind men who, after touching an elephant, described how the huge animal looked. Naturally, the one touching the trunk had a very different story as compared to the one who had felt the tail. I have seen the situation in Pakistan from more than one angle, as I have been part of both the armed forces and the government. Though the case is already built against military interventions but it is important to remember the strength of the political culture that resists such interventions.

When Francis Yokuhama was proclaiming the end of history and crowning democracy and capitalism as the ultimate panacea for the ailments of the human race, Samuel Huntington, his senior, was cautioning us about the clash of civilisations, which meant that other competing systems do exist and they might rise and pose a challenge.

There is no single model of a political system that fits all social paradigms. Even democracy has different shades and hues. Putin was elected as president, Xi Jinping got overwhelming votes from the Grand National Congress, Mullah Umar was elected by a jirga. But how many of us will accept these as democratic processes? Simply because we have a fixed definition and perception of the term. And anything lying outside our understanding of the process would be non-democratic? We have a right to persist with our beliefs, but then so is the right of others.

What is the state of relations between the civilians and the military in Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and even the USA? The Capitol Hill and the Pentagon quarrel with each other on various issues. President Trump was genuinely interested in withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, both before and immediately after the elections. But he could not and his desire has morphed into a sluggish match with the deep state.

What does civilian mean? (Assuming that the military is the only non-civil institution). The judiciary, police, bureaucracy, government and the people are all civilian institutions. People can have problems with the police. The government can have problems with the judiciary. There can be problems in civil-to-civil relations as well. In Pakistan, the quest is for an ideal form of democracy and any incursions by the military in the civilian domain is highly abhorrent. It is true that the judiciary, the executive, the media and the legislature are interfering and encroaching on each others’ jurisdictions. Because that is civil-to-civil relations and they do not disturb the democratic norms to a large extent. It is also not necessary to ascertain what ‘the government of the people by the people’ is doing or not doing ‘for the people.’ If the members of the armed forces, including the military leadership, were robots and not made of the same flesh and bones as civil society, then they would remain oblivious of whatever happened to the people of the country. Since it is not like that, they express their concerns and because truth is bitter, it bites. There may be an uproar from within and outside the country but from a purely democratic point of view, the objection against military intervention is very well-justified and no one can defend such interference in theory. The main reason is that they have guns provided by the nation for their defence and these are not supposed to be used against the nation’s own people.

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The writer is a former Minister of Defence and former Secretary of Defence. He can be reached at naeemlodhi53

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