Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan (L) and Turkish President Recep Erdogan (R), Ankara, Oct. 2019. File photo.
The Indian establishment, including the political leadership, is running into a strange predicament. Never before has India’s image looked so visibly sullied in comparison with Pakistan’s as much as in the most recent years under the present government.
The Indian establishment, especially PM Modi who makes a fetish out of dragging Pakistan into his gladiatorial duels with Congress Party, increasingly seems to be throwing stones from glass houses.
Demonising Pakistan is becoming harder and harder for the Indian establishment. Modi’s latest diatribes show a degree of desperation. In the past week, while India has been burning and the government is terrorising students and India breaks the world record for internet shutdowns, Pakistan celebrated the test run of the first underground Metro system in the teeming city of Lahore on December 10. The contrast with India couldn’t be sharper.
Without doubt, the court verdict handing down death sentence to General Pervez Musharraf creates much confusion. Mum is the word in Delhi. There is a sense of shock and awe. It explodes the thesis that the Pakistani judiciary is the handmaiden of the military establishment.
It is important to note that the court disregarded the government’s petition seeking that the special court should refrain from passing the final judgment in the case against Musharraf.
And this is happening only a month after the Supreme Court intervened in the 3-year extension granted by the government to army chief General Qamar Bajwa, by cutting it down to just six months, and, furthermore, directing that any further extension can only be considered on the basis of legislation enacted by the parliament.
At the very least, no matter Pakistan’s tortuous political history, what emerges beyond doubt is that the country’s judiciary is asserting itself as an independent pillar of constitutional rule in the country.
Pakistan finds itself at a defining moment. The judgment against Musharraf will sound an alarm bell at the GHQ in Rawalpindi, underscoring that usurpation of political power by anyone is a crime attracting capital punishment.
It opens a window of opportunity to reset the civil-military relationship in Pakistan in the direction of establishing civilian supremacy. What lies ahead?
A point similar to Turkey’s political transition under Recep Erdogan is arising in Pakistan. Yet, when it comes to Pakistan, this can only be regarded as an inflection point. Erdogan, for a start, was an ideologue and a forceful personality; he was charismatic and enjoyed a huge mass base, which is still, by the way, the envy of any democratically elected leader anywhere.
Importantly, Erdogan government was performing brilliantly and Turkey was enjoying an unprecedented level of prosperity, which turned the tide of public opinion staunchly against any repeat of military rule in that country. Democracy was the victor in that process.
Besides, there were also other hidden factors. Erdogan was determined to clip the wings of the military and he was a brilliant tactician who resorted to salami tactic in incrementally downsizing the military’s influence.
Thus, within over an year of assuming office as prime minister, he quietly introduced parliamentary supervision over the military’s budget concerning defence expenditures and systematically resorted to making amendments to the Law on Public Financial Management and Control in 2003. Proceeding from the creation of a new base for full parliamentary oversight of defence expenditures, he then whittled down the military’s budget and, incredibly enough, got away with making the military budget smaller than the education budget.
Having said that, Erdogan was plain lucky, too, especially in having a general like Hilmi Özkök as the Chief of the General Staff for four years from 2002 to 2006, which was one of the most sensitive periods of transition, when it was all up in the air, touch-and-go. General Özkök was an extraordinary general with hobbies such as photography and poetry — and above all, was an intellectual with a democratic temper who understood what Erdogan was aiming at in establishing civilian supremacy and believed that it was good for the country (and also the Turkish army.) .
As the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he opposed the plans of some of his peers who wanted to stage another coup d’etat and he narrowly evaded assassination on two occasions at least, with tip-off from the CIA and Britain’s MI6. He later disclosed that he did not eat from the army canteen, hinting at the risk of poisoning. Rare for a ‘Pasha’, General Özkök was a teetotaller who filled his glass with Coca-Cola while simulating hard drinking.
General Hilmi Özkök, Turkey’s Chief of General Staff with then Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, circa 2003, File photo
Evidently, Pakistan stands apart in all or most of these respects. Imran Khan is a study in contrast, in comparison with the tough Turkish political leader who, whether you like it or not, also happens to be a bold visionary with huge ambitions to rewrite his country’s destiny and create a legacy for himself with an eye on Turkey’s proud history.
Nonetheless, it seems improbable that politics in Pakistan can ever be the same again. No matter Musharraf’s ultimate fate — I sincerely hope he lives out his full life in a penitentiary somewhere, repenting and in atonement, which is the ultimate punishment after all — the judiciary has made a big point in condemning a hot-shot general with a brilliant career record to capital punishment. The message is direct and unambiguous — no one is above law.
In a way, Imran Khan too is lucky. He has a splendid opportunity in hand to optimally capitalise on the CPEC and turn the economy around decisively, putting Pakistan firmly on a higher growth trajectory. Indeed, under the Imran-Bajwa dispensation, there has been a noticeable whittling down of support to militant groups already. In a long while during the past decade or two, Pakistan has not experienced peace at home as at present, the hurly-burly of politics notwithstanding.