The Memo is just a handy means to regime change in Pakistan – by Ayaz Amir

Pakistan-s ex-envoy to US Husain Haqqani at Supreme Court building today to meet lawyer Asma Jehangir

Real issue: regime change

There should be no room for confusion. Nor should we put blinders on our eyes. The Memo (with a capital M) has not endangered our nukes or lowered army morale. This last is really absurd. If army morale is to be lowered by a forgotten piece of paper, no matter what was inscribed on it, we are in more danger than we think.

Of all the sacred altars at which the Islamic Republic has allowed itself to be ravaged since 1947, none has been more hallowed than that of national security. The adventures undertaken, the follies perpetrated, in its name. So can we please keep this bogey out of the way?

The Memo is just a handy means to a passionately-desired end: regime change. Getting rid of Asif Zardari and installing a compliant interim setup, leading, at some point in the future, to elections which guarantee “positive results.” Students of Pakistani history would remember that it was Gen Zia who gave currency to the term “positive results.” There is no shortage of retired and serving military men who, in today’s circumstances, translate positive results to mean Imran Khan.

Imran Khan may not be the child of the establishment, as his detractors say, but he is definitely the favourite of the semi-fascist tendencies interwoven into the fabric of our national-security state. Look at the faces he is attracting. What is their recipe for national salvation? Nothing more detailed than discipline and blind faith in the abilities of the leader.

The sages of Raiwind are caught on the horns of a dilemma. It is their petition before the Supreme Court which is keeping the Memo issue alive, army and ISI exploiting this improvised explosive device that they have unwittingly laid (at whose behest, it would be fun to know). The dilemma comes from the circumstance that they can’t be sure how this manoeuvre will play out. Will it lead to early elections, which is what the sages earnestly want, or the sabotaging of democracy?

Hence, the mixed signals from that quarter: even as they push their petition – a position which puts them on the same page as Gen Ashfaq Kayani and Lt Gen Shuja Pasha – they are issuing warnings about the dangers of Bonapartism. Uncharitable critics would say that this amounts to running with the hare and hunting with the hounds, always a tough act to perform.

But it is not only the sages who are confounded. Other actors in this drama are equally confused. They know what they want. They just don’t know, at least at this stage, how to get there. If only Zardari had chosen to stay in Dubai…it would have been so convenient. But by choosing to come back he has cast a spanner in the works. The conspirators thus have their work cut out.

Zardari can only be nailed if Husain Haqqani chooses to become a Masood Mehmood, the approver in Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s murder case. But of that happening there are precious few signs. Haqqani is no Masood Mehmood and Gen Kayani, for all his well-concealed ambition, is no Gen Zia. And, if the analogy can be stretched further, on the judicial firmament there is no Justice Anwarul Haq or Maulvi Mushtaq. The times, alas, are different.

So the central problem remains. How do you take the footprints of the Memo affair to the Presidency? And if this doesn’t happen, the mushroom cloud rising in Islamabad is an exercise in futility. To put it in legalese, of what use a First Information Report if it leads to no conviction?

Caesar’s conspirators had the strength of their convictions. Bhutto’s conspirators were animated by fear and hatred. Nawaz Sharif’s own conspirators were driven by feelings of survival. Sharif tried to get rid of Musharraf; he ended up deposing himself. Zardari’s conspirators, and there is a claque of them, have strong feelings but weak impulses: desire unmatched by capacity.

So what we are seeing is a war of attrition instead of a decisive engagement: dark hints, all sorts of rumours (some quite improbable), a regular whispering campaign, but not much clarity about where all this is likely to end.

Maoists used to speak of disorder as a corrective, “There is great disorder under the heavens and the situation is excellent.” Pakistani disorder is a thing of its own, signifying nothing.

People with the kind of reputation the president enjoys are supposed to perform according to a standard script. When you show them their face in the mirror they are supposed to fall at your feet or, like our celebrated Dr Khan, confess to their real or imagined sins on television: hara-kiri, so to speak, in full public view.

Suppose Dr Khan had shown Gen Musharraf some of the courage he displays in his newspaper columns. What would have happened? Whatever Dr Khan did, no one in Pakistan would have dared to hand him over to the Americans.

My Lord the Chief Justice might take a leaf from his own book to gain some insight into the present situation. When he went before Musharraf on March 9, 2007, and was asked in so many words to step down, the standard script required of him either to grovel or sign on the dotted line. But he stood his ground and the rest is history. (It is also a bit of a headache, but let that pass.)

Imagine the warts on Zardari’s face as he is shown the mirror. But he is neither grovelling nor flying out of the country as our ideological warriors would have him do. No article of the Constitution or clause of the penal code covers this frustrating situation. If the president doesn’t wilt or bite the dust, what on earth do you do?

Wait for the election timetable is what, ideally, you should do. But across the political spectrum there is decreasing patience for this option. Nor does it suit everyone. But short of a coup sanctioned by the highest judicial authority, how is regime change to be brought about? Pundits, representing one of the largest growth industries in Islamabad, are left biting their nails as they mull over this conundrum.

To further complicate matters, the PPP is in a bellicose mood and has decided to fight back, which is again not part of the desired script. Their lordships have taken umbrage over a Babar Awan press conference. There is no indication that Dr Awan (his skills honed in that mythical seat of learning, Monticello University) is seeing the light.

No doubt, given the country’s parlous condition, a rejuvenated democracy delivered by fresh elections (as Nawaz Sharif proposes) would be a good thing. But only if there is a willing consensus behind the move, instead of a pistol being put to the PPP’s head.

This makes Shahbaz Sharif’s battle cry that there can be no free elections under Zardari singularly out of focus. As the establishment’s favourite child once-upon-a-time, who would know better than the PML-N that the great instruments of election manipulation in Pakistan are the ideological academies of the ISI and Military Intelligence? ISI and MI are not in Zardari’s control. So what is the PML-N afraid of?

The political class has to be clear about the alternatives on offer. Either we have regime change, courtesy Pakistan’s highest court of constitutional authority, 111 Brigade, in which case politicians can take a rest and a hike for some years. Or, sad to say, we have elections under the present dispensation. Elections, in other words, under Gen Pasha (his name here used as a metaphor) or President Zardari. If there is a third option, the nation may kindly be informed.

The obvious is escaping the PML-N. Its enemy is not Zardari, not in the present circumstances. The PML-N and PPP have separate territories to hold on to. Their interests do not clash. If both have a contradiction it is with the rearing head of Imran Khan’s pseudo-reformism.

If the establishment has made its choice in the form of Imran Khan, there is little sense in playing the establishment’s game by getting so worked up about the Memo affair…and beating the drums of national security to justify one’s short-sightedness.

The great organ-meister is Gen Pasha. The political class should have imagination enough to think of something else instead of dancing to his tune.


Source: The News, December 23, 2011