Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Mess Wisdom

General Ayub Khan was a great patriot and liked to think about the problems being faced by Pakistan and its solutions. He was a loud thinker and as most of his time was spent in the army messes, he used to discuss with his colleagues and came to some very definite conclusions. He concluded that the civilians were very incompetent and corrupt. The politicians were even more corrupt. All the capable people had joined the civil services or the army, and the inept people who could not join government service became politicians and created a mess in the country.

His intellectual activity was not restricted to the domestic affairs. He was convinced that the Indians were vegetarians and this made them cowards. We had an army of meat loving Muslims, which made us very brave, and so the weak and cowardly Indians could not match us in the event of war. Our brave, carnivorous army could beat the Indians any day even if it was outnumbered and had inferior weaponry. In repeated discussions in the cozy atmosphere of the army messes, being served lavishly, he could convince every one easily and this further strengthened his believes. All these thoughts became eternal truth for him and he could not imagine any sane person disagreeing. Disagreement had to be due to some evil self-interest.

Nearly every army officer did this intellectual exercise. Even General Yahya Khan was blessed with this talent and he had also discovered some very valuable eternal truths. His discussions with the fellow officers in the messes convinced him about the evils of the civilians and that the Bengalis were inherent traitors. The only way they could have been dealt with was through brutal force.

General Zia was also blessed with the wisdom he received from the thought provoking discussions of the army messes. The discussions convinced him that supporting the US in its fight against communism was a very important duty of Muslims. The corrupt civilians and politicians had to be dealt with severely and the political parties were anti Islamic and non-political pious politicians were the need of our country. And he followed his thoughts relentlessly.

It is interesting to note that there are some common perceptions in the mess wisdom and some change with the times. The biggest common wisdom is the evil of the civilians and the nobility of the military. This near consensual thought has coined the most commonly used phrase, those bloody civilians. The second consensus is on the corruption and incompetence of the politicians. Every thinking army officer is convinced that the politicians are evil and bad for the country. The third consensus is on the fact that we Pakistanis being Muslims believe in brute force “dandey ki qaum”. We have to be guided by the big brother with force otherwise we can get spoiled and harm ourselves. And there is the final consensus; Army is the most patriotic institution that is saving this poor country from the wicked politicians and the foolish civilians. The military brethren are noble and know what is best for the nation. It is only they who know what is in the national interests and nobody has any right to disagree, as it would be unpatriotic. The army is the guardian of the physical and intellectual borders. It has the duty to save this country using all the means possible even if it requires unconstitutional steps, as at times the constitution can harm the country.

All the sincere patriotic military rulers repeatedly subjugated the constitution and enforced their wisdom on the nation. General Ayub's wisdom nearly lost the country by his incompetent military planning and diplomacy in 1965. He also sowed the seeds of the division of Pakistan and then nurtured it very carefully. General Yahya Khans mess wisdom made the division of the country much more painful and undignified. In the process we got lots of humiliation and disgrace. General Zia’s wisdom gave us so many problems that generations are needed to cope with. Our politics got systematically corrupted, religious and lingual hatreds arose, relations between the provinces soured, private armies mushroomed and we became worst affected with narcotics.

There is nothing wrong with the professionals sitting and discussing the national problems as it shows their concerns. But when these thoughts are forced upon a nation through its own military when grave complications arise. The military has a certain fixed hierarchy enforced by force. This culture is not conducive to new ideas and rational discussions. The world has worked hard to make a system in which normal gentle boys are recruited and made into soldiers, someone ready to kill and get killed. The difficult task is accomplished by indoctrinating them and not by making them rational thinking geniuses, no wonder every one in the mess has a very easy plan to solve all the problems of Pakistan.

In the political world difference of opinion is not only tolerated but encouraged. In the inherent making of democracy there are so many checks that have the potential to be misconstrued as chaotic. Strict military type discipline cannot and should not be expected from the political institutions. It is this political environment with accusations and difference of opinions that lend strength to a system and country and not the artificial discipline in which difference of opinion borders on heresy. For the last many decades we heard lots of stories about the problems of the democratic US and many of the naiveté people got the impression that US had gotten weak and could not compete with the communists. In USSR every thing was always calm and there were no problems socially and politically. The US was plagued with social unrests of McCarthy days and the black civil rights movement along with the Hippy movement. These movements somehow started affecting the military and converted into antiwar movement for Vietnam. Even politically there were many problems. President Kennedy was killed in dubious circumstances and Watergate scandal forced a President to resign disgracefully. Economic conditions were also affected and in the seventies we saw the worst recession in decades. It would make a very interesting study to speculate what would have happened if during the Vietnam war the American COS had proclaimed martial law for the interests of the country as the politicians were corrupt and inept. Their claims would have been somewhat credible, as Kennedy was known to have links with the Mafia. I guess the condition of US would not have been much different from Pakistan’s.

In these decades we did not hear of any problem and set back being faced by the USSR. But what happened was that one day the strong USSR crashed like a house of cards and the vulnerable US was the uncontested world power, along with the problems unipolar world breeds. Millions of soldiers and there armament could not save the country; even the huge stockpile of nuclear bombs was helpless. It somehow reminds of the tiger roaring in Bengal suddenly saluting his foe. This very clearly shows the strength of the democracy and the weakness of the Spartan politics.

Now General Musharaf heads the government. Not learning from the past mistakes he also came loaded with the mess wisdom. He showed his contempt for the politicians and the political institutions like his predecessors but he added one new wisdom, the corrupt businessmen and unleashed the state against them. This resulted in the biggest damage to the country’s economy since the nationalizations of the seventies as the word businessman was criminalized. Many of them sold their belongings and left the country and the rest started planning to emigrate. Fortunately the leaders realized the harm it was causing the country and reversed the witch-hunt. It took them even more time to realize that the biggest bank defaulter were not business rather the state itself. Hopefully the government will soon realize the nobility of the businessmen who operate in such a hostile environment and provide jobs along with moving the economy. And now for the national interests he has started a campaign against the private armies he supported a few months back, again in the national interests.

We have faced many debacles and problems by enforcing very shallow wisdoms. The main problem arises when they get the monopoly of definition of the national interests and patriotism. It is this monopoly on the definition of national interests that has led to repeated increase of resources being spent on the military and its high standard of living. Somehow the national interest always boils down to allocation of more resources to the military and crushing of the forces with the potential to challenge the military’s authority. For around a quarter century we saw the whole state apparatus determining that PPP is unpatriotic working full time to damage it and keep it away from power. When in power, the PPP faced the hostility of the state as it was working to undermine the government along with the over pampered opposition. During this process a strong leader was needed to confront the PPP and Nawaz Sharif was made into a leader. He performed the task of overpowering the PPP efficiently, ably supported by Zardari, but in the process he himself became popular and challenged the interests of the king makers, and got deposed on charges of corruption and bad governance. It is interesting to note that most of the allegations of corruption or horse trading date back to the days he was the blue eyed boy of the establishment. There are even allegations that he invented the corrupt practices in politics under the nose, rather advise of the establishment. This suggests that his removal from power was not due to the said reasons but his potential to challenge the power of the establishment no wonder that the three most popular political leaders, BB, Nawaz, and Altaf Hussain are disgraced and exiled. In the same way the institutions with the potential to challenge the establishment, mainly judiciary was repeatedly forced to bow to different PCOs rendering it powerless. This is human nature as it is natural for every one to consider his job as the most important but It is the use of brutal force to implement ones opinions that is the cause of most of our problems. Interestingly the forces doing these things did it for patriotic reasons, for the interests of the country, which is how they perceived.
Power and force like the nuclear energy is very useful but they must be controlled and directed. We spend a lot to install power plants, but spend more to direct and control it. A very powerful engine in a pretty car is a very desirable thing but without a good steering it can lead to disaster. A nuclear power plant without sufficient controls is a sure short disaster in making. It is the case of the militaries; they can lend security to a country along with predictability and stability, something very useful. But this useful brute force must be controlled and steered very carefully. After the experiences of the millennia the world has come to definite conclusions about the methods to control this force, and that is to keep it under the control of the elected civilian governments. In this set up the military with all its discipline and power takes oath to obey the government and the constitution and then actually obeys it. This is the main reason why the west has been able to achieve such phenomenal progress and powerful militaries. The moment the military stops obeying their masters, the elected representatives and in turn starts teaching them the wisdom they learnt in the discussions held in the messes and enforcing the decisions by brute force, they lose their utility and become counter productive. Like a steeringless car or insinuated electric wire invite disasters. And that is what we are experiencing repeatedly.

Despite repeated allegations of corruption the Indian army also did not implement the mess wisdom. The Chinese army also wasted many opportunities to takeover the government as many other armies. The only thing common about the countries in which the national armies did not take over the governments is that they are all growing economies with a visible good future. On the country the commonness in the countries repeatedly taken over buy the militaries is lots of corruption and strange problems like terrorism, separatism and communalism. Uncertainty, backwardness and a sort of immature national behavior are the natural outcomes of the military governments. History here is the best teacher.

The main reason for these unwanted effects is that in the m8litary government one man or a few of his juniors and dependants who cannot afford or dare to disagree make all the complex decisions. In the process lots of mess wisdom is enforced upon the country. This style negates the collective wisdom of the nation. It is based on the presumption that the hundred million people are not smart enough to decide what is good for them and a few people sitting on the top with the help of the arms and ammunition have all the wisdom and should decide for the people. A few verses of Iqbal are quoted to justify it. This process of decision making, individual vs. collective has repeatedly proven to be wrong, as the collective wisdom is always better than the individual. This is the worst form of conceitedness for the rulers and insult of the people.

We have been trying out this mess wisdom for a long time. In the process we lost East Pakistan and sowed the seeds of separatism, discontention and intolerance in the society. We messed up the economy and became a beggar nation, which needs foreign aids to pay the salaries, but apparently did not learn any lesson. We are still under military government whose main patriotism is keeping the popular leadership out. Political process was discontinued for improving the political process. Foreign acceptance due to back rolling our decades old policy in Afghanistan, has been construed as the genius of the regime. Referendums are being held and constitutional amendments by one person are in the offing. This is not the best possible manner to enter the twenty first century. If our power brokers do not learn from history and continue enforcing their wisdom derived from discussions in the messes the outcome should be clear, further problems, maybe bigger disasters.

It is time that our army realizes that it is not the most patriotic. It is not the wisest. It is not its insult to obey the civilians. The civilians are the masters. Difference of opinion is not something undesirable. Huge armies having all the power in their country does not earn respect in today’s world. And finally, taking over its own civilian elected government is no sign of strength or greatness of a military. The sooner these lessons are learnt the better it would be. Nature has been kind to us by giving us repeated opportunities; we may still avoid the many undesirable effects this present regime may create.

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