Once upon a time, a group of mice, finally weary of living under the constant tyranny of their nemesis, the Cat, decided the time had come to take real action against their feline enemy. A grand council was convened, and there, behind closed doors, the little mice gathered and deliberated on the best course of action. Someone suggested this, another suggested that, but even after long discussions they could not agree on a definitive strategy. Finally, a mouse had a eureka moment and yelled, “I got it! “. Stepping onto the podium, he reminded his fellow rodents that what made the cat so dangerous was the stealth with which it operated. His slippery steps ensured he couldn’t be overheard, his nocturnal nature allowed him to work under cover of shade, while his ability to leap up unexpectedly ensured he could always catch them by surprise.
What they needed to do, he supposed, was somehow remove those sneaky talents, and to that end the mouse made a simple suggestion – why not just tie a bell around his neck ? “Well done, well done,” said all the mice in the audience, delighted to finally find a solution – with the exception of an old geyser, who raised a very relevant question: “But, who will ring the cat?” Hearing this, the mice started looking at each other. Nervously, they shuffled their feet, and nervously, they shook their noses. When no one answered, it became clear that no one had the courage to undertake this Herculean task. The meeting ended, the mice rushed to the safety of their burrows, and as for the cat, well, he continued to do pretty much what he wanted.
Much like the mice in this interpretation of a timeless fable, Pakistani politicians have also been locked in a game of hide and seek with their own lifelong enemy – the annoying “establishment”, that invisible part of the top brass of the army that has apparently used the formalized political hegemony of its institution to lead Pakistan from shipwreck to shipwreck. In addition to three decades of direct rule, he is accused of “pulling strings behind the scenes to oust elected governments, supporting pressure groups, creating divisions within parties to split their vote bank, funding parties of opposition to destabilize elected parties, etc. in order to maintain its grip on political power…its presence is felt in all spheres – including the media, justice and business”. It can also be seen. In a recent speech in Balochistan, Mr. Sharif Jr, our outgoing Prime Minister, said he would like, like any other NGO, to “raise the issue” of missing persons before “power quarters”. His predecessor in interest, Mr Khan, has now confessed he lacked the authority due to his post, that his ‘hands were tied’ during his short tenure and that ‘everyone knows where lies the real power in Pakistan”. ”.
Before his party reverted to the politics of mediation, Mr. Sharif Sr also openly asserted that his government had been sacked after a combo-punch delivered by the judicial-military nexus, and Mr. Gilani, while s speaking on the Senate floor on whether an ill Musharraf should be allowed to return, dropped all traces of pretense and said that since no one was ‘able to stop him from leaving’, no one cannot “prevent him from coming back”. Such “decisions,” he candidly admitted, “will be made elsewhere.” When one prime minister after another begins brazenly announcing his political impotence, how are the citizens of this country supposed to have even a modicum of belief that they live in a functioning democracy? Are our elected officials really that powerless? Are they perhaps so deeply compromised? Or are they just faces of Janus – democrats by day, co-conspirators by night? You see, for all their grand gestures of “resistance” and superficial pleas for “civilian supremacy,” it’s hard to feel sorry for our political class.
Whenever they get a chance to bargain goodie bags, they rarely fail to line up. What else could explain the flattering sincerity with which all our major political parties – PTI, PML-N, PPP – rushed to secure an extension for the current army chief? The bill took 20 minutes to pass through the National Assembly, let alone the Senate. Who will ring the cat indeed, if everyone tries to woo him? If undemocratic interference is to end, Parliament must become something more than a chamber of convenience and return to its basic functions. Army laws need to be revised. Intelligence agencies must be integrated, their mandate, function and territorial jurisdiction defined with effective oversight. And the legitimacy of the military’s sprawling economic empire must be tested against constitutional touchstones. The importance of such an exercise should not be overstated (laws without enforcement by political will are totally useless), but let’s not underestimate it either. Laws provide us with the starting point of accountability and without them we don’t even know where to start. This is precisely why, even today, we find ourselves debating the merits and demerits of “neutrality”. There can be only one requirement: obedience to the Constitution.
The sooner all of this is done, the better, because the civil-military imbalance is not, as is often believed, our most pressing problem – it remains anarchy and total elite capture, situated in a development model that places the pursuit of the individual above collective interest. Pakistan is fast approaching a dangerous convergence of destabilizing factors: a youth bulge with very few prospects, a latent identity crisis, accelerating religious fanaticism and climate change.
Kinship networks, long known to cushion the unpredictable effects of modernity, are rapidly dissolving. Trust in the system is being shaken, helped by a post-truth world where misinformation runs rampant and opinions are formed on WhatsApp. What will eventually be born in this vacuum is an ideological monstrosity that no force in this country can control. If we are to find the sure footing needed to meet the challenges ahead, everyone must first be brought to their knees before the sword of the law.
A version of this story appears in the print edition of the August 27, 2022 issue.