BY ARIF NIZAMI
Too good to be true?
The Dawn Leaks saga has officially ended. But those who were viewing the leaks controversy as a window of opportunity — fueled by DG ISPR Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor’s contentious tweet rejecting the prime ministerial announcement on the matter — are quite frustrated with the dramatic outcome.
After naming and shaming two senior members of the Sharif team and a senior bureaucrat the matter has ended on a good note, albeit without releasing the full report. The military leadership, after rescinding the tweet, has finally reiterated its support for the constitution and democracy. This is how it should have been from the word go. But ground realities mitigated otherwise.
Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani took a principled position the other day in the House. He pointedly asked Senator Farahatullah Babar, also belonging to the PPP, how far was it right for a subordinate organisation to reject the order of the prime minister? Babar, agreeing, termed the tweet as most inappropriate and unfortunate and something that should not have taken place in the first instance.
Both Rabbani and Babar are known to be passionate about supremacy of the constitution and the sacrosanct principle of democracy: civilian control over the armed forces. But, ironically, the rest of the PPP leadership failed to condemn the tweet when it was made a fortnight ago. In fact some of the senior members of the party were quite upset when it was unexpectedly withdrawn.
The rest of the opposition, in its enthusiasm to get rid of the prime minister, also failed to dissociate itself from the tweet. Imran Khan being the fulcrum of the ‘go Nawaz go tehreek (movement)’ went a step further than the rest by actually welcoming it.
The end of the Dawn saga is a matter of great frustration for those who considered it part of their two pronged pincer movement: Dawn Leaks and Panama Leaks. Now they will entirely have to rely upon the outcome of the JIT (joint investigation team) on Panama leaks apart from keeping pressure through sheer street power.
Regrettably, they have been officially robbed of their most important plank: a little help from the ubiquitous establishment. Unlike his predecessor General Raheel Sharif, the incumbent COAS does not seem to be an overly ambitious soldier lending a helping hand to the opposition.
The khaki Sharif loved himself. Thanks to his image-makers a bigger than life-size persona of the general was created in the media. Somehow Gen Raheel, now heading the controversial Islamic military force in Riyadh, was convinced by his advisors that a three-year extension was necessary for him to complete his mission.
It was no coincidence when a mountain was created out of a mole hill of Dawn Leaks last October, the previous COAS was reaching the end of his mandated term. With a little help from some hacks on the electronic media a deliberate impression was created that a big security breach had taken place.
I read the Dawn scoop several times to find out how a treasonous national security breach had taken place. Frankly, I could not find any.
So far as creating ripples across the border in India and the rest of the world the story was hardly mentioned in the international media. In fact it was read and re-read by our so-called detractors only once it had been made controversial.
Even after the exit of Raheel Sharif his successor had to grapple with the news leaks fallout. The army, as it should be, is justifiably sensitive about any breach of national security. The new chief had to answer awkward questions regarding the matter raised by some corps commanders and officers, partly thanks to the ethos created by his predecessor.
Hence the tweet by the DG ISPR expressing utter frustration at the prime minister’s announcement and going a step further by rejecting it. The choice of words of the relatively new to the job DG was questionable to say the least. Nonetheless, he could not have tweeted on such a sensitive natter without clearance from his bosses.
Another very sad aspect of the fallout of the whole saga is unnecessarily negative reaction being expressed in part of the media, especially the social media. Those very people who before the retraction of the tweet were declaring the military as their saviour are expressing anger at the same institution.
Some of them in their tweets and WhatsApp messages have gone too far, accusing the military of abject surrender. Ostensibly committed democrats in their hatred for Sharif have likened military’s strategic withdrawal of the tweet to the 1971 East Pakistan debacle.
It is indeed unfortunate that Sharif evokes such hatred amongst his opponents that in order to see his back they would be perfectly happy if the military steps in.
Partly the prime minister’s impervious style with scant regard for democratic norms is to be blamed. He has failed to take his own party, leave alone the opposition, on board on important national and international issues. Resultantly those who, despite being in the opposition, helped him at crucial times to save democracy were all left in the lurch to face taunts of critics for being a friendly opposition and guilty of ‘muk mukaa’ (underhand deals).
Perhaps now, in the election year, it is already too late for Sharif to salvage the situation. Nonetheless he should still make an attempt to bring the opposition on board to eek out a modicum of agreement on basic principals of democracy.
In any case at some stage during the year some consultations will have to be initiated with the parliamentary opposition to reach an agreement on a workable and neutral caretaker government for the forthcoming elections.
The prime minister, however, should be given credit for remaining firm on the principle of civilian supremacy. Last year, despite intense pressure through the media, stage-managed pro-Raheel Sharif demonstrations, and some weak kneed amongst his core team, he refused an extension to Raheel Sharif. Similarly, to the utter frustration of his detractors, he stood his ground on withdrawal of the controversial tweet.
One of the reasons behind improvement in civ-mil relations post the Dawn saga is possibly the fast deteriorating regional situation. Barring China Pakistan is at loggerheads with all its neighbours.
Skirmishes between the Pak army and the Afghan army were unheard of. But they are happening now. The Iranian army chief, soon after the unscheduled dash of its foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to Islamabad, has threatened that Iranian troop s will enter Pakistan in hot pursuit of the terrorists attacking its military by crossing into Iran through Balochistan.
Relations with India remain at an all time low with any kind of structured talks virtually non-existent. The only constant is the foreign office summoning envoys of our estranged neighbours to lodge protest on one issue or the other and vice versa.
The regional situation calls for seamless civ-mil relations. Perhaps this is one of the primary reasons that the civil and military leadership have decided to close ranks.