Rising Paranoia: The 24 Hour Coup

Spearhead Analysis – 22.07.2016

By Xenia Rasul Khan Mahsud
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research


The concept of ‘democratic consolidation’ is one that asserts that when a democracy is stable and unwavering in its functionality, and possesses all the features of a mature democracy, it stands no chance of collapsing. Any dissent in public opinion regarding the legitimacy of the democracy is channeled through democratic avenues as opposed to authoritarian outlets. In the events that transpired in Turkey on Friday evening, a chunk of the Turkish military revolted against a democratically elected conservative government, seeking to fulfill its responsibility to protect the people from anti-secular elements. According to analysts, the coup d’etat was a dormant volcano bound to erupt- or in this case spill over. Turkey jeopardized its security when it mirrored Pakistan’s position in the Afghan war to its involvement in Syria- arming rebels and exposing itself to militancy, infiltration, and terrorist attacks. As a country already choking on the rubble of its decisions, the government decided to revisit its war on the Kurdish population along the southeast of the country, and began a civil war like environment, which the military stood opposed to. However, in a blatant rejection of the self-proclaimed heroism of the military fraction, the Turkish public rose against the coup d’etat and revolted to defend its democratic principles and representative government- saving the day.

Following the events in Turkey, a sense of paranoia overcame the Pakistani public where talk shows began discussing the possibility of a military coup in Pakistan, considering our propensity to mimic the Turks even in things that aren’t befitting (read Dolphin Force), and analysts started drawing comparisons between the two countries and their political systems and climates. Politicians started wrangling over whether or not the public would distribute sweets, while others sat daydreaming about whether or not Nawaz Sharif would suffer a cardiac arrest if Raheel Sharif gave him a missed call on his phone. The underlying thought being, is Pakistan really at a threat of a military coup? and if so, have we reached a democratic maturity and awareness to avert it?

The Political Climate

Threats to Turkey have been largely based on internal ideological inconsistencies, where Erdogan’s Islamic nationalism refuses to meet Kemal’s secularism. It is vital to understand that military interventions in the past have also taken root for the same purpose where the military has served as a bastion of secular principles. This struggle is further aided by the role assigned to the military in the Turkish Constitution to step in whenever Kemal’s secular principles are threatened by the sitting government. It’s safe to say that Pakistan’s political atmosphere was rife with a similar discourse three decades ago where the liberal and secular politics of Ayub’s and Bhutto’s eras were later replaced by General Zia’s Islamic regime. These Islamist principles were injected in the army, alongside Pakistan’s political narrative, one that still suffers from the rise of extremist Islamist groups and the politicization of religion. However, while Turkey’s coups have been firmly grounded in the need to defend Kemalism; influencing the direction of the country and not establishing outright military control, Pakistan’s coups have aimed at restructuring the nation and have had varying views towards national and foreign policy. Military regimes in Pakistan have come flailing a banner of a nation under attack, where a people subdued by fear are naturally disinclined to come up against their only apparent hope to triumph. This is seen through Pakistan’s provision of constitutional immunity, as well as the legitimization of its military coups, cushioning military regimes and prolonging them, as seen in Musharraf’s case.

Pakistan and Turkey also stand similar in the separatist elements that plague both countries; Pakistan in Balochistan, and Turkey with its Kurdish population. However, where Turkey is at a war of strong political ideologies, Pakistan’s political atmosphere is far more perplexed with ruling parties often oscillating between left and right in attempts to appease the whole; a strategy necessary to avoid too much commotion but unlikely to result in deep loyalty. It is noteworthy, nevertheless, that while Pakistan altered its course of restricting free media and the judiciary post Musharraf, Erdogan is known for his intolerance towards any forces critical of him; His clampdown on the opposition, media outlets, and judicial officers during his tenure stands as testimony of that. The ongoing crackdown on teachers, police officers, soldiers, deans, and anyone allegedly a follower of Gulen, reeks of authoritarianism shrouded in the garb of democracy. Most analysts believe that the coup has proved nothing but beneficial for Erdogan, wherein he has set out on a mission to purge the army as well as other institutions of devoted secularists and Gulen followers – leaving behind a system that stands unopposed to his ideology. In Pakistan, however, Imran Khan’s never ending dharnas, followed by his constant badmouthing of the government in power, stands tolerated. Even opponents PML-N, and the PPP, realizing that the animosity amongst them would only provide a leeway to undemocratic elements, allowed each other to complete their tenures by signing the charter of democracy.

Is it Harvesting Season?

The growing paranoia in the Pakistani public isn’t because there’s a parallel between the current political setup in Turkey and Pakistan, but because our historical baggage has set off an alarm owing to our close affiliation with the former. The recent banners displayed in cities all over Pakistan by the ‘Move On Pakistan’ party begging the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) to extend his tenure and take over initially triggered this fear. The party’s dissatisfaction with the Prime Minister, and his absence from the country was given as a justification as to why there’s no need for a political government in Pakistan. It is no secret that the military is stronger than the civilian government in Pakistan, where their support is often sought in political matters beyond their jurisdiction. The fraction that sees a coup in Pakistan as a possibility sees it through the instability of the present government, and the controversies that surround it (read Panama Leaks). Erdogan’s people threw themselves in front of tanks because of the welfare he provided as Mayor of Istanbul and now Prime Minister. While Erdogan may be controversial when it comes to his ideological leanings, but the economic development as well as his good governance towards the general public made him popular among the people as a nationalist hero. However, the lack of interest of Pakistani politicians towards civic services as seen through interruptions in local body elections, grass root development, and employment opportunities – along with constant controversies of corruption, and poor policy choices, has led people to expect and consider the possibility of military rule.

On the other hand, the silver lining lies in the high voter turn out compared to previous elections – seen as a support for a democratic system, however young and flawed. While this is seen as a positive, the question remains whether the preference of the Pakistani public for the continuation of democracy would also lead them to defend it if need be. Does the Pakistani public have enough faith in the tenants of democracy as a system that would salvage them, as opposed to military rule? One would hope that we’ve been paying attention to the first hand historical lessons given to us. It is noteworthy, however, that the men in khakis have realized their position and duty as one that is better served by staying away from direct interference in politics, and meeting their institutional interests without taking the reigns of power officially and facing the burn of a lack of performance later. This is seen through Raheel Sharif’s refusal to extend his tenure, Pakistan army’s concentration on Zarb-e-Azab and the frontlines, and the COAS’s silence on various political issues as compared to his predecessors. It’s evident that the military enjoys control of policies pertinent to national security, major economic issues like CPEC and its share in it, along with decisions regarding foreign policy and whether or not we should trade with India. Pakistan, in recent times, has witnessed a democratic maturity, shook on by the current leadership and the army, where the grounds for institutional development of centers of power like the judiciary have been laid. Kamran Kiyani’s case for corruption, brother of former Chief of Army Staff, corroborates the strength of a legal system that was previously unable to implicate distant uncles and aunts of army officials. Furthermore, one would hope that the independence of the media and judiciary, as well as Musharraf’s recent seizure of property and as his trial for treason, would prove as a deterrent to a military coup.

It is true that Pakistan’s political system is pregnant with the politics of greed, and a democratic system with no semblance to a democracy, but to give up hope now will only drive us back to a history that we only recently escaped.