The men on horseback

WASHINGTON DIARY: The men on horseback —Dr Manzur Ejaz

We can appreciate the military’s flood relief work but if this disaster is partly man-made, the military has to take responsibility because it has been ruling the country most of the time

The Pakistani military’s help during these devastating floods is appropriate but not outstanding because people have complained about its delayed response. The military’s flood relief work is not exceptional because no other institution in any country has such a large and organised force that it can take care of a disaster of the scale where one-fifth of the population is affected. Even the US had to bring in army engineers during Hurricane Katrina. The only difference is that in democratic countries, the civilian chief executive orders the military to help, but in Pakistan the military’s work is projected as the performance of an opposition party doing a better job than the civilians.

Despite such evaluation of the military’s flood work, I am willing to join the MQM and support Mr Altaf Hussain’s call for the military to take over and get rid of corrupt politicians. However, I have a few binding conditions that the next honest general has to fulfil:

1. The honest general will abolish feudalism, implement rigorous land reforms and end the rule of feudal families in every corner of Pakistan.

2. The military should assure the country that the military top brass will not be allotting itself agricultural or residential lands and joining the landed and urban aristocracy. This means no more lands in Punjab and Sindh and no more defence colonies. In addition, the military industry complex in Pakistan will not be given undue advantage over private industries and entrepreneurs.

3. The military will end corruption in every sector. The rich will pay their taxes and every government worker will perform his/her duties without bribes. Citizens will obey the law, including traffic rules.

4. The military agencies will not undertake foreign policy adventures and push the country into the superpower’s proxy wars. Furthermore, the military agencies will not promote ideological wars and/or produce private militias of any kind.

5. The military will reprioritise budget allocations, spending more money on education, health services and economic development and less on arms and other perks.

These are very simple conditions to fulfil if the ‘honest general’ means business when it comes to reforming Pakistan. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s history does not indicate that the military is willing or capable of doing much of what we desire. As a matter of fact, the military has been the root cause of most of the problems we face today. Every military era led to a worsening of problems, more corruption and anarchy.

The Ayub Khan era is considered to be the best as for as governance is concerned. However, Ayub Khan, instead of abolishing feudalism, allotted free lands to military officials and transformed them into a landed aristocracy as well. He sowed the seeds of disunity in East Pakistan and prepared the ground for the 1971 civil war. It was Ayub Khan who undertook the misadventure of the 1965 war, stalling economic growth for decades to come. Yahya Khan took Ayub Khan’s misdeeds to their logical conclusion, splintering the country and injecting the steroids of religious extremism through purging the media and educational institutions.

After a brief spell of democracy during Bhutto’s government — a mixture of good and bad policies — Ziaul Haq triggered the most destructive era of Pakistan’s history, one that is haunting us even today. For the first time in the history of Pakistan, corruption and bribery became brazen — these ills were rare and random before. Ziaul Haq brought back a primitive type of feudalism freeing the ghosts of caste, sectarianism and hateful mullah shahi (domination of the clergy). He pushed the country into a superpower’s proxy war and started using the military’s secret agencies to undermine the politicians. He also started grooming private militias of so-called jihadis, which ultimately led to Taliban terrorism.

The military kept on calling the shots from 1988 to 1999 when Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif took turns as prime minister. Most of the key policy making institutions were monopolised by the military during this period. The civilian administrations, devoid of any real power, kept themselves busy in money making schemes, thus accelerating the process of corruption. However, the military men and their military-industrial complex did not miss the opportunity for money making either. Besides individual accumulation of wealth by many military men, their commercial entities and defence colonies kept on expanding.

General Pervez Musharraf’s era was marked by lawlessness, corruption and expansion of terrorist jihadi forces. Mindless printing of money and spreading consumerism through easy bank loans was an illusory economic success during his tenure. As a matter of fact, his government is responsible for the shortages of electricity and other essential goods. By handing people more household appliances and motor vehicles, the demand for more electricity and fossil fuels should have been anticipated. But, the general’s economic wizards were only keen for public relation campaigns, oblivious to future disasters.

We can appreciate the military’s flood relief work but if this disaster is partly man-made, the military has to take responsibility because it has been ruling the country most of the time. If the flood devastation has worsened because of a lack of water reservoirs or blockage of natural drains, then who else other than the military is to be blamed?

In short, most of the problems Pakistan is facing have been created during military rule. The continuation of feudalism, corruption, religious extremism and uneven distribution of national wealth has been overseen by the military. Therefore, asking the military to come back and clean the mess reminds one of Mir Taqi Mir’s famous verse:

“Mir sada hain keh bemar hoey jis ke sabab;

Usi attar ke londe se dawa mangte hain.”

(Mir is a simpleton. He is taking medicine from the chemist’s boy who caused the illness in the first place).

We know Altaf Hussain is not that simple. However, he possesses expertise in self-destruction. Every time his party builds some bases in Punjab and the other provinces, he undertakes a project to destroy the expansion of his party, the MQM. Therefore, neither Altaf Hussain is going to change nor the military.

Somehow, the military has maintained its organisational capacity. The military will be well advised to stay away from the governance of the country and perform its duties like the militaries of other democratic countries.

The writer can be reached at

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