The age of bullies

A polity that relies on force or threat of use of force to keep itself in order as opposed to laws and reason can’t be called civilized. Our normative approach to force versus constitutionalism speaks for itself. This is disconcerting because a society that deems threat of use of force as an acceptable and desirable means of regulating collective behavior isn’t organized on a sustainable basis. If ‘legitimacy’ flows from use of state’s coercive powers that are not backed by law, such legitimacy is a contradiction in terms.

What if a nation doesn’t form and share a value judgment about the red light? If the lifeline of a polity, hypothetically speaking, rested on obeying traffic signals, and yet stopping at the red light didn’t emerge as a norm that everyone followed habitually (for being the right thing to do) and instead the populace believed that signals are to be obeyed if convenient, would such polity persevere? Our shared view of rule of law is that it’s good to have if it doesn’t interfere with our national interest.

In our culture the one being bullied is more despicable than the bully for he is a weakling. And anyone who was once patronized by the bully but has fallen out of favor due to conflicting interests or because he believes he has grown enough to be able to stand up to the bully is to be condemned for biting the hand that feeds. It’s a strange culture where different value judgments apply to the past and the present. Having the blessings of the bully in the past is a terrible crime. But being the blue eyed of the bully in the present is a great blessing.

The fatal flaw in Nawaz Sharif’s discourse is obvious. Driven by self-preservation, he continued to appease when bullied. He volunteered sacrificial lambs: Pervaiz Rasheed, Mushahidullah Khan, Tariq Fatemi etc. He sought to try Musharraf for treason. But in face of pushback, he allowed Musharraf’s to escape. He did all this to survive. He was willing to make deals so long as he wasn’t preyed upon. But he couldn’t be trusted, as he had bared his teeth. Despite his first instinct to save himself, the second i.e. to fight whenever he was strong enough, was apparent.

Now that he has been ousted and it is obvious that he and his family are persona non grata, he is livid. He is angry with himself and with everyone else. As a third time PM, he eschewed principle and was still tossed out. Wouldn’t it have been better had he done the right thing when he was in office? Wouldn’t he rather be ousted for prosecuting Musharraf or revisiting our foreign policy or fighting to fix the civil-military imbalance than Panama? It’s a shame that given the chance NS didn’t practice what he claimed to have learnt in exile post-1999.

But aren’t the rest of us equally hypocritical. We want NS to apologize for being Zia’s adopted son, for running dirty campaigns against BB and not implementing the Charter of Democracy, while we pretend that the age of praetorianism is long over in full view of everyone else continuing to play the same old game with the same old rules. Its one thing to hold that NS ought to be punished as a public office holder if found to own asset beyond his means. It is another to believe that the universe is holding NS to account due to his London flats.

Lets assume that NS is punished for graft and put behind bars. Will that deliver us to an era of civil-military bonhomie? If Election 2018 returns a PTI-led regime, will we then see civilian control of the military as mandated by our Constitution? NS’s inability to furnish a credible explanation of London flats notwithstanding, we have had a former PM state publicly that an attempt was made to remove his government unconstitutionally and that he was also advised to quit by a serving officer. Shouldn’t that offend our rule of law sensibilities?

And such disclosure only confirmed what we already knew from the grapevine. Our history is one of almost one coup every second decade with a decade of unstable civilian rule in between. The Asghar Khan case confirmed how IJI was assembled by our intelligence outfits and money distributed amongst blue-eyed politicos of the time. With the event now being viewed as a financial crime and not a design to subvert the Constitution or usurp our right to govern ourselves, it is most likely that a case that created a big bang in 2012 will end in a whimper.

We have read disclosures of Maj. Gen. Ehtesham Zamir re electoral engineering back in 2002. We heard PTI erstwhile insiders like Javaid Hashmi reveal that 2014 Dharna was a sponsored event aimed at removing NS’s government. We saw PML-N government in Balochistan crumble overnight and a Sanjrani emerge out of nowhere to become Chairman Senate. We have seen MQM being divided up into factions. We are witnessing a flock of birds, having suddenly grown a conscience, migrating from one abode to another in the run up to Election 2018.

Do we need further signs of engineers at work? Even with an ex PM disclosing what we suspected, we don’t want to ask the engineers any questions. We only wish to chide NS for being a weakling trying to stave off the engineers when in power as opposed to fighting and exposing them. NS is in the disclosure mode today for he feels he has nothing else to lose. Won’t we similarly chide IK tomorrow for biting the hand that feeds if he becomes PM and conceives ideas about independently exercising the power that comes with such office?

What if Sanjrani grows up in his role to preach supremacy of Parliament? The thing about high schools where bullying is legit is that everyone either wants to be a bully or be best friends with a bully. To rise up in the echelons of power and popularity you’ve got to make peace with bullies and seek their patronage. And once you are up there you either remain a stooge or become a backstabbing hypocrite who bites the hand that feeds. It’s a vicious cycle. You have a choice: the rock or the hard place? The players keep changing, but the game goes on.

This week Hamid Raza of Sialkot led a mob to attack an Ahmedi place of worship and demolished part of it. He thanked state officials for their nonfeasance and warned the state against prosecuting anyone for such hooliganism or breach of peace etc. Never mind that Article 20 of our Constitution states that, “subject to law, public order and morality, (a) every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice and propagate his religion, and (b) every religious denomination…shall have the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions.”

This week National Assembly also approved a Constitutional Amendment aimed at merging Fata into KPK and ending classification of Fata residents as second-class citizens devoid of fundamental rights or the machinery to enforce them. That it took this long to end the apartheid and pave way for formally conferring equal rights on Fata citizens is noteworthy, even as this development calls for wholehearted celebration. But this has all happened in the backdrop of a popular grassroots movement for rights launched by PTM that our state finds loathsome.

What are the lessons from this week? As a polity we have no normative view on constitutionalism. If you are a vulnerable minority group such as the Ahmedis you will be persecuted by the society and state will look the other way. If you wish to secure your rights, you’ll need to fight for them as the PTM is doing. You might be denounced as traitors, but your community will get some relief in the bargain. And if you’re mainstream and wish to reach upper echelons, be on the right side of bullies. We have a normative view on them: one laced with awe and respect.

Latest posts by Babar Sattar (see all)

Facebook comments