Ayesha Siddiqa says that after the end of one hybrid government, another hybrid government has been established. Imran Khan was only in power to take responsibility, the decisions were really being made elsewhere. A hybrid system is where decisions are made elsewhere and responsibility is taken by someone.
Ayesha Siddiqa needs no introduction as a defense analyst, political commentator and writer. Her book ‘Military Inc’ is the only study of its kind on the political economy of the Pakistan Army, which has been published in two editions. She is associated with the South Asia Institute of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) as a Research Associate. On the current situation in Pakistan, ‘Judujhad’ has conducted a short interview with Ayesha Siddiqa, which is presented below:
The neutrality of the army is being announced again and again, some journalists are also saying that the army is not interfering. In a state, which you have also written ‘praetorian state’, is it possible for the army to be neutral?
Ayesha Siddiqa: I think people who make such comments have a very narrow minded view, they don’t read and research. How could a Praetorian army, unchallenged, be neutral? You see wherever the army has retreated, it has been pushed or pushed back. We have a problem, as Dr Wasim wrote in his book, that the political class is one pole and the other pole is the army. The political class has built up a little bit of power, a little bit of challenge and a little bit of pushback. This analysis is also challenged by Asim Sajjad in his book, he says that the army is very powerful.
In my view, the military is a family, it has serving and retired military people, it also has civilians. Civilians are those who rely heavily on military power for their empowerment. Politicians also frequently go to the military, nudging it a little but not challenging it vigorously. When there are such situations, how can we understand that the army has become neutral. Or it could be that the Army’s meddling in politics has become so much that the Army thinks that we will no longer meddle in politics and sit back and watch the spectacle.
Everyone can make their own sense out of neutral. The neutral in today’s time is that in 2018, they tried to bring the third option in the form of Imran Khan with a lot of leaps. Now neutrality means that they will not support the third power in the same way as before. If it is asked that they will not infiltrate, the pre-poll will not be rigged.
Was the only reason for the current crisis was the fight over the nomination of the next army chief, or are there other reasons? In other words, is it just internal fighting of the army, or the worsening economic situation, the overall role of the state, lack of civilian supremacy and other factors also played a role in increasing the crisis?
Ayesha Siddiqa: The biggest thing is that many factors come together, including political, social and economic. The biggest difference between the army chief and Imran Khan is that Imran Khan, like the old prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his predecessors, thought that if he took the army into his hands, the political system would be his. Will come under control. That is why the dispute starts when the army chief is appointed, rather, the dispute starts from here.
Many people say they couldn’t deliver, or the performance wasn’t right. I have a question for these people, whether the economy was run by Imran Khan? They were run by General Bajwa and Faiz Hameed. Be it big contracts or important decisions, the army itself was making them. A hybrid system was that decisions were being made elsewhere and responsibility was being shouldered. A distraction was created there and he blamed all this on Imran Khan.
The best thing about the army in Imran Khan was that they did not infiltrate, they only did what they were taught. Imran Khan has a problem like everyone else, call it stubbornness, stupidity or lack of street smarts. However, this is not their problem alone. Whenever the politicians spend 3 to 4 years here, they think that they are the real power, so they try to push back the army, try to arbitrarily. So there is a dispute in it. The same has happened in the case of Imran Khan.
Given the state the country’s economy has reached, the global debt crisis in the wake of 75 years of economic underdevelopment, which has been deepened by the floods. Do you think the military should restructure its political economy in the same way? Will it be able to continue, or will some readjustment be necessary?
Ayesha Siddiqa: Recently, Pakistan has traded VT4 Chinese tanks, and is also taking ships. Now someone should ask why you are taking tanks, because now there is no war with tanks. However, what is interesting is that they are managing their economy in the same way.
People say that the army chief will leave his legacy. What is that legacy? The biggest legacy is to convince the army and the people that the only institution left in the country is the army. For this, it is obvious that wherever the conditions are bad, there are floods or people need any kind of help, there will be an opportunity.
When the situation in Pakistan deteriorates, the legs of the civilian institutions also start shaking, they also look towards the army. In this way the people get the message. In the same way, it has lost its people, which in 2007, their families, pensioners and their descendants were 9 million people, now more than 11 million. We want to make it clear that there is no better organization than us. We alone know how to save the country, we will save this country, the security of the country lies in our security. General Bajwa has also explained this and this is his legacy. I don’t think there will be any decline in their economy.
Najam Sethi is saying that martial law may be imposed, then he said that October is important, then he declared November as important. Do you think there could be any major developments until the appointment of the Army Chief, ie any threat of martial law or any possibility of abolishing the so-called civilian line of government?
Ayesha Siddiqa: I think Pakistan’s establishment consists of 500 to 1000 people, many people are included in it, the media is also included. Some things are being said to the media, this is being said to Najam Sethi to push back and scare Imran Khan. These are old tactics, being used again. Journalists are told that look, it can happen, but I don’t think so.
It must have been heard that General Bajwa was making some preparations in November last year. However, he is not the kind of general that the army would follow to impose martial law. Every general can become the army chief, but the army cannot impose martial law by following every army chief. Some have the ability, some don’t. I think General Bajwa will go, but the real thing for him is who will be the man who will carry his legacy, his ideas, his foreign policy, geopolitics, economic, social understanding forward. That’s the only problem. It is obvious that PML-N is the government, they have always tried to select the general with whom they have some connections. So see whose name the draw comes out.
After Musharraf’s departure, it was widely believed that the military no longer had the capacity to impose martial law, and that the economic and political conditions were not such that they would retake direct power. It was also being said that due to not being able to impose martial law directly, the plan to run the government through a hybrid method was adopted. How do you see this idea?
Ayesha Siddiqa: I don’t think it’s a matter of ability. I think they have become more institutionalized now. Generals Raheel Sharif and Bajwa are average generals, who also created a lot of challenges, but now most of their decisions are institutional, in which everyone is united. The change that came after Musharraf was that he moved away from the control of the state to the control of governance, from which this hybrid element emerged. Now in governance you are controlling all the resources. You come to power because you have control over resources. These decisions are to increase your power, not to save the nation, they always come to save power. When the power is saving, the blame is also coming down, I think it is a better way, rather than you infiltrating and taking over the state yourself. Responsibilities increase in it. Not that they can’t, I think it’s a much better deal and beneficial.
Imran Khan’s government was said to be a hybrid regime. Isn’t Shahbaz Sharif government also a hybrid regime, they are doing everything that the establishment wants?
Ayesha Siddiqa: I have no confusion that these are not hybrids. I am saying that this is how it will go. The same governments will come, which will allow the army to remain in power. As the previous one is current and so the next one will be hybrid. Until the system of political parties is changed, democracy will not come in them, politics will not be distinguished, until they will not understand how to increase their power, this cycle will continue.
It is easy to talk that respect the vote, but when the parties do not respect the voter, when it does not become their strength, then the hybrid system will continue to function.
When they were in the opposition, including the Muslim League-N, PPP and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, others used to talk a little about the intervention of the army, but now they are silent. Similarly, Imran Khan was also silent in power and now he is creating an anti-army narrative. Isn’t this opportunism also responsible for the current situation?
Ayesha Siddiqa: I think that the biggest problem is not in our parties but in the whole society. There is a lack of institutions, institutions are not formed here but individuals are there, they have their likes and dislikes. No institution is democratic. Look at NGOs, left and right parties, politics and institutions. No one will get the feeling that it is an institution which one touches. People are placed on the top. Institutions do not flourish. Maybe we have a birth defect. There are no think tanks within the parties, no democracy. Someone wants to install a chief, someone wants to install a DG, but did any party give power to the parliament, or did they try to become powerful? Or was there an attempt to bring such a system in the parliament, which could push back the army? There are so many flaws in our structure, until it is fixed, it will continue to be the same.
It can be understood that the army wants that the political leadership does not have a mutual consensus, but is it not the incompetence and failure of the political leadership that they can never create a consensus among an elite. How do you see the role of not being able to establish a consensus among Pakistani elites in the failure of Malikman, which is a weak form of democracy?
Ayesha Siddiqa: There is an answer hidden in your question. That is, obviously the army is at fault, they exploit, they want power, but there were no political governments, parties or organizations. You don’t have a conversation, a conversation where you can talk to people, get them involved, they’re not having parties. The courage to take people to the parties could not be developed.
I often tell people that many of those who have gone with Imran Khan may love him, but there are many who are frustrated. There is a hopeless situation with the political system, people want a hope, a way forward, but the parties are not showing it.
Here in Britain every party has its conventions, most recently the ruling party convention, in which the prime minister was heavily criticized. Parties debate, decide who can become prime minister and who can’t. We don’t have anything like that. They make one of them sit as a groom, there is no cadre. The PPP once had a cadre, which the party itself has damaged a lot over the years.
The PML-N does not have a cadre, it is more of a ‘patronage-based’ party than a family, consisting of people with power in different areas. PTI’s own problems are there. Thus, these parties and leaderships do not work on cadres. Imran Khan is constantly saying that there is corruption, he was wrongly removed, America’s interference etc. Why don’t they say anything new? Bilawal is also in the same situation. Except for the sacrifices of the family, nothing is happening.
I was reading an article, according to which the pension burden in Pakistan has increased to such an extent that 56% of the central government’s budget will be spent on pension alone in the coming years. Such issues are not being discussed in the parties. There is no discussion on economic policies, there is no discussion on foreign policy. Indo-Pacific is a very important strategy, it is a new dimension of geopolitics, but there is no conversation. In such circumstances then what is happening can be the same.
Is it even possible to establish Western-style capitalist democracy, rule of law and the supremacy of parliament in Pakistan, which is suffering from historical delay and crisis? If yes, what immediate steps can be taken?
Ayesha Siddiqa: This is a khichdi, but it is not quick-cooking, it is a non-quick-cooking khichdi. Three things are going together – economic corruption, political corruption and intellectual corruption have increased to the limit. There are no more dreamers and talkers. There are two extremes, either religion is pushed, every problem is seen through the eyes of religion, or it is beyond religion. Everything is stuck in one place. Capitalism is closely related to nationalism. Nationalism is a part of capitalism, which completely defies reason. The talk of humanity, principles and dreams goes far back. When there are no dreamers left, then what will we do next?
(Haris Qadir belongs to Rawalakot area of Pakistan-administered Kashmir. He has been associated with journalism for a long time and keeps a close eye on the situation and events related to the Kashmir issue)
There is no discussion on economic policies, there is no discussion on foreign policy. This is a khichdi, but it is not quick-cooking, it is a non-quick-cooking khichdi.
Three things are going together – economic corruption, political corruption and intellectual corruption. All have increased to the limit. There are two extremes, either religion is pushed, every problem is seen through the eyes of religion, or it is beyond religion. Everything is stuck in one