The lukewarm charter

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur

Balanced civil-military relations are essential for the success of not only a state, but also of any society or civilization. Whenever and wherever the military has gained predominance and influence disproportionate to its real value and usefulness; there the inexorable and inevitable rot has set in, leading to eventual degeneration, downfall and disintegration of that entity. This is exactly what we see unfolding here. The predominance of the military here has been the core problem but it has never ever even been examined, let alone challenged.

The military here has not only acquired enormous economic, political and social supremacy but has also institutionalized it, and therein lies the problem. It no longer considers the power, pelf and privileges it enjoys as a favour from the nation, but considers it an inheritance which is non-negotiable. It has gradually increased its influence and involvement in affairs of state and become the sole repository of political, social and economic power.

However, the myth that the military was the bulwark and saviour of the nation evaporated due its constant incompetent involvement in affairs that were essentially civil in nature and needed to be addressed by civil society. The hapless people, dismissively ruled by four military rulers, have now become completely disillusioned with the military and its rule, not because the civilian interregnums have been any better but because the shenanigans and the disregard for the people by these regimes in general and this one in particular have created a sense of despondency. The people live in fear of destitution, repression and lawlessness.

Undeniably it was the obligation of the political parties to resist this and rally the people but they were opportunistically busy jockeying for positions within the military-led establishment, conniving and conspiring with the military and bureaucracy to deprive people of their rights. This has pushed the country towards a chronic political, economic, and social disarray and turmoil.

This ever increasing resentment and despondency has eventually forced even the ever dithering politicians to question the role of the military, albeit belatedly and mildly. The two twice-ousted erstwhile Prime Ministers of this country have now presented the ‘Charter of Democracy‘, ostensibly to regain the lost rights of the people.

All documents reflect the ideology of their architects and their outlook and approach to problems. The shenanigans, misrule and high-handedness of these two, which are countless and breathtaking in scope and scale, cannot be disregarded while considering the Charter. Their track record doesn’t inspire hope. They are indecisive, more concerned with saving their skin rather than in spearheading a movement leading to the return of power to civil society. They seek continuation of the status quo with minor adjustments and cosmetic changes and fear the changes that people’s power may wring.

The Charter lacks in both spirit and substance but still has given rise to questions which certainly need to be examined. The questions are: how honest are they in their intent of doing away with the military patronage they had enjoyed for their share in the plunder of the country and are they in a position to challenge it? The second and more important question is: Will the military agree to relinquish the power, pelf and privileges that it has assiduously acquired for itself?

The Charter is nothing more than a lukewarm challenge; it is very limited in its thrust and tepidly challenges the role of the military here. They have deftly and eloquently endeavoured to avoid antagonizing the military by refraining from questioning the legitimacy of its present or past rule and at the same time have quite ingeniously tried to champion the cause of the people by representing their sentiments of resentment against misrule and oppression.

The Charter should have suggested ways and means to unravel the stranglehold of the military over the country by critically examining the reasons for it. It fails to do so and therefore will neither provide a new political direction nor prove to be a defining moment in the political history of this country. The Charter doesn’t seek any reduction in the pervasive influence of the military but only hopes to meekly regulate it with its consent. The authors neither have the interest nor the moral courage to openly challenge and confront the military rule. Eloquent verbal assaults cannot breach the fortifications of the powers that hold sway.

Even if it were presumed they genuinely desire a change, these parties are unlikely to mount a credible challenge to the entrenched order with their no-confidence motions because the military-mullah nexus along with the support of an ethnic outfit seem entrenched enough to thwart any languid and indolent movement to oust them.

The demand for Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in the Charter is just eyewash. Such Commissions cannot be limited in scope or depth. They cannot be selectively limited to certain events and periods with the purpose of getting back one’s own against certain individuals. Truth Commissions have to be exactly what the name implies and have to run the entire gamut.

Elections and Election Commissions along with appointments in the Judiciary and the Armed Forces do not by themselves change systems or bring about a change in the way the people are ruled. These demands in the Charter may seem important but have no part to play in the way this country is run and have more to do with election strategies rather than with the fate of the country.

More significantly, the Charter has glossed over the crucial question of provincial autonomy and other specific anti-people policies confronting different provinces. They have avoided ruffling any feathers in fear that a radical stance may jeopardize their chances of coming into power ever again. These problems, i.e. those between the Centre and the provinces and the measures that the Centre takes to solve them need to be tackled urgently and astutely if the civil is to replace the military. These problems have exacerbated over time due to the obduracy of both civilian and military rulers and have now become too explosive. These problems, as they stand, guarantee an eternally predominant role for the military.

Inability to understand problems leads to incoherent and illogical solutions, hence the constant stream of ad hoc and random measures. Unless we understand and accept that it is not only because of errant and ambitious army chiefs that the military is involved, but it is because of the countless problems which came to the country’s share as part of the package at its formation, we can never hope to come up with solutions. The ingredients and their inherent flaws that went into the making of this country presuppose the ascendancy of the military here; this is a ‘manufacturing defect’ as it known in the assembly line jargon and has to be dealt with accordingly.

Therefore there is an urgent and pressing need to do away with the excuses that have always been exploited for continued and unchallenged dominance of the military in every aspect of life here. Tough decisions will have to be taken regarding provincial autonomy and disputes with neighbours. These problems can only be solved by the civil with support of the people. Clearly the Charter has chosen to ignore them, making it an unviable proposition.

The people do have the ability to wreak historic changes but then people are led by leaders. The politicians here have always capitulated and compromised on the rights of the people without compunction. Dreams certainly are not made of this kind of stuff.

Mirza Ghalib’s couplet from his Persian Divan says it all:

Farzand zair tegh e pidar mi nihad gullo

Gar khud pidar dar aatish e Nimrood mi rawad

It means the son willingly places his neck under the sword if the father himself has gone willingly into the inferno of Nimrood; he refers to the Abrahamic tradition. Until and unless there appear leaders of integrity and credibility, there will be no one willing to place his neck under the sword.

Sacrifices need inspiration and inspiration comes from selfless leaders of unquestionable integrity like Nelson Mandela and Ho Chi Minh. The leaderless people of this country will have to set a precedent and on their own break the shackles that have kept them bound to a life of uncertainty and indigence.

Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur has an association with the Baloch rights movement going back to the early 1970s. He can be contacted at

This article was first published on 12 July 2006 in The Post

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