As the world is busy figuring out Donald Trump’s ascendancy and a simmering refugee crisis in Europe, the military in Pakistan is veering away from the US camp and tying itself to the coattails of Chinese communist party and Saudi dish-dashes.
In the meantime, the military is firing victory shots to celebrate their complete domination over a feeble civilian society particularly politicians and media. However, unlike many triumphs in the past when a martial law is announced by chief of army staff and its cronies, this was not an overnight coup. Instead, it was a 68-year long process starting in the aftermath of country’s founding father Jinnah’s death in 1949.
During the 70-year history the military ruled for more than 30 years directly while there were intervals of so-called democracy during which the civilians ruled with generals’ staring down at them breathing on their necks, country’s foreign, defence, finance and now the internal policies were directly controlled by army and its intelligence goons.
With departure of General Musharraf in 2008, the following two chiefs of army staffs General Ashfaq Kiyani and General Raheel Sharif made it clear to civilian government heads laying down new rules of the game in which civilians will be just figure-heads of political institutions like elected assemblies, courts, police, bureaucracy and media.
Lately there are clear signs that the military penetration in the polities like teachers, doctors and lawyers is also complete and now there is hardly a walk of life where there is an independent thinking and autonomous governance. The new rules for this Orwellian arrangement are wherever there is something gone awry or wrong, civilians (mostly politicians and bureaucracy) will take the blame and if there is a cause for collecting the laurels, the military and its intelligence agencies would take the credit.
Though there are assemblies of elected representatives in senate, national assemblies and six provincial assemblies including Kashmir and northern areas, they have little say in the affairs of governance because the distribution of resources is not under their control. The money is indirectly controlled by the military which gobbles up more than 34 percent of country’s budget directly and has control over the distribution of rest of the money.
The Pakistani military generals and their intelligence agencies may not be seemingly close to North Korean supremo King Jong-Un, they are certainly big fans of Un’s mentor Xi Jinping. Not to mention their decades-long relationship with Saudi monarchs who take care of them when they retire. The Saudi kings have doled out millions of dollars to general Musharraf on his retirement and now they have given a plum job of heading coalition forces in Saudi Arabia to recently retired General Raheel Sharif.
The most recent and perhaps the most glaring example of military’s domination of civil society is Pakistani media which was created by the intelligence agencies and is being run by the intelligence agencies to promote their agendas and to sway public opinion in favour or against a particular matter pertaining to national interest.
In Pakistan the words national interest are synonymous to ‘military’s opinion or decision.’ Till 2002, the country had only one TV channel which was public funded and every ruler used to use to it for propaganda purposes. But everyone expected it from the state-run media and not many gave it credence. However, as the military lost its fourth consecutive war with India in the hills of Kashmir in 1999, the generals’, instead of backing down, claimed that India had almost lost in Kargil war but they won on the airwaves meaning Pakistan lost the propaganda war.
A comprehensive plan was chalked out by the generals to prop up so-called private, independent TV channels to counter Indian media. Overnight, the intelligence agencies arranged slush money from shady businessmen who were willing to lend their faces and names to the projects in return for hefty advertisement revenue which was again controlled by the intelligence agencies. The revenue is doled out to the media frontmen under the garb of rating system which is obscure and opaque term for who is falling in line and who is not. There was hardly any transparency in the movement of money and material on this media project that envisaged more than fifty news channel in first two years alone. An oversight regulator Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority was established that had draconian powers to rein in these channels.
The project started out as anti-India, pro-Pakistan and neutral to the US entity but soon it started to push anti-liberal, deeply conservative and sometimes even pro-Jihadi thoughts. The change, at first, was resisted by the feeble civil society but the insignificant and dis-organised resistance was soon swept aside by the agency-controlled media.
Now, the decimation is complete. As the army pulls itself away from the US orbit in the aftermath of drying up of money flow from the Pentagon who has already given more than 25 billion dollars to Pak army for their services in war on terror, the US has also joined the list of enemies on the media waves. Now like north Korea, everything associated with US including the liberal thought, is blacked out and everything associated with China and Saudi Arabia is ‘pure and great’.
Even the next door neighbors Afghanistan and Iran are adversaries not because of Pakistan’s own interest in the region but due to competing Saudi-Iran interests in the region coupled by hard petro cash doled out by Saudis to Pakistani generals.
No tears are shed, no wailing is heard. As Pakistan’s once resilient civil society lies dead and buried under shadows of army boots.
*Mohammed Rizwan is a professional journalist for the last 23 years 1990-2014 covering politics and terrorism from Pakistan and Dubai.