By Qamar Bashir
Our country, which is currently experiencing the worst period of its troubled history, is besieged by perils, difficulties, and hardships which unfortunately do not apply to the politicians, judiciary, civil and military bureaucracy, who on the one hand enjoy fat salaries and massive perks and perquisites while amassing filthy wealth through the use or misuse of their authorities and usurpation of state resources through legal and illegal means at their disposal. These hardships are for the unfortunate people of Pakistan who, while providing these monsters with their blood and sweat, are humiliated, tortured, and mercilessly fleeced of their wealth, right to live with dignity and honor, and subjected to the worst forms of slavery in one form or another. As a result, while they enjoy every privilege under the sun, half of school-aged children are unable to attend, more than 40% are stunted, women are reduced to domestic animals, millions are jobless, the death rate is among the highest in the world and the the region, and yet all elements of power, whether politicians, civil or military bureaucracy, parliamentarians, or the judiciary, are fighting tooth and nail to seize as much kinetic power as possible. Despite the dire financial and economic situation, bureaucrats succeeded in squeezing executive allowances one and a half times of their basic salaries, while judges succeeded in getting exorbitant salary raise even though their monthly salaries are invariably more than one million rupees, not to mention their perks and perquisites, which are in the millions. They argue that it is difficult for them to run their kitchen due to hyperinflation and price hike and that in order to make ends meet, they desperately need salary increases. But how long this looting and plunder will last is anyone’s guess. In the current extreme political polarization, the people of Pakistan will be the ultimate losers, while all rulers will walk away with even more booty than they could in normal times.
Given the country’s worst political polarization and economic and financial hardships, our political parties have shown no signs of slowing down their rhetoric and pledging to annihilate each other. Each of them refers to the opposition party’s leaders as fascists and their party as a fascist party. In almost every public speech, press conference, or media interview, Maryam Nawaz refers to Imran Khan as a fascist leader and a fitna, and expresses her desire to completely demolish both Imran and his party. Mr. Sanahullah, who is also our interior minister, is the custodian of law and order in the country and is obligated to treat every political party or its leader on an equal footing, vowing to eliminate and exterminate Imran Khan to whom he affectionately called fitnah and fascist from the country’s politics. Recently, Mr. Ehsan Iqbal, who, unlike all other Muslim League leaders, seemed to have little bit of sanity left in him joined the bandwagon and labeled Imran Khan a dangerous phenomenon, a fascist leader who poses an imminent threat to the country and must be eliminated and uprooted as soon as possible. The game of blaming does not end here. At one point or another, all political parties, certain members of the judiciary, and the media have labeled the establishment or the deep state as fascist, claiming that it is using brute state kinetic power to abduct, arrest, torture, humiliate, and harrass all those it deems appropriate, whether politicians, judges, media persons, political activists, businessmen, or any other person or institution that they perceive as a threat to their vested interests. But who, in reality, is a fascist? It is Maryam who does not hold any government portfolio but wields all state power and has elevated herself above all state institutions. Is it Imran Khan who is attempting to save his dear life from perceived threats to life, having been named in over 90 FIRs and expected to appear in courts of different parts of the country at the same time, or is his party Fascist who allegedly, is fighting tooth and nail to protect their leader from threats to his life posed by the government and state institutions?
The term “fascist” is a highly charged and politically loaded term, and its definition varies depending on the context and speaker’s perspective. Fascism is a far-right political ideology that is distinguished by authoritarianism, nationalism, and totalitarianism. Fascists believe in the supremacy of the state over the individual and frequently use violence and propaganda to achieve their objectives. Fascism as a political system appeared in Europe in the early twentieth century, characterized by a centralized government, a dictator, and a corporate economy. Fascists emphasize extreme nationalism and frequently use the military force and suppress individual liberties for the greater good. Fascists frequently rely on fear and propaganda to gain support and oppose democracy, liberalism, and other forms of pluralism. It emphasizes hierarchy, order, and discipline and believes that society should be organized around a strong leader with the authority to make decisions on the people’s behalf. Benito Mussolini, the Italian fascist leader who ruled as Prime Minister from 1922 to 1943, Adolf Hitler, the leader of the Nazi Party in Germany, who ruled as Chancellor and then as dictator from 1933 until his death in 1945, Francisco Franco, the leader of the Nationalist forces in the Spanish Civil War, who ruled Spain as a fascist dictatorship from 1939 until his death in 1975, National Front in France, a far-right political party founded in 1972 that espouses nationalist and anti-immigrant views are the few examples of fascists parties and leaders.
Fascist movements often have charismatic leaders who are able to mobilize large numbers of supporters through their rhetoric, charisma, and propaganda whereas Fascist governments are characterized by highly centralized and authoritarian, with power concentrated in the hands of a single leader who uses force, propaganda, and intimidation to maintain their grip on power. They may use surveillance, censorship, and indoctrination to maintain social control and suppress dissent, reject democratic principles and values, such as individual rights, free speech, and the rule of law and suppress opposition parties and restrict freedom of the press.
According to the definitions and explanations, the majority of our political parties and civilian leaders except by sheer dint of definition, TLP and Jamat Islami being far right parties fall under this definition whereas as all other leaders have streaks of fascism in their makeup, behavior or acts. In our system, the military establishment is an important part of national discourse which however, by virtue of its DNA is authoritarian, totalitarian and autocratic and therefore the constitution exclusively assigned it the role of defense of the motherland against foreign aggression. Its training and education is meant to control, guide and lead a disciplined force which are modeled to accept and obey orders of their command without asking questions or showing any hesitation. Moreover, military bureaucracy operates under military law and is subject to different standards of conduct and discipline than civilian officials. That is why the military disciplines are strictly forbidden to involve in civilian affairs. Once however, the military, willingly or unwillingly, is dragged into civilian affairs it acts as per their DNA, expect all civilian disciplines to obey their command and in doing so set aside democratic values, human rights and civilian liberties and act like a fascist force which should not be a surprise. One should only be naive to expect any other behavior other than this. Throughout my 30 years of service and having the opportunity to work closely with many ministers, prime ministers, and two Presidents, invariably each one of them at times complained about their helplessness in making sometimes minor and most of the time major decisions in every sector of statehood. It is widely assumed, rightly or wrongly, that the civilian leadership, both political and bureaucratic, is subservient to the deep state, which enjoys total hegemony as the final and ultimate force to approve or disapprove the civilian leadership’s decisions or impose them on them certain decisions, armed twist them to own them, accept the responsibility for their failure whereas it things goes right give credit to the establishment. The most recent example of vetoing civilian government’s decision was witnessed when former Army Chief Qamar Javaid Bajwa, disregarding stated national policy, condemned Russian evasion with total impunity in one of his speeches.
Even now the helplessness and powerlessness of the government and the political leaders is manifested in their different speeches and statements. Ministers in the cabinets in their various speeches and statements have been bickering openly that their hands are tied to take any major decision. Imran Khan refuses to talk to politicians of the country but is willing to talk with the new army chief to discuss wayforward for holding the next general election as according to him it is where decisions are made while terming the government as a stooge. Maryam Nawaz who by virtue of her own merit and also being a daughter of the PML(N) supremo, although is enjoying full powers but still is demanding the establishment in her various speeches to create a level playing field for everyone and only then would she give her consent for holding early general elections. This reflects where it is perceived rests the power base in the country.
During our informal talks with colleagues, journalists and politicians, we always discussed the difference between civilian and military bureaucracy. A civilian bureaucrat is vulnerable for arm twisting both by the politicians and establishment, while the military bureaucracy remains out of the purview of the civilian government. Each civil servant needs clearance from the agencies specially ISI for every posting and every promotion and they can be removed or installed in any posting by the government without even having the right to protest or agitate. On the other hand, the army is over and above any law of the land. They are governed by Army Act 1958 which makes them immune from any government influence. They themselves are responsible for reward and punishment without any say of the civilian government in their posting or transfer or promotion. None of the civilian departments is involved in vetting of their credentials or qualification and therefore they are totally out of government control except in the case of appointment of armed forces chiefs.
The prime responsibility of Pakistan’s government and leaders is to lead the people and country out of its current quagmire, but the million dollar question is how. The solution is to adopt universal values such as operating within the framework of the law, upholding the principles of fairness and justice, and ensuring that laws are applied fairly and consistently to all citizens, regardless of background or social status. Protect its citizens’ fundamental rights and freedoms, such as freedom of expression, religion, and assembly, and
the right to a fair trial, privacy, and due process. It should be transparent and open in its operations, open to criticism and feedback from the public, and responsive to the needs and concerns of its people. They should also ensure that elections are free and fair, that citizens have equal access to the political process, and that election results are respected. They must respect the diversity of their citizens, work to promote inclusivity and equality, be sensitive to the needs and concerns of various groups, and work to ensure that all citizens can participate fully in society.
Of course, democracy is not a perfect system, and democratic government takes many forms. However, it is frequently viewed as the polar opposite of fascism because it promotes values such as individual freedom, equality, and tolerance, which are opposed to fascism’s authoritarian, nationalist, and anti-democratic values. Are our politicians prepared to usher in true democracy in our country?
Perhaps now is the time for politicians to seize the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity presented by the army’s pledge to stay out of politics. They should play politics within universally accepted principles, treat each other with respect and civility, even if they disagree on policy or ideology, as this is necessary for the functioning of a democratic system as well as healthy debate and the exchange of ideas. They must respect the rule of law, refrain from illegal or unethical behavior, engage in civil discourse, avoid personal attacks or character assassination, and present their arguments in a respectful and constructive manner. They should compete fairly and openly, collaborate and cooperate when it is in the best interests of the country, and work together to address common challenges and find solutions to complex problems. They should respect election results, accept people’s will and refrain from undermining the legitimacy of the electoral process.. Fascism is not a solution, but rather a part of the problem; democracy, while not perfect, is the only solution.
The writer is the Former Press Secretary to the President
Former Press Minister to the Embassy of Pakistan to France