THERE IS A TIDE IN THE AFFAIRS OF MEN 

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BY: Lt. Gen. (r) Asad Durrani

This Shakespearian phrase is the harbinger of good tidings – provided one can ride the tide. 

Whenever the mighty America is back bungling on the global stage, a Churchillian gem is almost always quoted: You can count on the US to do the right thing – after it has tried everything else. To be fair, that’s the path taken by every country before it swallows the bitter pill – prescribed by sages over the ages. Maybe there is another pearl of wisdom that explains why we cannot do the right thing to start with: “all in good time”. The two subjects that presently dominate the public discourse in Pakistan – the Ukraine War, and our political upheaval – might help understand why Einstein believed that the human stupidity was infinite. Both are obviously different: one a big power tug of war; and the other essentially a domestic affair. They still have some remarkable similarities. 

Both have been hanging fire for decades; their resolution required nothing more than common sense; but since the intellectually challenged men at the helm are averse to common good, they keep exhausting other options in the hope that the day of reckoning could be postponed (roz-e-mehshar ko multavi kar do, ho gai maikade main raat mujhe. Our own Adamm prayed hard to push back the day of judgment, as he was drunk beyond redemption.) This time around, the rearguard action to delay the inevitable is to be fought in the cyberspace. Now when was it last that the verbal duals clinched an issue, or anyone won the war of narratives! 

In a court of law, one may have to argue. Elsewhere, it’s pointless. We’ve been making up our minds for the last many years and another view even if brilliantly argued had little chance to break the time and mental barriers. Some may nod out of courtesy, or wisely resist the temptation to talk back, but to get any genuine agreement, one must speak the other man’s mind (and since we cannot read a woman’s mind, don’t even start the argument). Truth after all is merely what you believe to be the truth, and expecting that some bombast would blow-up a belief system is fatuous nonsense. Even the electorate is not hoodwinked when reminded of its sacred obligations, or led up some slippery patriotic path. People usually vote for the lesser evil – and have the right to choose their own poison. Minds may change but only after the hearts do. And that’s a voluntary act. 

Propaganda is even more futile an exercise. It’s programmed to fail. Its intensity gives away the design – that it’s being orchestrated. In enthusiasm, one overeggs the pudding, causing indigestion. Sooner than later, it all burns out. 

And therefore, if despite millions of anonymous tweets, planted articles, and fabricated clips that have choked the media landscape, no one has changed one’s heart or mind on Ukraine and in our political discourse; our only consolation is that in the process we have learnt to delete posts faster than they arrive. There just might be another. Fed up with these hired mouths and pens (oh, how they have swindled the West for twenty years on Afghanistan), some of us might start paying heed to many a wise men and women who have been ringing alarm bells. 

If we could not keep out of the quagmires like Afghanistan, Yemen and Ukraine, the next best choice was to work together to find a way out. The cooperative approaches saved the mankind fighting in Antarctica and on the moon (incidentally, the three countries cited above are now dotted with lunar pockmarks). If on Ukraine the world was now ready to step back from the brink, I do not know, but there seems to be a reasonable chance that the Pakistanis no longer want to take the beaten path. No idea how the next round – probably the national elections – would end. But if we continued along the present trajectory, another bout was bound to follow. The road map to break out of this conundrum too has been on the drawing boards for decades. 

Army’s role in Pakistani politics has not been very helpful, but on an odd occasion it did suggest a framework which was not only sensible but also kept the military in its place. Essentially, it proposed creating a broad-based consensus on core national issues. Policies were to be formulated in consultation with subject experts and with the political opposition – potentially the successor government. On defence and security the only person the ruling junta needed to consult was the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, who could not throw much military weight around. It all seemed simple and innocent, but understandably even when the Army was in direct control (under Musharraf, for example), the idea could not be executed. 

Changes, especially the defining ones, upset the status quo and its beneficiaries. Wielders of power and influence therefore oppose them tooth and nail. Devolution of political and economic power, the common denominator in all reports by the commissions constituted to suggest reforms, would sound death knell for the brotherhood at the helm. Even within the military it has not been possible to persuade the privileged services and offices to climb down from their high horses. If one was waiting for the right moment for the spoilers and the saboteurs of change to finally surrender or become irrelevant, it seems to have arrived. Some last-ditch resistance must be expected, but for most of the defenders of the archaic system, the writing is on the wall. If one sees the whole being lost, voluntarily give up the half – so runs an old advice for those who have run out of options. 

The key problem still remains: who will bell the cat; convince all the stake holders that the long overdue changes would ultimately be win-win for the people as well as their masters. 

The duly chastised military was still in a position to bang heads together. It may also feel obliged to make amends for its past bloopers, but obviously does not have the soft power to get the desired results. Its major challenge therefore is to find a few people with credibility for the role, expertise for the job, and help them carry it out. 

THE WRITER IS A FORMER DG ISI AND AUTHOR OF MULTIPLE BOOKS