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We do not need to defend ourselves against a neighbour. We are destroying ourselves.  We are our own Ukraine.

Recent incursions have shown that Pakistan’s defence competence is being tested. An Indian submarine came too close to our southern shores. An Indian supersonic missile violated our air space. Will the next probe be across our land border? In Sindh, Punjab, or in Azad Kashmir?

Should that happen, what would be Pakistan’s response? There is a strategy in place for our half-million strong armed forces. What, some ask, is the strategy for the remaining 220.5 million un-armed civilians?

We have no underground stations to shelter in, no space in already overcrowded hospitals, no bunkers where a defenceless public can cower until the smoke clears. Or is the plan that Pakistanis should flee westwards, seek refuge in the ‘strategic depth’ we have created in Afghanistan?

These are not hypothetical musings. These are the harsh, inescapable realities of war. The Palestinians, Iraqis, Syrians, Yemenis, Afghans, Kashmiris, and now the Ukrainians – lacerated by foreign forces - were forced to lick their wounds.  Tasting blood for them was not an aphorism; it has become a daily, unholy ritual. We need to remember that it can happen to us.

The world order has changed since Westphalia. The Westphalian treaties of 1648 foresaw territorial integrity, sovereignty, diplomacy in lieu of war, peaceful coexistence, and non-interference in the internal affairs of other sovereign states.

That utopian wish-list came 400 years after the Dark Ages. Four hundred years after Westphalia, the world has relapsed into a new second Dark Age, in which larger dogs attack smaller ones, while curs whine in protest.

Is national sovereignty so un-precious an inheritance that it does not deserve to be bequeathed as a legacy? Is our Constitution a mere bauble in the hands of a selected prince, his inconstant courtiers, and well-intentioned Cromwells?

Our Speaker has violated our Constitution by delaying the convention of a crucial National Assembly session. The Supreme Court has been approached to rule on the Constitution’s mind regarding floor-crossing and disbarment for life. The battle for Islamabad has begun; the war for national polity, however, has already been lost.  

Before the NA session starts at 11 a.m. tomorrow (25 March), its chamber will have been cleared of all vestiges of democracy. Anarchy will have an open field.

What has brought us to yet another constitutional precipice? We have stood on that edge before - in 1958, in 1969, in 1977, and again in 1999. 

History teaches us to search among ashes for precedents. On 20 April 1653, at 11.15 a.m., the British regicide Cromwell entered Parliament and chided its members: ‘You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately [.] Depart, I say; and let us have done with you.’

‘By 11.40 am it was all over: Parliament was extinguished, as lifeless as an old candle’, writes his biographer Antonia Fraser.

Her account of that military takeover resonates even today:  ‘The Army had a less sophisticated interest in simply putting an end to the hated Rump [Parliament], and were altogether vague in their plans for what should happen thereafter [.] Obviously the country could hardly be left without a government of any sort until the new Parliament: an interim council of a different complexion from the Rump would be the best hope meantime.’

Almost four hundred years later, history sees the dissolution of another parliament - this time, ours.

PM Imran Khan’s present tenure is linked to the NA vote of no-confidence. The future of Rumpelstiltskin in the Punjab is wedded to his. The flagpole from which Imran Khan flew his flag is shaky. Rumours abound of a change of guard within the army, earlier than November 2022.

This is not unthinkable. More than fifteen senior generals are scheduled to retire before that date. The present chief is in a nostalgic state of mind, with an eye on his legacy. A third reason could be the fall-out caused by the reluctance of a former DG ISI to carry out his Chief’s order of 6 October, which appeared contrary to the military tradition of immediate obedience.

Civilians can be forgiven for being apprehensive. What if an order was given to someone to engage the enemy, and the recipient of that order decided to implement it only at a time of his own convenience?

The present standoff in Islamabad, to paraphrase US Judge Andrew Napolitano’s remark about democracy, is between ‘two wolves and a lamb voting on what to eat for lunch.’ On 25 March, more is on the menu than lamb. On the table is Pakistan’s sovereignty, security and political stability.



[DAWN, 24 March 2022]                             



24 March 2022
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