British sci-fi series Doctor Who comes up with creative plot twists and devices that never seize to intrigue you. For instance, the second storey of a single storey building. A door in a hallway that is never noticed by the occupants of the place. And the list goes on. We, in Pakistan, have a similar spiral staircase that should never be taken. It leads you to power. But it is in its nature to lure you, deceive you, trap and then destroy you. This staircase to power was used by four generals. One ended up compromising the country’s integrity. The second who came in his wake could not save country from falling apart. The third brought radicalism, drugs and weapons. The fourth is not quite gone yet. Away from power he awaits the moment when like de Gaulle he’ll be called back to rule his country, unaware of the damage the first stint has already done to his soul.
But the temptation, the lore and the whispers of the stairway are such that those who refuse to give in to its false charms are forgotten. In recounting exploits of Ayub, Yahya, Zia and Musharraf, how many of us think of the generals who retired gracefully and never contemplated a coup? The nature of power and polarisation is such that each chief is looked at with suspicion by the political class and the media. Save Tikka Khan no one escaped these whispering campaigns. Paranoia often led many politicians to run headlong into trouble. You can say many things about Kakar, Karamat and Kayani but there is no evidence that they ever wanted to impose martial law. And yet today they hardly feature in our discussions. General Kakar refused to accept an extension. General Karamat chose to step down when confrontation was imminent. And during General Kayani’s tenure the country witnessed first ever civilian to civilian peaceful transition of power after completion of a term in office. And establishment’s presumptive favourite Imran Khan, whose premiership according to some election day conspiracy chatter was a slam dunk, did not win. No institutional attempts were visible to sway the vote either. Here you see an evolving institutional pattern that needs to be lauded.
When General Raheel Sharif stepped in, the situation was difficult. War fatigue, the curse of terrorism and always fermenting conspiracy theories ensured tribalism would rule. You see there are some who think politicians cannot be trusted. There are others who believe the army can never do good. And finally, a class that prides itself in being the insider, the ones that claim to know each chief better than others. The first would always keep fingers crossed for a marauding coup maker. The second class would keep finding faults in everything. And the third would just want to be privileged one way or the other. Well, the general proved all three wrong. And again. And again. But no one wanted to see him for what he was. To them he was their own wishes wrapped in uniform. They could not crib much because he was famous. A country that had forgotten what it was like to live without fear of terror, learned for the most part to breath freely again. A world that dismissed Pakistan as a haven of terrorism and had concluded that the army would never go after terrorists hiding in North Waziristan, was proven wrong. Result? Incredible relief.
Yes, there were upheavals. The sit-ins. Marathon television transmissions predicting military coup. But could such speculations be more wrong? There is a civilian government in place. Same PM. No intrigue could be linked to our good general. And resultantly I walk in the world a foot taller with pride as a citizen of a democracy.
I am not your average, everyday sycophant. In fact, I am a scrooge when it comes to praise. But some people have such damaged hearts and souls that they cannot appreciate something pure, something good staring them in the face. I refuse to be one of them. The good general should know that when the PM rose at that roundtable to toast him, there stood along with him thankful silent majority of this nation and the muse of history. His successor needs to know he has some big shoes to fill.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 26th, 2016.