Small Men in High Office


‘The government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem’

 — Milton Friedman

We are an accommodative nation; conspiracies, rumours and labels. We love labels: ‘elite capture and feudal mind-set’ are popular clichés these days amongst the chattering classes. The substance to animated one-sided arguments, condescending lectures and supercilious intellectuality by the chosen few – as they stroll through busy receptions – among the like-minded, glass in hand and going nowhere in particular. 

No one recognises or even understands that we as a nation and a society are held hostage to ignorance and stupidity, if anything at all, but nothing more. If there is any capture, it is by the morons – ‘little people in big offices’.

Our economy is in shambles while a semi-literate accountant rolls his pearls of wisdom while a fan club sits in wonder, with mouth gaping, trying to pick out nuggets of wisdom from the utter nonsense. No nation has suffered from a lack of intellectual capacity and functional collapse as we have, and then having destroyed the little that we ourselves built such as our airlines and steel mills, we continue bravely on our journey of self-destruction, leaving no stone unturned in our endeavours. Rumours, romantic narratives and divine interventions are the stuff of conversations – the economic hitman, hybrid warfare, Islamophobia and the only Muslim nuclear State are conspiracy theories one learns from pseudo-intellectuals leading to self-serving conclusions where our beloved Islamic Republic is continually standing on the firing line. Yet, every office at every level has some imbecile sitting in a chair of pomp and authority, oblivious of his own lack of qualifications and competence. The damage that he does, when he decides to work, has far greater implications than when he chooses not to – which, mercifully, is quite often.

Being who we are, we have forgotten how great names assisted in the making of this country as with the mentality of the mob and the ignorant we go out on the witch-hunt – in search of elites and feudals. The Nawab of Bahawalpur budgeted the nation’s pay and allowances in the early days, we do not even know who organised and successfully steered the referendum for the NWFP to join Pakistan against a sitting Provincial Government of the Congress. Or how the three ‘Lashkars’ of the Pushtuns won parts of Azad Kashmir and facilitated Army Operations later. We do not recollect that entrepreneurs left home and hearth in India to set up enterprises in Pakistan giving it the little industry it has. How Dawood set up industries in East Pakistan and lost it in 1971. Re-established it in whatever remained of Pakistan only to lose it to Bhutto’s Nationalisation Programme. Determined and relentless, the family name resurfaced in the Corporate World and lives on even today, contributing to the economy of Pakistan. Yet, we curse the elite and mistake upstarts for feudals; the many who criminally grabbed lands and became landlords are now guests of honour in our gatherings and parties. Asif Ali Zardari is a good example but he is neither a feudal, nor can ever be one. The Nawab of Kalabagh was and many more such as him who contributed towards the development of Pakistan. Yet, people in their enthusiasm to find someone to fault and others to blame have made it fashionable to accuse the elite and the feudals – labels that they picked up while studying overseas. Sounds brave, so all-knowing, so with-the times but nowhere near the truth. We are in the hands of incompetent leadership; the country today is somewhat like a plane in flight with a monkey on the controls. 

Default on foreign debt repayments and the TTP are the talk of the town these days. Both these problems are of our own making. I shall leave the default issue for another time: a product of greed, corruption and total lack of capacity and instead focus on the TTP — the pressing issue of the times we live in.

There is a rumour that some sort of a policy was made under which it was decided to negotiate with these criminals. I suppose there is a point to all this madness; after all, if the Sharif Brothers Limited can be absolved of all the crimes they did, then why not the TTP? Nevertheless, I for one am curious to meet or at the least see the gentleman/men who advocated the soft approach and negotiation with the TTP. I would really like to see what makes such a person tick, how he lives and what are his values just for the benefit of my own education, so that I too can learn, how and why some ‘mothers have them’!

I am certain that the person/people, whoever he/they are, do not belong to the KP areas, are not Pushtuns, have not been employed in any combat and have never served in the border regions but have somehow convinced the powers that be, that despite their total lack of experience or exposure in such matters, they remain the only experts – trouble shooters and geniuses in crisis resolution in these matters.

I have often seen these types; wizards with the Power Point. Something they wield with a lot of power and very little point. They bask in glory for the two minutes of attention that illuminates them as they let fly their oratory, not bothered about the damage they are about to unleash. This was done in the merger of Swat, where the FCR was removed and our sacred Constitution forced upon them, which when it failed, was once again replaced by the same FCR.

The people questioned as to why the State insisted on applying a Constitution that had failed everywhere else in the country, but they were never given any explanation. So we had the dubious distinction, to have a settled area administered by a PA and a tribal area governed by a DC. We merged Chitral with a different geography, language, ethnicity and language into the Malakand Division. Having made a mess of the whole matter, handed over the Division to Sufi Muhammed and allowed for a parallel Constitution (Nazim-e-Adl) to be applied; all while the Courts sat in silence and watched this aberration and travesty of maladministration and poor governance blatantly unfold before them. They watched in criminal silence as a girl was spread eagled in public and whipped; people were executed in the streets in a parallel justice system – all with the logic and skewed rationale of ‘giving peace a chance’. Oh, the wonders of the games we play, where no one or any institution can be absolved of the consequences of such stupidities.

We then fought to free the people that the State had abandoned. We wrested freedom from militancy with great loss of life, treasure and sacrifices by many, bringing normalcy and peace to the region, despite the antics of the State. This progressed from agency to agency as young men fought and were willing to lay down their lives to preserve this country and protect this nation. Having cleared 48,000 square-kilometres of combat zone from local and foreign militants and after having expelled them to Nooristan and Kunar areas of Afghanistan, we suddenly find our supra-intellectual stalwarts crawling out of the woodwork, to proffer their unsolicited logic and reasoning – ‘give peace a chance!’, they say – all over again. They say it with staged sincerity and a pretended promise. They have forgotten how the Kohat Tunnel was closed and the Indus Highway blocked or that the International Airport in Peshawar remained shut-down. That there were bomb blasts every day and we lost 80,000 precious lives in this callous conflict that had no purpose and no strategy. Yet, our leadership, instead of focusing on the problem, its causes and how to contain it, glorified Shahadat and were readily available for photo-shoots as they hugged and kissed the relatives of the Shaheed with feigned sincerity and crocodile tears. Compensations were announced and a show of solidarity with the bereaved was always on full display. Hypocrisy at its best. No inquiry was ever held to determine as to where, why and how these casualties occurred. Was it a lapse, an accident, violation of procedure, bad planning or limited leadership – we will never know. The facts will remain hidden behind the subterfuge of cheap popularity drawing political mileage from every shahadat. And so in this blessed State, no one is ever held responsible or accountable for anything, yet we merrily march on, bleating to the world about our sacrifices and losses as if there is genuine empathy and concern and that we have earned the right to be respected and even compensated.

Instead of learning lessons from the past and reconciling with our own lack of capacity to undertake such matters we pressed on. Our champions of freedom and democracy proceeded to merge FATA just as they had done in Swat.

‘The FCR is an abominable law!’, they screamed at the public, as if the conflict in FATA was only over the FCR and which had now suddenly become central to all arguments.  Some of us appeared in seminars, talk shows and wrote studies that they were going about it the wrong way and that there were better ways to do this, which needed time. Every argument was brushed aside by ‘little people in big offices’, who were in a hurry and had other agendas as they went ahead anyway. The Mushers (tribal leaders) looked on in amazement and wondered how would matters such as that of the Quami Zameen (land revenue) and Niqat (proportional compensation) be resolved amongst many other tribal matters usually dealt with by the Jirga Law. So now we have landed ourselves into double jeopardy: the PTM and the TTP both against the State for the wrong reasons but reasons provided by our own stupidity. Where are our sleuths, political geniuses and the champions of freedom and democracy now? Their names should be listed and they should all be bundled off to the tribal areas to resolve the mess that they are responsible for. They keep doing it again and again; it’s time for some accountability, some white paper to be initiated for posterity, some investigation at the least. Let us know who these people are and their individual claim to fame.  

Today the powers that be, are at a loss. This was a pointless exercise, going down the dubious road to nowhere, ‘negotiating with the Taliban’ and subordinating the State of Pakistan to the Afghan Government, which has been elevated to the ranks of interlocutors. Now having discovered the pitfalls of such a foolish plan resulting in failure, corrective measures need to be put into place immediately. In my own limited wisdom, I tried on numerous occasions to contribute towards establishing a way-forward policy. I always felt till now that I was giving my opinion based on limited access to information and intelligence and that those who were handling the matter had a better understanding. I was wrong, we were always in the hands of clueless, incompetent, ignorant people whose sole method to madness was giving power-point presentations that made them look good.

The immediate need is to put together a planning cell to deal with the matter. The head should be independent and function under the minister of interior. This office should be allowed to independently build a functional team, comprising civilian and military officials. He should report to the parliament and update it about what’s happening and get approvals for the plans, the budget and the way forward. He should have access to all intelligence agencies, police and the other law enforcement arms. His plans must include military application, paving the way for a political solution and political initiatives sustaining military successes. The plan should be sustainable, permanent and realistic. It must include a pro-active intelligence entity, border management, dealing with Afghan agencies across the border, Afghan refugee control and integrate the local leadership into all developments related to the region.

So for our arm-chair experts, let me inform you, that we as a country are not suffering from the elite capture, the feudal mind-set, the economic hitman or hybrid war or any other such fancy label. We, as a nation, are hostage to unscrupulous gangsters, land-grabbers and black-mailers. They live amongst us as we fawn and scrape before them begging for a little attention and for the little scraps thrown our way. They have invaded our drawing rooms, our parlours, our homes and houses – just look around. You will find these grinning despots amongst friends, relatives and benefactors – they are neither elite nor feudal; just small people in high office, opportunists who wield disproportionate influence in managing our affairs. We are suffering the consequences of a total lack of merit, limited awareness, poor education system, semi-literacy, bad upbringing/grooming, nepotism and parochialism. These qualities are proudly displayed by every individual and institution time and time again, whenever given half the chance, and are further aggravated by mega-corruption, extremism and no rule of law. The sum total of such an affair is a dysfunctional state that does not require any external intervention or sophisticated labels to put it on the road to irreversible destruction. I for one do not agree that Pakistan has terrorism or militancy – it simply does not have the government that has the capacity to implement normal routine law and order or apply the justice system in letter or spirit. Whether it is the Chotu Gang in the Rojan Forests, or criminals in the streets of Karachi, land-mafia everywhere, separatist pretensions in Balochistan or the TTP’s hypocritical demand for Sharia – our government lacks the political will and the justice system has no wherewithal to implement the law. As we slink around blaming the feudal mind-set and elite capture we are living the moment where government is firmly in the hands of foolish, stupid and ignorant people. If there is any capture you want to discover, I suggest starting from any government office where you will find a clown sitting in royalty, lording over his subordinates with slap-stick wisdom of a street monkey.   

So if it is survival that we are in search of, then let it be understood that the government, the political system, police or the justice system will not and cannot deliver – not in the shape that they are in now. It lies in a technocratic government of wise people. Matters have gone beyond normal political dispensation. There is no political solution to Pakistan’s problems and a carefully crafted technical plan (a-political) needs to be structured to deal with the economic misery we are about to spin into and to restructure our routine administration towards functionality. Development and opportunity structuring needs to be undertaken on an emergency footing.

The education system must be reviewed in its entirety to improve the teaching staff, the facilities, and the curriculum and learning outcomes.

The justice system must become a justice-giving system and not just another necessary process to validate crime; the quality of the people dispensing justice must be the best that society can offer. The police must be depoliticised and made independent and self-governing. Merit has to come to the forefront; our practice to subsidise mediocrity must stop. I know, most would say, ‘How do we get such a government’ and for that there are answers but first we must be all reconciled that this sham of a democracy, this political structure, this justice system, this police department have all failed and can no longer deliver. I also know that a lot of people would question my resolve and feel that being from an Army background that I have failed to mention the role of the Army in contributing towards this state of poor governance. The Army is not relevant to these reforms and if any reforms are undertaken for/by the Army, they would be done so as to improve their own efficiency, conduct, functionality and application which has nothing to do with State Governance. 

Tariq Khan HI(M)
Tariq Khan HI(M)
The writer is a retired Lt General of the Pakistan Army. He is noted for his services as the Commander of I Strike Corps at Mangla and Inspector General of the Frontier Corps.

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