The coup that failed

The coup makers attempted to stem the tide of change taking place in Turkey, under the democratic order, but failed, unlike the earlier four attempts made in 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997, which succeeded. The attempted coup took place because the military considers itself the ‘guarantor of the secular political order’ and opposes President Erdogan and his party leading the political Islamic order, which also is not acceptable to the Shadowy powers - the champions of democracy, who prefer a pure secular democratic order as in Bangladesh. For example the political Islamic order in Egypt was ruthlessly crushed by the military, supported by petro dollars of the Middle East and the ‘champions of democracy’. No wonder, the New York Times of 19 July laments: “Political Islam Emerges winner in Turkey. All in all Turkey will become a country where power is more consolidated and dissent will be more difficult.”

President Erdogan leads a popular political movement. Economy is stable because of balanced fiscal policies. He has turned around the economy; paid back US$ 24 bn to IMF; brought about 64% increase in GDP, raised the national reserves from US$ 25 bn to 135 bn, and brought down inflation from 32% to 9%. Several high profile national developments projects have uplifted the level of prosperity. Whereas, there has been a gradual decline in the military influence. The size of the Army now stands reduced to 5,50,000 from the previous 8,00,000. It was mainly the lower ranking officers, who attempted the coup. The army and air chiefs were arrested. President Erdogan escaped and gave the call to the people to rise against the coup makers and received a popular response, with people confronting the army, forcing them to retreat to their barracks or surrender. A significant feature was the loyalty of the police force to Erdogan, over which he has a strong grip. The efficient intelligence network was ready and vigilant to face such a crisis. As of now, the opposition parties support the government, condemning the coup makers in a rare show of unity. Even the Kurd Democratic Party (HDP) and others stand by the side of the government.

The revolt was led by the former Air Chief, supported by lower ranking officers. The rebel gunships hit the parliament and their troops reached out to seal-off the bridge over the Bosphorous. In the absence of the Army Chief, General Umit Dundar assumed command to crush the revolt. The failed coup is a golden opportunity to heal a deeply divided society. Curiously, the coup attempt coincides with the nascent trends of a shift in the Turkish foreign policy – in particular, in the direction of a rapprochement with Russia and a possible rollback of Ankara’s interventionist policies in Syria. These events would constitute a major setback to the US’s agenda to establish a permanent NATO presence in the Black Sea to contain Russia. The moot question is, who was supporting the ‘Young Turks’ who rebelled. Why did the government seal-off the Incirlik airbase and declare a ‘No fly zone’? Why didn’t the petro-dollars work here to buy the support of the higher military command?

This botched coup offers the opportunity to understand the nature of critical civil-military relationship obtaining in Pakistan where a serious ideological conflict, between the moderate Islamists and the secularists exists. The die-hard religious parties ignored by the people stand marginalised, having no role in shaping the ideological ethos of the nation. Our heads of the State, the government and national institutions, who take oath to defend the Constitution of Pakistan which lays down the national purpose that Pakistan will be a democracy governed by the principles of Quran and Sunnah, have nurtured only democracy, ignoring Quran and Sunnah, causing a dangerous vacuum and tension between political Islam and Secularism. Regretfully, the US policy of “perception management of the Pakistani nation”, has added fuel to the fire, creating conditions such as those, which caused the civil war in Indonesia in 1965-66.

The coup failed but it may not fail again, when the Turkish armed forces regain their élan. Their moral strength lies in their past history. The victorious powers in the First World War destroyed the Ottoman Empire. Mustafa Kamal Ataturk emerged to unite Turkey as a secular state. Under his leadership the army defeated the enemy forces in the battle of Gallipoli and holds this honour at the deep recess of their hearts. It will assert itself.

In Pakistan, the narrative is very different. Our armed forces have had a marginal role in winning our freedom, whereas they inherited the high military traditions of the British and never felt comfortable serving a weak political order. Soon the military joined hands with the civil bureaucracy to usurp power in 1958, 68, 77 and 98. The political parties, which could not win elections on their own, joined the Band Wagon. And now, that the good and bad democracy is chugging along, the “band wagon political parties” are once again active to edge-out the elected government. Shamelessly they are inviting the army to take-over. This may well be possible, but is not likely, because it is a different army now. It has acquired a knowledge based value system, which is very much different from the past. Its professionalism is at its best with demonstrated capability to protect national security interests against external and internal threats.

Unity of command and internal cohesiveness gives the Army the resilience to stay away from sectarianism, socio-political conflict, and societal contradictions. Yet, the key word must be remembered: “When you can no longer trust your army, there are serious issues that need to be addressed-(Robert Fisk).” And that is precisely our problem also, which Shahbaz Sharif is trying to handle on behalf of his ailing brother. Can he!!

Gen (r) Mirza Aslam Beg

The writer is a former COAS, Pakistan. He can be reached at

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