These are amazing times, as tragic as they are funny. One man’s ‘off the record briefing’ is hailed as a doctrine. This must be the first ‘doctrine’ in the world that had to be leaked. Normally, doctrines are owned, documented in books or in manifestos. Doctrines are normally not revealed to 40 chosen ones with instructions to not attribute anything to the one person whose opinions they consist of.
Not only did all this happen, the ‘doctrine’ (because of its un-attributability) was personified and made sentient. As Hasan Zaidi’s blazing tweets nailed the matter, one journalist who had attended the briefing humanised the ‘doctrine’ with descriptions such as the doctrine ‘is happy/ not happy/ stands/ ensures/ wants/ understands/ thinks/ will wait and see/ engages/ believes/ fights/ is ready/ is fully aware/ analyses/ reaches conclusions/ negates/ stresses/ has painstakingly worked/ mended damages/ normalised/ is gullible/ is dead sure/ clearly says/ retreats/ has strong commitment/ takes exception/ has views/ fully knows/ is interested/ takes soft looks/ wants good relationships’ etc.
Zaidi concluded with an epic tweet saying, “ ‘The doctrine loves to take long drives and romantic walks on the beach’ would totally not be out of place here. The rest was history with tweets then asking whether the doctrine prefers coke or pepsi, what it had for breakfast that day and so on and so forth.
The problem with the doctrine business is multilayered, the first two being as I already pointed out: an army chief’s ‘off the record’ views intended as narrative building talking points meant to be ‘leaked’ do not make the stuff of doctrines, and second the personification of said ‘doctrine’. The deeper issues are the contents of said ‘doctrine’ and the violation of the constitutional oath by a serving executive holding forth on political matters to create a narrative and shape the political canvas of the country.
A chief of army staff has every right to hold any personal political opinion, but constitutionally the army chief cannot hold forth on said opinions with a view to engineer political outcomes. Yet, it is being done in plain sight of everyone, with attendant journalists shamelessly propounding and justifying the ‘doctrine’, without so much as a hint of a frown upon the unconstitutionality of it all.
Next up is the chief justice of the country with 1.8 million pending cases in courts, barging into hospitals, schools and colleges with the aim of bettering governance, taking suo moto notices of viral Facebook posts and development projects. Once again, this is not only a tragedy that the gent is not only not endeavouring to fix the problems pertaining to his own remit (the delivery of cheap and timely justice), but is proceeding to violate the basic concept of separation of powers as laid down in the constitution. Yesterday, the chief justice demanded the use of a government helicopter to raid a hospital in Sargodha! Why he’s not visiting/checking on the lower courts to rectify the tardiness and corruption there leaves one aghast. The chief guardian of our fundamental rights proceeds to violate the dignity of man by remarking to a police officer to reduce his “toand” in open court instead. Surely, His Honour will issue a contempt notice to anyone criticising his physical appearance thus? Further, not that I would want to live to see such a disgraceful act being repeated, but I’m curious to know whether our intrepid chief justice would address a similar remark to our army chief.
These persons appear to be in absolute power and free to do as they please, no matter how unconstitutional the acts. But the public is not taking kindly to it all. Take the matter of the military parade on the 23rd of March this year. For decades no one questioned the nature of celebrations. But this year it became the subject of a furious debate. For the first time in my politically conscious lifetime objections were raised at the show of military might on a day meant to celebrate democracy and constitution. It bears thinking about as to why people reacted this year. Why not before? The clue lies in the extra constitutionality of many events the people have witnessed in the past two years, and the anger now manifests itself at even relatively minor episodes. What’s so upsetting about letting the boys showcase their toys on the 23rd of March when they’ve done it for decades without any reaction from the public? What’s so upsetting about roads being closed four days ahead of the march when the public has borne this inconvenience for as far as one can remember? Yet, this year people uploaded videos of themselves and others voicing their anger at roads being blocked for march practice by the military.
Even little things (by comparison) are triggering open criticism of the army and the judiciary now – a bit like the last straw on the camel’s back. Yet, the powers that be are not taking cognisance of the signs. Take Manzur Pashteen’s protest: non Pashtuns are supporting it and wishing Manzur success. The reason is that his demand for fundamental human rights resonates with every citizen. Punjabis may view it from the lens of Okara muzareen (landless tillers), or from the lens of #RespectMyVote; Baloch might view it from the lens of extra-judicial killings and disappearances; Muhajirs may view it from the lens of police encounters and weapons caches being found in water tanks. But the movement resonates with everyone.
We live in changed times. No longer is unconstitutionality, violation of fundamental human rights, the military’s hegemony, the Justices’ injustice and the like, the purview of intellectuals in drawing rooms. These matters have now reached the grassroots. And the 200 million grass roots can neither be bought, nor strong-armed. It’s up to the establishment to either see the writing on the wall, and retreat into its constitutional remit, or to let flames engulf us all. After the flames, no one knows who or what will survive. But it’s not very likely it will be the establishment, given it is now not up against a few honest or dishonest drawing-room intellectuals, but up against the majority of the population of this country.
The writer is a human rights worker and freelance columnist.