Memoirs of ‘Military rule’ in Turkey and Pakistan

16 Nov

The path cobbled by both, Turkey and Pakistan to engender democratic trends has been more or less the same. Pakistanis and Turks, paid a heavy price to triumph over authoritarian suppression. Recently, the Turkish premier, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, claimed that ‘the era of military coups is over’ for the Turks. His opponents might call it an exaggeration, but Erdogan considers ‘Turkey’ as an exemplary political set-up for Muslim countries around the world to emulate. He has a substantial justification for christening ‘Turkey’ as an ideal Muslim nation, fostering secularism, pursuing the most advanced form of democracy and curbing authoritarianism. The ruling Justice and Development Party, which came to power in 2002 has maintained Turkey’s decades-old secular system, but at the same time has curtailed the power of the military. The latest number of military officers entering into the prison is ‘326’. They are being charged for their fruitless efforts to derail democracy in 2003. The Pakistani leadership hasn’t been audacious enough to figure out the ‘belligerent generals’ in the military cadre. Those mighty boots, which enter into politics by legitimizing their actions, exercised free will as no one punished them for their transgressions. The longest-serving, elected civilian regime of Pakistan (Pakistan Peoples Party and its coalition partners) bade farewell to the ‘US-tamed’ dictator by giving him a ‘guard of honour’.

Four military interventions have hampered democratic systems in Pakistan and Turkey. However, the political evolution and constitutional development has been strikingly different for both the countries. The creation of Pakistan was itself a miracle and its sustenance turned out to be a greater miracle. Being a vulnerable nation fraught with innumerable challenges after the partition in 1947, Pakistan lost her indispensable leader. Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah‘s demise provided an opportunity to the politicians for displaying their ‘lust for power’. A delay in the process of constitution-making followed by a lot of controversies allowed two key players to step into the political premises. The ‘clergy’ and the ‘army’ began to expand their influence in terms of penetration and dictate. A weak political management aided the army to become more independent as an institution. The proclamation of martial law and the abrogation of constitution was not a ‘hard-nut to crack’ under such circumstances.

General Ayub Khan, General Yahya Khan and General Zia ul Haq (from left to right)

President Muhammad Ayub Khan with his ‘Basic Democrats’ was the first one to propagate the idea that ‘democracy’ is a ‘luxury’ which Pakistan couldn’t afford. In 1958, the first military attaché’ to Washington, Brigadier Ghulam Gillani was instructed by General Ayub to acquire military equipment from Pentagon (without taking the foreign office into confidence). It was from this day that civilians weren’t credible enough to govern Pakistan or to put it in another way, ‘army’ alone had the right to decide high profile issues. The uneven and unjust economic development during Ayub’s era led to the creation of Bangladesh. Ayub was an epitome of self-indulgence. Politics of the downtrodden apparently came into light during 1971, but it was soon extinguished by ‘Operation Fairplay‘ in 1977. Charismatic Bhutto was placed under ‘protective custody’ and later hanged during the regime of General Muhamamd Zia ul Haq. Judiciary served as a compatriot for the second Chief Marital Law Administrator who called himself a ‘soldier of Islam’. The press was chained and political activities were disbanded by mutilating the constitution. Zia’s ‘Islamization’ had nothing to do with the enactment of Islamic principles, rather it was an attempt to gain the support of Islamic political parties and to remain in power. Zia’s miserable death in a plane crash paved the way for Nawaz Sharif and late Benazir Bhutto to take part in politics. During Benazir’s tenure, the military, by and large stood by her. Nawaz Sharif managed to make Pakistan a nuclear power, but the Kargil misadventure brought another military blow to Pakistan.

A new era began in Pakistan on October 12, 1999. General Pervez Musharraf (a Kemalist- inspired dictator), who got his mid-career training from Turkey declared himself ‘chief executive’. His regime was no different with regards to pattern and operation. Like the previous military interventions, Musharraf began with a call for ‘change’, ‘reform’ and a message of ‘hope’. By suspending parts of the constitution, he too stigmatised the corrupt politicians. Later on, like Ayub and Zia his hybrid democracy with a few turncoats legitimized his uniform. However, what made his situation different was Pakistan’s role in the war against terrorism and the media boom that was triggered by him. The cry for accountability was loudest during his tenure, but ended silently with the malfunctioning of NAB (National Accountability Bureau). The historic ‘judicial activism’ in 2008, finally ousted General Musharraf with the help of civil society and a vibrant media.

The history of democracy in Turkey has not been without its ups and downs. Turkey was transformed into a Republic by Mustafa Kemal (‘Ataturk’- King of the Turks, the honorific surname bestowed upon him by Turkish parliament) in 1923. It became a successor state of Ottaman empire. The transition in 1923 from monarchy to republic marked a profound political, economic and social transformation for Turkey. Western concepts of democracy, human rights and the responsibility of the state had been infused over there. The years from 1923 to 1946 brought institutional, political and cultural preparation for democracy. It was a time of radical changes in legislation, in education and in the administrative structure of the state. The Second World War briefly interrupted this political evolution, but national elections were held for the first time in 1946. In 1950, the voters elected an opposition party and the Government changed hands, thus ending the one-party system.

The first decade after 1950 was marked by violent antagonism between political parties and popular unrest. This led the way for the first coup in 1960 when the army arrested all members of the ruling Democrat Party and put them on trial. The leaders of the coup made General Cemal Gürsel, who had not taken any role in the coup, head of state, prime minister and the minister of defence upon completion of the military take-over. The democratic process restarted in 1961. The political confrontation was aggravated by social confrontations and economic recession. The Chief of the General Staff, Memduh Tağmaç, handed the prime minister a memorandum, really amounting to an ultimatum by the armed forces. It demanded “the formation, within the context of democratic principles, of a strong and credible government, which will neutralize the current anarchical situation and which, inspired by Atatürk’s views, will implement the reformist laws envisaged by the constitution”, putting an end to the “anarchy, civil strife, and social and economic unrest”. If the demands were not met, the army would “exercise its constitutional duty” and take over power itself, which it did in 1971. In 1973, Ecevit, won an upset victory. Nevertheless, the same problems highlighted in the memorandum re-emerged. From 1980 to 1983 the Turkish Armed Forces, headed by Chief of the General Staff General Kenan Evren ruled the country through the National Security Council, before democracy was restored. After 17 years, a ‘postmodern coup’ was installed. Çevik Bir, one of the generals who planned the process said that “In Turkey we have a marriage of Islam and democracy. The child of this marriage is secularism. Now this child gets sick from time to time. The Turkish Armed Forces is the doctor, which saves the child. Depending on how sick the kid is, we administer the necessary medicine to make sure the child recuperates”.

By contrasting the Turkish and Pakistani military interventions it becomes obvious that Pakistan has endured longer spells of dictatorship without any formal ‘memorandums of warning’ to the elected governments. The Turkish courts have even convicted elderly leaders of Turkey’s 1980 military coup, Kenan Evren and Tahsin Sahinkaya. On the other hand, in Pakistan, the former President and Chief Executive, Pervez Musharraf is giving long interviews on private channels of electronic media. Recently, the present Chief of Army Staff, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani had high-level engagements with the Russian political leadership. This is sufficient to gauge the ‘extent’ to which the army is still rooted in the political nexus of Pakistan. It is largely due to the military’s ‘political and economic predatoriness’. Funds like ‘Fauji Foundation’ and ‘Armed Forces Mutual Assistance Fund’ still remain unquestionable. The Indian-threat has permitted the increase in defence budget, which lends financial autonomy to the Pakistani military. Another fresh scam in which retired military generals accused of being involved in a multi-billion embezzlement of National Logistics Cell (NLC) is being dealt by the General Head Quarters (GHQ). This makes it clear that the military has its own courts for dealing with its generals through self-devised rules. Fair trial of law-violators in Pakistani military can precipitate the army out of the political equation. Memoirs of military rule in Turkey teach Pakistan that the weakening of military tutelage over political regime is possible, only through the shrinkage of military’s influence on ‘organs’ of the state.

The verbal content of this post was originally published in the November issue of Jahangir’s World Times

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Posted by on November 16, 2012 in International Affairs


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