An Open Letter to All Mutineers (abridged)

Dear Mutineers

We haven’t seen or heard from you in a while, thus this letter. Rumor is that you’re worried about the state of affairs in our land, grieved by the failures of the current dispensation . You claim that this country’s largest political party and its allies have been unsuccessful at tackling our existential issues: Water, Power, Economy and War. Of course, the reasons for this government’s fallibilities are many. Most are quantifiable, some inexplicable. Several are attributable to its own lethargy, a few to the Establishment’s tenacity.

But, back to planning coups: if you succeed, you will not enjoy any constitutional cover, nor much acceptance by the civilian political apparatus, the judiciary, or the international community. Your foreign and domestic enemies will summarily slam your actions as barbaric and undemocratic, isolating you further. Yet, if you don’t do anything, the current arrangement looks like it will collapse anyway. Thus, you face the ultimate political paradox, and it goes by the name of Pakistan.

So you love this land but loath the system and want to change it? Perhaps a look at the broader geo-political landscape will amplify your views…

Start with our ‘Brother Nation’. Turkey’s martial machine is as powerful as its counterpart here, but with critically different levels of public acceptability when it comes to political interventionism. Why does Turkey’s ‘national military‘ enjoy more political reception than Pakistan’s ‘professional military‘? Perhaps because all able-bodied Turk males serve with their armed forces, and are, in effect, a ‘part’ of the defense arrangement. Sure, most of them leave after a brief stint, letting the full-time corps conduct the serious soldiering, but the bond of militarized fraternity resonates across Turkey’s polity, much thanks to mandatory service. In effect, their ‘Deep State’ establishment is seen as a guarantor of national values (not the Constitution, thanks to several coups) with an accepted, even expected, level of intervention. Thus, it is a presence everyone can identify with, essentially because most Turk men have seen and served it from within. This makes for easy politicking, but more importantly, also injects a dose of nationalism that goes beyond banning fez hats.

Then there is Egypt, a quintessential police-state, which relies on two, interlinked commodities to survive: P.R. and Aid. The Pyramids, belly-dancing and Red Sea resorts bring in tourists, international goodwill and investment, while a working relationship with Israel guarantees State Department dollars. Were there no ties with Israel (a bullet that Anwar Saadat had to bite, literally) the Sphinx would have become another Moenjodaro: famous, unvisited and decayed. Thus, Hosni’s highhandedness is tolerated by the rest of the world, including most Egyptians themselves. Unless you’re in the Muslim Brotherhood or a liberal blogger, you learn to live with Mubarak’s regime. Why? Because you won’t get invaded like the Iraqis, you can’t rely on oil like the Saudis (you have none), and you are benefiting (albeit fractionally) from being the largest recipient of U.S. aid in the world, second only to…Israel.

Finally, there is the Thai military, which in 2006 overthrew a corrupt yet elected government, only to have its tanks welcomed into Bangkok with flowers! Why? Because the revered King had given the generals a tacit thumbs-up to bring in ‘clean’ professionals to run things. Only recently did those military-backed technocrats feel the heat of that coup though violent protests, but the dual tactics of money and force, backed up with a smart televised statement (in English) from a good-looking Prime Minister and business-as-usual incentives to its thousands of tourists and investors, ensured the Thai regime pass off what seemed to be a massive upheaval as a hiccup.

Thus, three global precedents: gain political acceptability by inducting ‘the people’ into your ‘nationalistic fold’, like the Turks have done though mandatory service. Walk like the Egyptians and ‘bite the bullet’ to normalize ties with your mortal enemy – it will only earn you global acceptability that can be converted into tangible benefits for your people, and of course, emulate the Thai by finding some sharp professionals to ‘front the office’.

But the question remains: who is going to be your approving King?



Originally Published in The Express Tribune as “An Open Letter To All Mutineers” on June 3, 2010


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