The case for martial law

Published: August 29, 2010

Paramilitary soldiers block a road leading to the Supreme Court when Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency and suspended the constitution

In any respectable society, a parliamentarian discovered to be holding a fake degree, involved in corruption and mismanagement would resign. In extreme cases, like in Japan, some may even commit suicide to avoid the shame and disgrace.

The leader of any political party would remove anyone found guilty. In Pakistan, however, this is not the case. Surprisingly, during the time of these floods, India had to beg us to take aid from them rather than the other way around. So misconceived, in certain ways, is our pride and dignity that we will only take aid from them if they beg us to take it. It seem we simply keep producing hypocrites when it comes to religion or politics.

More recently, MQM chief Altaf Hussain pointed out some harsh facts in his address and there was an outburst! Since then many news anchors and journalists have spoken out in favor of the statement and I am in agreement with them. If some extraordinary actions are not taken now, we will soon be reading and hearing about a state under total anarchy, the signs for which are already obvious.

Almost every politician has accepted that there is no effective democracy in Pakistan, and the process of evolving into a democracy, which requires continuity is an unlikely dream. Unfortunately the country is heading towards disaster.

Although Nawaz Sharif offered to establish a transparent relief commission, he, being a selfish politician, immediately held a press conference bragging about his supposedly great idea.

Another, sad demonstration from the government was the sudden requests for boosting the loans from US$ 3 billion even before presenting our case in the United Nations. This burden was really not necessary at this time. Rather our missions should have taken the opportunity to apply for waivers of past loans. However, our politicians were too busy getting their pictures taken.

Sindh and Balochistan would not have submerged so drastically if some parliamentarians had not diverted water away from their land, so that their assets do not get flooded. They were not interested in helping the flood victims but were waiting for the people of Pakistan and the army to come and provide them with relief.

When such display of inhumanity and selfish intentions become routine, partially reported by the somewhat free media, a product of a dictator, do we really want to let this democratic system evolve along the path that it seems to be moving on?

The only question in the way

Even during martial law have dictators ever worked to reform the system of Pakistan, especially targeting corruption and the inhuman mentality of those in power?


Syed Ali Raza Abidi

A businessman who writes on politics and civic issues. He completed his masters in business administration from Boston University. He tweets @abidifactor.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Syed Nadir El-Edroos

    Rather our missions should have taken the opportunity to apply for waivers of past loans. However, our politicians were too busy getting their pictures taken. Our politicans who were taking pictures, have little to do with negotiations with IFI’s and bilateral donors. If the IMF or the WB or ADB is going to deal with anyone from Pakistan its going to be the Minister and Secretary of Finance, or the Governor General of the State Bunk. Perhaps you would support the Prime Ministers suggestions of sending politicians on a tour of foreign capitals where on Pakistani tax payer expenses they can call for more aid. As for the $3 Billion, most of that is money that was already allocated to Pakistan, all that is happening is that the funds are being reallocated to flood related to projects. As for the meeting at the UN, that was to raise funds for the relief operations not for long term projects. Out politicians, as most believe are pretty incompetent, perhaps its best that they are in their constituencies taking pictures. Perhaps there they can be touched by an iota of humanity for the suffering of those whom they represent.

    And as for martial law, if changing the government is miraculously going to change the fair of 20 million people who are effected by floods, if inflation is going to ease, if terrorism is going to slow down, if people are going to stop taking the law into their own hands, then by all means let the generals run teh country. But thats not going to happen is it? At the end of the day, the military also rules by forming alliances with political parties, industrialists, landlords etc, and we are back at square one. Altaf Hussain is quite good at remaining relevant, all he was doing was to cement his place in any new government IF a coup took place. If a coup does not take place he has differentiated himself from other “corrupt” politicians. Cheecky politics perhaps? Recommend

  • S. Ali Raza

    Thanks for the comment Nadir.. Although there is no call for a martial law specifically, but as its a generic word for relatively better administration than the one when politicians are in control of the system. according to today’s interview on GEO, AH says If Martial law comes, then MQM does not get anything anyways, because it will be Martial law. MQM will also never join a martial law unless there is formation of government just like in 2002.

    What is asked for is a change in system, (if current politicians can do it then they should start now) but if not, and they continue with the ignorance of the flood victims, and especially humanity, then one at the power center, needs to wake up and take charge of the country before anarchy fully materializes.

    I believe AH expressed his foresight while showing the mirror to the society :)Recommend

  • watchdog from UK

    We must stay the course

    Saturday, August 28, 2010
    Babar Sattar
    The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.
    Altaf Hussain’s statement inciting ‘patriotic generals’ to take steps ‘like martial law’ against ‘corrupt feudal and land lord politicians’ is an expression of intent to support subversion of constitutional rule in Pakistan. This statement is not only mischievous, but also malicious. It has been uttered (and vociferously defended by MQM minions) not in naivete or desperation, but in full view of the historically omnipotent role of the army within the political arena. Much of the thoughtless commentary in the written and electronic media suggests that Altaf Hussain’s problem identification is spot-on, but solution faulty. This is simply not true. His problem identification is inflammatory, misleading and self-serving, and the solution disruptive, illegal and unworkable.Recommend

  • S. Ali Raza

    @Watchdog :) Then let the Judiciary and the Army take action on it.. why are they quiet? Recommend

  • Awais Khan

    agree with the writer – especially para re nawaz sharif – just a greedy politician like the rest of themRecommend

  • abid

    Why not wait till 2013?

    Thank you very much but people of FATA and KPkwa do not want another dictatorship. At least politicians are only doing monetary corruption, not the corruption of taking and destroying lives.Recommend

  • Taimoor Hassan

    I think all should realsie
    We will choose Democracy Vs Dictatorship
    But what we will select
    Democracy Vs Pakistan

  • Wasio Ali Khan Abbasi

    The case of water division has been really sad for the fate of people in Sindh and Balochistan. Looking from Punjab’s angle into Sindh, the water when it hit the barrage in Sindh, the right side gates were opened up to let the water out. What is really sad is that the river turns right after passing Guddu Barrage and the settlements follow it. The left side, however, remains very much uninhabited and further down they end up into the desert. If the left side gates would have been opened, the water would have passed with damage at much smaller scale than the current and it even would have had good impacts on the desert soil, allowing some of the minor settlements to take benefit of relatively fertile soil left over by the flood waters.
    Ali Chishti in his New York Times article describes how the water was further diverted into Balochistan when a politician attempted to save his lands while a nearby PAF base, threatened by the flood waters and worried about the Americans and new F16s parked, made a cut at the highway at Sindh-Balochistan border, resulting in flooding of villages in Balochistan. Now this flood water from Balochistan is expected to turn, come towards Manchar lake and meet with River Indus. The collision impact of this flood water with the existing several lacs cuisec in the River Indus can have divert the water in practically any direction … even turning it northwards towards Moenjo Daro, Larkana and Qambar which have thus far been relatively safe with Aqil Loop Band being continuously monitored for breaches and repaired at regular intervals.

    Considering all the suffering caused by floods and army’s actions that has lead to rescue operations, effectively improving their reputation which was turned to ash by the end of Musharraf’s era, Mr. Altaf Hussein’s call for “Patriotic” Generals to come forth and deal with imminent dangers of corrupt politicians is similar to rubbing spices on the wounds. History clearly tells us that Army never settles for a piece of the pie. Either there’s no pie or the whole is for the army, Ayub Khan’s departure once Yahya said full martial law or no martial law and Bhutto’s hanging once General Zia realized one of them will die, are two major facts to consider here. There are no Patriotic and non-Patriotic Generals, there are just Generals of the Army and an attempt to divide them would lead to catastrophic results. If Generals do not come out on Altaf Hussein’s call to teach corrupt politicians a lesson, will that make the whole Army Top Brass “Un-Patriotic”? If Generals did indeed come out, those who did not should face “Court Martial”? And even if all Generals came out, who will guarantee that they will return back to their barracks once the lessons are learned? Then again, who to stop the death sentence clause against Army for interfering and attempting to overthrow the government in anyway?Recommend

  • Fardad

    Like you rightly opined, Martial Laws have not delivered any better, despite being above the constitution and having sweeping powers. What can we expect from another Martial Law. Mindset remains same. What we need is an entirely new system which is logical, practical, according to ground realities of contemporary times and inline with the basic nature of human beings. We should not not be afraid to quit beating about the democracy bush and of adopting an entirely new system which is more democratic in actuality but does not have the pseudo label of ‘democracy’ on it. Introduction to the new proposed system can be viewed hereRecommend

  • saadi

    Why are we so bent upon trying to reform a system, by some groundbreaking change, or an acceptance of a new sweeping ideology?
    these are knee jerk reactions and mostly come from politically naive, yet socially active circles.
    we just need to give democracy some time, and when we say some time we dont mean two years, we mean 20 years or even more.
    the first critique of this statement will come from the same class of people which i have mentioned earlier, saying that our country will not survive till then
    well, maybe its hard for you to accept, but if there is an iota of a chance of survival it will come through democracy not any other governance.
    secondly, this writer, has agreed with the statement of altaf in the beginning and then contradicted his article by questioning the reforms of the military.
    i think he needs to focus on his point a little more, since its confusing.
    Altaf hussain, has yet again shown his true colors, his neo fascist party can only survive when it has an elder brother banishing all other political rivals. Military rule is not the answer, it has never been, it will never be
    this is a multi-cultural diverse and heterogeneous country which cannot survive under dictatorship
    so i am sorry, but there is no case for martial lawRecommend

  • S. Ali Raza

    @wasio: The news of today is not showing any improvement in the condition of this country if we compare to the 2008 and before. Thus, democracy, if this is the real meaning of it, then at least, I do not want my children to be growing up to these insecurities, injustices, selfishness.

    Most of us do not know what is actually happening on ground in the relief camps and what are the sentiments of the people who are presently IDP’s.

    Wasio, you have very thoroughly explained the breaches in the river starting from Rajanpur to upper Sindh, where a lot of fertile land and homes to farmers could have been saved in comparison to the deserts leading to air force bases. It is clear whomever has the power is the enemy of the common man.

    Please past the link to Mr. Chishti’s article in NYT as I cannot seem to locate it. Recommend

  • Wasio Ali Khan Abbasi

    @ Syed Ali Raza

    Democracy does needs its time for maturity. Unfortunately it has been plagued with misfortunes and conspiracy theories right from the start. First we lost Mohammed Ali Jinnah just one year after independence and even his death became a conspiracy theory with Liaqat Ali Khan at the center of it. If that wasn’t enough, we lost Liaqat Ali Khan himself in similar way India lost Gandhi … both were openly murdered in front of their nation.

    From sacking of Prime Ministers to exiling them, hanging them and assassinating them we have had all kinds of accidents to set us an example of what to do and what not to do. It took India nearly 4 decades to have relatively stable government that took them out from the brink of bankruptcy when, in 1980, they barely had $20 Billion in exchequer. Manmohan Singh became their beacon that led the way to economical revival.

    Similar fates, however, we did not witnessed for dictators except for Zia-Ul-Haq and Musharraf. Ayub Khan had handed over the power to Yahya Khan and silently left the country. Yahya Khan, once done with breaking of Pakistan, transfered the power to civilians and simply vanished from stage. Zia found himself in a crashing plane that led to his demise while Musharraf had to exile himself before getting surrounded with no escape routes.

    In short, we failed to learn from history and kept on repeating the same mistake one way or the other. The stable stage of maturity was never achieved and now the situation is getting grimmer by the day.

    And I want to apologize. The name of the author is Ali Sethi, I have no idea where Chishti came up while writing the previous response. The link to the article is as follows:

    The part about water coming from Balochistan and hitting River Indus was notified to me from a contact who’s at Aqil Loop Band and is continuously monitoring situation from both sides in order to avoid any possibility of Larkana and Moenjo Daro getting flooded. Recommend

  • http://- Shah Karez

    For reformation of a society where corruption is rampant in all forms and menifestations and considered to be a virtue rather than a vice, only a Mustafa Kamal or a Mao-Tse-Tung is needed. Can the leaders of today whether in power or in opposition save the country from utter ruination, I am not sure.

    Shah KarezRecommend

  • saadi

    I will completely disagree with you
    we do not need any dictator to come and show us the way forward, this kind of avant garde thinking is not whats going to keep the country afloat
    after 64 sordid years, there is deep disenchantment and hatred for the establishment, no dictator will fix this
    why are people of the view that kicking and beating a nation works?
    you have countless examples from history that such behaviour has been counterproductive in societies defined by ethinic and cultutral differences
    the only way forward is democracy and more of it
    it will take a very long time, but if it is not interrupted by military takeovers directly or indirectly, we will have a system.Recommend

  • Mehboob

    We need to remove present political set up to save Pakistan. I am afraid if we go with this system for another year or two then survival of Pakistan in itself is a serious question. It is democracy Vs. Pakistan. Our political system has always worked against Pakistan and the people living in it. I will not call them politician but a corrupt mafia, with hypocrite Nawaz Sharif as their champion.Recommend

  • Fardad

    “A cat that burns itself accidentally sitting on a hot plate will never ever sit even on a cold plate”
    @saadi, You say “why are we bent upon reforming the system”. I say “Why not?” Has the system you so steadfastly stand for descended from heaven? Is it the last word of God?. The system called democracy was merely at a point in time a brain child of a person like us, which clicked then and is hanging on. Democracy has done its rounds. This is the 21st century with astronomical advancements in science and technology. Perceptions are totally different today than they were three centuries ago. Keeping the ground realities in view, we can always dare to aspire for a more efficient system for ourselves and our coming generations. ‘Meritocracy’ enshrines all the positive points of democracy plus it also gives a chance to capable individuals to become public representatives. Can a brilliant individual with full flair for public representation but lacking material resources ever even think of becoming an MNA in a democratic dispensation? No way, I say, not even after a hundred years. In the system of ‘Meritocracy’ he can not only become one but will also deliver far better than the stuff we are experiencing since the last 63 years. Your adamance to give democracy a chance for the next 20 years is in good faith but imho is a cliche which we should let go off now.Accept it or not ‘Meritocracy‘ is the answer. The earlier we adopt it the better for us.Recommend

  • Islamuddin

    it is an interesting debate.All the contributors have raised relavent points but the question is who will bell the cat.The entrenched position of existing wielders of power makes it impossible to change the system. Army and Judiciary are also part of the system but they have been more part of the problem than solution.There may be exceptions but as institutions they are anti.change because they do not want to concede their turf.For Chineese type revolution people do not have the sensitivity and level of patriotism and ownership of the country. In this situation outsiders may benefit and the country may lose. Solution to bad democracy may be more democracy, but do we have the time for such evolution? This is a catch 22 situation. No easy solution is available.As muslims we believe in miracles. Should we wait fo it or some deliverer will spring up to bail us out and bring about undiluted democracy which will pave way for meritocracy? Intellectuals should contribute in this debate and come up with practical solutions to our prblems.Recommend

  • saadi

    it is sad, that you have pointed out the exact same points that i could expect from a middle class, urban mindset,
    you speak about reforming the system and paint democracy as an obsolete notion, yet your answer suffers from an alienation to understand politically, hetrogenous, diverse societies.
    so to break down your points
    1. Democracy is a concept 300 years old, and things have changed since then, therefore, the concept should undergo changes. first of all, democracy is a much older concept going back to the time of anciecnt greeks and then romans, the concept thrived, even though it was restricted to a minority then
    the concept was then revitalised in europe during the 12th century, after which political philosophers believed it was the most efficient concept, if not the best
    incidently, this was also the view of Plato who believed the idea of democracy was the most efficient even if not the best and ideal
    2. you speak about meritocracy, and believe it will get you the results. this is the same problem most of our middle class society suffers from, since they are the only prominent professional class. the concept of meritocracy suffers from a great detail of inherent bias, it is specifically bias with reference to LDCs because of their of skewed income distribuition which affects there accesibility to resources, some of those resources which you and i have had the luxury of having such as education and health. so therefore meritocracy CANNOT ever function in an LDC, or even in a DC.
    3. Thirdly by giving these two points and nullifying democracy, you have eliminated a large portion of your society, who are uneducated, and have taken their rights to vote, on the pretext that they elect corrupt officials. this is not a point you have overtly made, yet it is a point which is a direct translation of your logic,first understand that those who vote for Bhuttos, or Sharifs, or any other big name, do so, with rationality. Rationality is an economic and a political context which is subjectively defined accross various income strata
    so while you can get cushy jobs, attend the best schools, and use the internet to blog, these people are deprived of the basic neccesities. There hope is to elect a local representive, who will broker there economic relationship with the state, admit them in government jobs, and allow their family to to basic neccesitives
    although i personally do not agree that it a fool proof concept, it is nonetheless rational in their apporach and therefore someone who belongs to an urban background with the luxury of life, should think twice before denouncing.
    Yes the political parties are corrupt, but what about the Generals?
    no one speaks about them
    yes the political parties will take time, when you vote them out and vote them in. but what about the military which has overtly and covertly disrupted the system since the last 63 years under the same pretext, that is was for the survival of Pakistan.
    4. And lastly, your point is completely incorrect when you say, that someone from a lower income level cannot become an MNA if he does not have sufficient funds, because DEMOCRACY is exactly that. The whole point of democracy is to have local representatives, who the become MNAs, just because the system is nto functioning right not, does not mean it iwll never function, just remember civilians have for the first time in eleven yearts taken control, so they will make mistake,s but the people wil change that.Recommend

  • bunny

    Nice one….i have a question for you? are you brother of faisal raza abdiRecommend

  • Fardad

    It is all a matter of perception. Branding a fresh idea as a thought of some class is not fair. As a matter of fact it is the system of ‘Meritocracy’ which will rid us of this class fixation. The democracy of Pluto and Socrates has no similarity with the democracy of today.
    Where as we are doggedly obsessed with our democracy, western societies are looking for alternatives to it. Even in the US people are unhappy with how democracy has evolved and as it stands today. Skepticism is visible about its increasing weaknesses. Even over there one has to be backed by a lobby whether it is the Jewish lobby, Islamist lobby or drug syndicates etc to be elected a public representatives.
    Even in America most of the talent goes waste because the eligible persons are not part of any mafias. In Pakistan one has to see an election procedure and the before and after scenarios to be able to loose heart about it. eg look at Imran Khan. Many people think he is an honest person fit to be a political leader but he never gets any votes. The only time he will be able to get seats in the assemblies is to give tickets to professional politicians who will then drown him into their own sea -sea of corruption. I earnestly believe It is impossible to salvage this rot and the paradigm shift is inevitable.
    I suggest you go through the outline of the proposed ‘Meritocracy’ system at I’m sure after cool deliberation you’ll find it more pro poor than the present democracy. The poor need getting out of the shackles of poverty while at the same time giving them also the chance to become the president of Pakistan. I’m sure these incentives are more than merely a right to vote and this is exactly what the system of Meritocracy promises. Recommend

  • saadi

    @ fardad
    i followed the link you sent me, ive had the fortune of going through it before
    there is nothing wrong with meritocracy in theory, however, it is unreasonable for a person who is financially weak,and unable to receive good education to sit through a competitive process of examinations.
    remember he/ she will be tested on numerous subjects and skills, which they may not be able to pass
    so the system will be ethnically, and inherently bias
    the west is more capable of this system because of its higher education standard accross the board
    while there are immense negative sides to democracy, they are overshadowed because the system works
    even in meritocracy the system you believe to be more apt, we have the liberity to choose, therefore democratic aspects creep in
    when we talk about democracy we are not merely referring to electoral democracy, that is one faction of the doctrine, however liberty, and independence in general
    the ability to work diplomatically
    in democracy diplomacy is the key to success, so those disenfranchised ethinc groups who may be separatist in nature cannot be wooed through a system where the the social ills are further accentuated
    if these people are already left out of the political process it is unlikely that they will survive a system so bias in favour of the urban class
    regardless, this debate will most likely not go anywhere
    i agree that meritocracy should be an important part of democracy, but i fail to hold it close to my heart when it comes to running the entire system.Recommend

  • Fardad

    In case ‘Meritocracy’ is adopted as a system of governance, situation would never arise like Altaf Hussain demanding a bloody revolution in the country. The system would be just and self healing at it’s least.Recommend

  • Fardad

    You say, “it is unreasonable for a person who is financially weak, and unable to receive good education to sit through a competitive process of examinations”. Pray tell me that is it possible for the same person whom you have exemplified to be able to get elected in the present system? Of course not!. When I talk of ‘Meritocracy’, you measure it with an idealistic yardstick, but on the other hand the muck of Democracy is conveniently overlooked by all democracy fixated intellectuals. for goodness sake need to look out of the Democracy box, for certain, if we want any basic improvement in our governance and thereby our lives.Recommend