Book Reviews

Fauj Ki Syasat (Army in Politics) – Book Review

By Sana Munir

A recently published book, Fauj Ki Siyasat (Politics of the Army), which actually is a compilation of some thought provoking columns and articles written by Prof. Waris Mir during the dictatorial era of Pakistan’s third military dictator President General Ziaul Haq, has come out of the press just at the right time.

At a time when the military establishment has declared ‘criticism of the army’ equivalent to be treason, this book can help not only the people but also the military establishment understand that it has never been the army itself that has been brought under the nib of the pen. It has rather been the undesired, illegitimate and unconstitutional ‘political role’ of the army that has always enforced intellectuals and political minds to put the Generals’ interests back into place – the barracks and not the ballots.

The first preface of the 300-paged book, written by Abid Hassan Manto reads, “The topics addressed in this book are absolutely those very issues that are prevalent in the present political and intellectual horizons of Pakistan – the role of the army in the country’s politics, the trampling of the constitution under heavy boots of the army, the lame political system that has been crippled by the Pakistan Army again and again, whether to direct the political caravan secularly or under directives of mullahism…” During the sixty year history of Pakistan, more than 30 years have gone down apolitically since the generals of the army insisted upon clutching to the reigns of governance thus gagging democracy. No doubt, the words written for General Ziaul Haq seem unmistakably molded to perfection for General Musharraf himself.

Abid Hassan Manto further writes, “Prof Waris Mir was all out for a democratic Pakistan and thus vehemently opposed the undemocratic, unconstitutional hold of the army over the country’s politics. He desired to see the supremacy of law and the unanimously adopted constitution in the country. Although being quite spiritual in his personal life, Mir Sahib had a very progressive, liberal and secular approach regarding the political arena. These very ideals of Prof Waris Mir are presented in his book and come to the reader as fresh and relevant as they were two decades ago.”

Waris Mir writes in one of his articles, “The dilemma of dictatorship is, military dictators can never be warded off easily. And once they are brushed aside, one dictator is bound to replace the previous one. It is thus necessary not to fight against a man, a general, a dictator. What really matters is to fight for the cause of liberation itself, democracy and political strife not directed against one dictator but for the sovereignty of a political system itself.” Relevance guaranteed. Dictatorship no doubt has been replaced and so is the illicit bunch of ills that come with the package of a coup – General Zia has been replaced by General Musharraf.

Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan in the second foreword of this book writes, “Through his fiery columns, Waris Mir used to voice his opposition to the military intervention in politics, maintaining that the dilemma of Pakistani nation is that the politics and governance of the country continues to be under the firm thumb of the mighty military establishment. However, quite unfortunately, two decades after Waris Mir breathed his last, the Pakistani nation still stands at square one. When one goes through his writings, it seems as if one is reading about Pakistan as it was twenty years ago – the only difference being the replacement of General Zia by General Musharraf. However, at that time Waris Mir was there as the bold critic who brandished his powerful pen in the face of the oppressor. He didn’t know the weakening of morale under duress, fear or threats.

“Whatever General Musharraf is doing in Jinnah’s Pakistan today seems to be an action replay of the measures taken by General Zia to consolidate his dictatorial rule. There is a long list of unconstitutional steps taken by Musharraf – dismissal of elected government, becoming a self-appointed president in uniform, giving himself powers to dissolve assemblies at his will, awarding the power hungry politicians important positions in the government after gathering them under the umbrella of the Pakistan Muslim League, forming a National Security Council to ensure that the khakis continue to enjoy an upper hand in the decision-making. In short, General Musharraf seems to be treading religiously well in the foot prints of General Zia.”

An extract from one of Prof Waris Mir’s articles included in the book reads: “Mohammad Ali Jinnah had sensed such an incline (of desiring to rule the country) in the Pakistan army on the conception of Pakistan, and had made it clear being the Governor General of Pakistan that the armed forces are there to serve the nation and it has no role in formulating the national policy… ‘It is us’ said the father of the nation, ‘the civilians who can decide about issues and problems and your duty is to carry out orders meted out to you’. Prof Waris Mir could not just become a silent spectator to the brutality of a dictator and stabbing of democracy. Being a man of principles and truth, he did not put a stop to the pinching truth that flowed out of his pen. In one of his columns titled, “The wish for monarchy in the era of democracy”, he writes: “One president in uniform named it basic democracy and another gave it the title of Islamic democracy but just after a few years, all these presidents became monarchs under their own version of ‘desi’ democracy.”

Another topic that Waris Mir extensively wrote about was the mutilation of the Constitution at the hands of General Zia. And what he wrote during the Zia days do not seem a story of the yester years but an thing of today: “The unanimously adopted Constitution of 1973 has been disfigured to such an extent that it has lost its actual spirit. The protégé of the military regime describe the mutilation of the Constitution as an attempt to strike a balance between the powers of the Prime Minister and the President. The reality is although quite different – whenever the president feels the prime minister is trying to assert his authority, he can just dissolve the assemblies and dismiss the leader of the house. Those at the helm of affairs have never bothered to enlighten the people about the fact that every political crisis in Pakistan, every time the constitution was ripped; there was merely one reason behind it all: an individual holding power had refused to let go of even an inch of his authority.”

“Dictatorship should not be dealt with force so that such discrepancy does not destroy the country. Undoubtedly, the coercion of a dictatorship rises to such an extent that one might lose grasp of patience and riots might volcano forth uncontrollably. But in such times, the intellectual elite of a country keeps putting out the fire and that also to such an extent that when the spark fizzles out, they begin their excursion towards the eradication of tyranny. People usually flare up occasionally when the ruler irritates them to a certain level. However, idiotic the dictator is, he is always ready for such irritants. And how brutal he might be, he never fails to secure himself. So much so, that his associates are also well aware of such deep pits he could fall into and keep cautioning him. Yet, if an enemy resides among the cronies, he will push the dictator into the spotlight from where he can easily be pushed into a pit. That the reason why it is said, that a dictator’s prime minister or commander-in-chief belonging to the religious clergy is most eminent in his downfall. The dictator is himself aware of the dangers he faces from all these and that’s why he keeps dipping their fangs in butter. Yet, when he decides to topple any of them, he does it in a single stroke: quick and sudden so as to avoid any reaction.”

Waris Mir wrote extensively on a variety of political issues — the repeated army interventions in Pakistan and the subsequent weak political system, presidential referendum in which half the population refuses to vote and yet General Ziaul Haq gets a 90 percent acceptance ratio, victimisation of the political leadership, attempts to setup a National Security Council, amendments to the unanimously adopted 1973 Constitution that is disfigured to strengthen an individual, etc. Yet these words were written more than 17 years ago. Heart broken by the lack of defence in his professional barracks, Mir wrote about journalists, “As far as Pakistan is concerned, I believe that those with a light in the back of their minds have not really disappeared, they have just dispersed.

The need of the hour is not only to find them but also to gather them on a platform from where they can speak out without any fear”. Mir believed that “Even if the government of the day tries to stifle expression, there are those dissident voices which, with the help of a sigh or sob make their presence felt and get their message across”. Though humble in expression, he could and did ‘make his presence felt’ but it was not with a sigh or sob that he did so. Bold and accountable to himself, he could not have put his pen to rest until and unless he had poured out his heart and mind — not for his own satisfaction but to fulfill the responsibility he carried on his shoulders, to act as the voice of the people.

Most importantly, what Waris Mir wrote and how he wrote, makes him an icon par excellence. “Freedom of the press is not an issue for all writers…” like any legendary figure in the history, Waris Mir makes a crystal clear image of his philosophy about writing and the profession of journalism with this one-liner. The times, in which Waris Mir wrote, many of the country’s leading intellectuals and writers, who are the opinion-makers, had compromised on their principles and professional credence. Freedom of the press is certainly not an issue for all those who write but it was ‘the’ issue for Prof. Waris Mir. It belonged not only to his professional character but to his personal value-system, his moral character and conscience.

“The national character and attitude of any nation is best expressed through its journalistic values and modes of communication because journalism reflects the political situation, intellectualism, cultural norms, social aspects and the working values and courage of government functionaries. Objective and free press is the only parameter that can give a fairly good idea of any country’s weaknesses and strengths, its successes and failures…. The successive governments have always believed that their success is the common man’s success and their failure is the common man’s failure while in reality the situation might actually be absolutely on the contrary.”

Prof. Waris Mir’s contribution to the Pakistani society was not confined to his writings alone. Being a teacher and the chairman of Journalism Department at University of Punjab Lahore, he had also a very benign and scholarly approach in his professional attitude. Mir was more than anything else, an educationist. He was a teacher in the true sense of the word who was concerned not only to become a voice for the people but also their educator. It was in this very process that Waris Mir became a mentor and guide for those very people who read him, heard him and followed him.