To lose one prime minister

Pakistan’s military are doing their damndest to prevent a civilian government reaching an unprecedented full-term.

On many levels the Zardari government, now less than a year away from full-term, has been doing quite well - with no will to solve the energy crisis but passing significant legislation that protects democracy, as opposed to military rule, in Pakistan.

The literal reporting by the international press of Pakistan’s prime ministerial woes – Yousuf Raza Gilani, after the longest PM-ship ever in Pakistan’s history was forced to stand down for refusing to write to the Swiss authorities over corruption charges relating to Zardari, his initial replacement Makhdoom Shahabuddin was blown straight out of the water when a judge ordered his arrest on illegal drug imports, but Raja Pervaiz Ashraf has now been appointed – has done nothing to tell the real story. 

For that you will have to read Mohammed Hanif in the Guardian, about the only voice of clarity available to UK readers. 

To lose one prime minister may be regarded as a misfortune but to have two headed off  looks like the military have been up to their old tricks. Caretaker governments were the stuff of military intervention after they had despatched civilian governments in what Musharraf called in his memoirs “that dreadful decade of democracy”. This is not quite a caretaker government, but as Hanif describes, the military are behind a revitalised supreme court that in the last six months has been in the business of attacking the Zardari government, while leaving military wrong-doings, such as questions over the assassination of Salmaan Taseer, governor of Punjab, and of Shahbaz Bhatti, Christian minister for minorities, and the death of journalist Saleem Shahzad, on the back burner.

In mid-June the judicial commission tasked with looking into Memogate, the “documentation” provided by nude wrestling adjudicator  Mansoor Ijaz that the Zardari government through its civilian ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani had tried to move against the military upheld Ijaz’s spurious claims.

It is not a coincidence that a week before the commission was due to announce its findings Asma Jahangir, Pakistan’s leading human rights barrister, chief counsel for Husain Haqqani and contributor to the New Statesman, was made aware of a plan to assassinate her.

The background to memogate is here, Mansoor Ijaz’s track record of contributions to the Financial Times here.

Pakistan’s leading liberal daily, Tribune, ran the following editorial in mid-June:

It is in the nature of those [the military] opposed to civilian rule to change the subject from their misdeeds. In this case, the distraction was memogate and the scapegoat was Husain Haqqani.

Twittersphere followed up: “Shame on a country which declares its doctors, diplomats, poets and scholars as traitors, and garlands jihadist killers and eulogises them”. “Husain Haqqani is not a traitor he is a patriotic Pakistani. Real traitors are those acquit jihadis and penalise liberals”.

That, at present and until it does its proper job and brings the military under the rule of law too, looks like the supreme court. 

 

Yousuf Raza Gilani, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan who was ousted in April 2012. Photo: Getty Images
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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue