WEB DESK: In no other country the abortive coup in Turkey has been watched with as much interest and discussed so assiduously as in Pakistan. The reason of course is a common experience of repeated military interventions in politics.
While in Turkey the military has staged four successful coups since 1960, we have seen, starting in 1958, three army takeovers and a fourth transfer of power from one general, self-styled Field Marshal Ayub Khan, to another army chief, General Yahya Khan. Even now the danger of an extra-constitutional intervention is openly discussed, which explains the level of interest generated by last week’s events in Turkey and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif issuing a statement to “strongly condemn” the attempt “to undermine democracy” in Turkey. “We deeply admire the resolve of the brave and resilient Turkish people, who stood up against the forces of darkness and anarchy to express support and commitment to democracy,” he said.
There are obvious reasons why the attempt in Turkey failed. The first and most important reason surely is that the people came out to defend their democratically elected government. And all major opposition parties expressed solidarity with the government. Second, even though a large number of soldiers participated in the coup attempt they did not have the backing of top military leadership.
The commander of the armed forces, Chief of the General Staff General Hulusi Akar, nor the chiefs of the army and the navy had any role in it. In fact while General Akar was being held by the coup plotters the head of the Western Army in Istanbul took over control to suppress the rebellion. In such a large military as Turkey’s – the country boasts the second largest military force in Nato-coups unless plotted by the top leadership are doomed to failure. We have seen some attempts by mid level officers fail in Pakistan, too.
In the present instance, however, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pointed the finger at a former supporter Fethullah Gulen, a religious-political figure living in exile in the US, demanding his extradition. Gulen of course has denied he had anything to do with the putsch while Washington wants to see evidence of his linkage. Considering that the Turkish military sees itself as a protector of the country’s Kemalist secular tradition, it is hard to believe that the putschists acted at the behest of an Islamist like Gulen.
More likely, growing resentment against the Justice and Development Party leader and president Erdogan’s thrust towards Islamisation and use of heavy-handed tactics against liberal elements stirred up the unsavoury event. His crackdown on civil society protesters, arrest of several journalists and suppressive measures against independent press and media houses as well as social media had been creating a lot of political tension.
President Erdogan, already working to change the constitution to concentrate power in his office, is now acting in a way that shows the authoritarian streak in him has gotten the better of him. Common sense suggested that he take the opposition parties, who stood by his side during the difficult time, into confidence bringing the society together to deal with the coup plotters. Individuals responsible for hatching the plot should have been arrested and tried for their action, sparing the soldiers who only follow the orders of their superiors.
Instead the President has resorted to large-scale arrests and dismissals of soldiers as well as civilians. As of Monday, 70 generals and admirals along with 3000 soldiers had been sacked along with 30 governors, 52 senior civil servants, over 2,700 members of the judiciary, and 8000 police officers and personnel. In a further move to suppress all dissent, more than 15000 people associated with education have been told to go home and licenses of 2,100 private schools teachers cancelled. Some 1,500 university deans have also been ordered to resign. Such display of overconfidence and arrogance, especially by a civilian government, is a recipe for trouble. The purges will further deepen divisions, damage Turkey’s nascent democratic project, and can lead to destructive consequences for the state and society.
Those in Pakistan comparing experiences of course are aware that what the Erdogan government is doing in Turkey is undoable in this country. But there surely is something our political class needs to learn from Turkey’s example. One wonders whether our PM gave some thought to the question as to why ordinary people stood up to express support and commitment to democracy.
They responded robustly to the call of their leader to take to the streets because they had a stake in the democratic system, which brought not only unprecedented overall economic growth but also distribution of its fruits among all sections of society, particularly those living in the underdeveloped parts of the country and neglected for long by previous governments.
Unfortunately, successive elected civilian leaders in Pakistan have kept dumping disappointment on the people who have been making huge sacrifices fighting against various military dictatorships in the hope that restoration of democracy will bring socio-economic betterment for them.
They have only seen the rulers get richer and richer at their expense. A lethal mix of incompetence, corruption and indifference to the needs of ordinary people as well as disinterest in strengthening democratic institutions has resulted in the much lamented ceding of civilian control of important matters to military. This democracy will remain weak and susceptible to interventions as long as the people do not think they have a stake in its defence.
Source: Business Recorder