How Virtue Signalling Got Dragged Into Pakistani Politics
There is this dialogue in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead that I would like to quote here. It’s when the villainous antagonist Ellsworth Toohey asks the protagonist Howard Roark a question:
Toohey: “Mr. Roark, we’re alone here. Why don’t you tell me what you think of me? In any words you wish. No one will hear us.”
Roark: “But I don’t think of you.”
When I heard what DG ISPR had to say about the military “being dragged” into politics, this quote came to my mind. Just like Mr. Toohey, I felt like the DG ISPRs (current or former) keep asking us “not to drag them into politics,” and folks like me roll their eyes every time we hear this rather poignant request.
Let us be clear about this: I refuse to believe that anybody is dragging the military-industrial complex into the political arena, I rather believe that they are the ‘political arena.’ They set the arena, name the seats, start the show, decide who will perform and who will not, and lastly choose the person who will govern in their name. They embody Louis XIV’s words, “The state? It’s me!”
You won’t convince a good deal of Pakistanis by such arguments, of course.There is sufficient evidence (enough books!) that tells us who runs the show in Pakistan. Yet your words will fall on deaf ears.
I still vividly recall the day we got our current COAS – and how every political analyst was trumpeting on TV that he was “different.” How he disapproved of the military’s involvement in politics and how he was going to overhaul the system for better. Well, look at us now! I don’t think of the army and politics as separate units. I believe DG ISPR is not only a General, but also a savvy politique. This belief is ingrained in how the military has governed this country for the better half of its existence and how it continues to prop up people who will not challenge their ubiquitous hegemony and how it dispenses with the people who have fallen foul of their infiltration in civilian domains.
Our history is replete with the stories of countless palace coups hatched by the High Command and with the admission of guilt from men who hatched them. If one has any doubt one can watch the interviews of General Asad Durrani or General Hameed Gul. (Or you can read a book by people like Ayesha Jalal). The military runs this country fair and square (one can argue with the ‘fair’ part of this idiom but not with ‘square’). Perhaps, when Gen. Iftikhar directs us to not “drag the military” he is trying to make us argue with the obvious. It appears as a classic case of gaslighting. This is how patriarchy tries to invalidate the lived experience of so many women and sexual minorities by telling them not to make a fuss of what happened to them.
I will reiterate my position (like the DG ISPRs do) that the army is not being dragged into politics. The Army revels in politics. It is one of its fortes, like the forte of the US military happens to be aerial warfare.
When I see this instance of virtue-signalling about our military’s professed ‘non-involvement’ in politics, I am reminded of an incident from US political history.
On October 5, 1988, a Vice-Presidential debate was held between the Democrat Llyold Bentsen and the Republican Dan Quayle in Omaha, Nebraska. During the course of debate, when Quayle was asked what he would do if he became the President, as soon as he was asked this question he started virtue-signalling and comparing himself to J.F. Kennedy. He kept talking about how he would run the country without actually saying how he would do so. Now, the Democratic nominee pounced on this opportunity to give the Republican nominee a check in reality when he said, “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”
I guess one can never do better at deflating virtue-signalers than this!