With rumors of possible coups in Turkey in the air for some time, the surprise is that night 15/16 July came as a surprise. When a few prestigious international organizations cancelled their meetings in Istanbul in May and June, Turkish intelligence services should have gone on high alert. With Air Force F-16s screaming low over Ankara and Istanbul, some airports, television stations, Army HQ, Parliament, etc were taken over by rebels. The Army Chief went missing, was found later incarcerated at an Air Force base. You can commandeer any number of aircraft and gunships, coups needs Army boots on the ground to be successful. The Air Force-led revolt had neither the full backing of the top military brass nor a significant majority of the Armed Forces. The coup plotters seem to have paid only cursory attention to the “do’s and don’t’s” in Edward Luttwak’s “Coup d’Etat – A Practical Handbook”.
Holidaying on the resort island Marmaris, Erdogan courageously rushed to Istanbul to lead from the front even before Ataturk Airport was fully secured. Escorted by loyalist F-16s, two rebel F-16s missile-locked onto the President’s aircraft for a few crucial moments. They did not shoot him down probably because his pilots deployed a backup transponder falsely describing his aircraft as a regular Turkish Airlines flight. Responding to Erdogan’s call the masses took to the streets to protect the “Erdogan version of democracy”, some despite being often outspoken against it. Erdogan must give political weightage to their spontaneity in bridging the deep political divide between secularism and conservatism.
Nearly 260 loyalist civilians and police personnel were killed in air strikes by rebel aircraft and helicopter gunships. Concrete indicators point to Gülen Movement’s involvement, blaming the US-based Fethullah Gülen for the coup attempt Turkey requested his extradition. Unlike the Pakistan Army consisting entirely of volunteer professional soldiers, the 405000 member Turkish Armed Forces has 75000 fulltime volunteers, 330000 being short term conscripts drawn mainly from the rural areas with a strong leaning towards Islam (and by default Erdogan). Gülen failed to deeply infiltrate the Turkish Army but seems to have made some inroads into the Air Force. Possible civil war destroying the Turkish economic and military potential like has happened in Muslim countries Libya, Syria, Iraq, etc was averted, the Turkish Armed Forces thankfully remain intact.
The failed coup attempt will strengthen Erdogan’s hands to push his political agenda in line with his vision. The coup folded as night gave way to dawn, footage of people flooding the streets and rebel soldiers with their arms raised in surrender flashed across TV screens. The several thousand people subsequently detained include a wide spectrum of high ranking military officers, members of the judiciary, police, civil servants, etc. Vowing to purge state bodies of the “virus” that caused the revolt, Erdogan declared 3 months emergency and promised harsh punishment. A word of caution, humiliating the coup plotters in public could provoke a possible backlash.
Turkey’s military has staged three successful coups between 1960 and 1980, forcing Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, a pious Muslim mentor of Erdogan disliked by Turkey’s secular establishment, out of power in 1997. Pakistan’s coups in 1958, 1977 and 1999 initiated by the military high command succeeded, quite a number of coup attempts by those lower down the ranks have failed. Troops did not move into the streets or take over govt institutions when the military acted in 1993. Not recognized as a military coup, the “Kakar Model” was the only one that faithfully accomplished its stated aims and objectives. The others fell prey to personal ambition and greed. The COAS Gen Waheed Kakar neither abrogated nor suspended the Constitution, general elections were held in the constitutionally required period and power handed back to the politicians without any delay, essentially because things were not so bad as today. Despite being pressurized by PM Ms Benazir, to his lasting credit Waheed Kakar did not take an extension.
PML(N) leaders Khawaja Asif, Maryam Nawaz, Pervez Rasheed, etc went overboard on primetime TV vociferously cautioning those thinking of military intervention to “learn a lesson” from Turkey. In a disgusting and unnecessary swipe at the Pakistan Army, Nawaz Sharif congratulated the Turkish people for ‘standing up to the forces of darkness and those ambushing democracy’. The Turkish version of democracy differs from that being practiced in Pakistan. The streets became alive because Erdogan has been delivering on his promises, our rulers callously serve their own interests governing by remote control from London and Dubai.
Except Article 6 of the Constitution, our rulers pay scant attention to their Constitutional obligations towards the eight fundamental elements of good governance identified by the United Nation Development Program (UNDP), i.e. participation of all stakeholders, rule of law, transparency, responsiveness, consensus orientation, equity, effectiveness, efficiency and accountability. The last Census was conducted in 1998, successive political govts have avoided in a new census because it will drastically alter the demographic balance and decrease their powers. With a growing population, dwindling resources, security problems, etc, a fresh Census will give planners the essential data for correct future projections, i.e. about NFC award, local bodies polls, delimitation of electoral constituencies, seat shares in parliament, targeted subsidies, and other policy matters.
Raheel Shareef has caught the imagination of people with his integrity and commitment, as someone who unlike our politicians keeps his word. With real successes against terrorism and corruption, the Army has done more than our political leaders towards fulfilling expectations of the people. Mere sloganeering of “democracy” no longer works, our politicians must come out of their comfort zone of hypocrisy to deliver and perform a la Tayyip Erdogan.
Loved by a great majority, Erdogan’s physical presence at the cutting edge of danger encouraged his people to confront the tanks. In the end, the counter-coup that restored the Erdogan government was Army-led. The PML (N) leaders fantasize that our public will similarly flood the streets in case of a military coup. Our political leaders cannot compare with the outstanding Erdogan by any stretch of imagination, Because of large scale corruption, inefficiency and nepotism coupled with sheer mis-governance, the public will come out in droves, not to demonstrate against any possible military coup but to cheer and welcome the Armed Forces. While military intervention is the solution of last resort, it really is no solution. The khakis cannot run the government, but given the present situation, maybe like Gen Kakar did in 1993 it is time to run the people who run the government!
(The writer is a defense and security analyst).