Beyond December: Damaging for Pakistan and for Musharraf


In the last one week so many have spoken and so differently. The Prime Minister said the President’s uniform will go, the break away PPP faction has repeatedly, individually and collectively insisted that it should stay “in national interest” and the President himself in his BBC Hard talk recorded on April 9 said he was confused about the issue. Finally though the Information Minister has spoken on behalf of the President to say the matter is settled, the President will abide by the 17th Amendment and will only hold one office. This statement notwithstanding the controversy over President retaining the position of the COAS raises many fundamental questions about what is best for Pakistan’s Musharraf-engineered democracy.

In Pakistan’s current context the legal and the Constitutional arguments are perhaps less relevant than ones related to the context of power and politics. Legality and Constitution have not undermined the country’s current power scene despite Asif Zardari’s unending imprisonment, Javed Hashmi’s disputed conviction, the pre-poll rigging, Supreme Court’s judgement on Shahbaz Sharif’s return and induction of NAB-nabbed men in the parliament. In this transition phase, from pure military rule to some hybrid system, there is one man who, operating within and outside of the system, calls the shots; the military President general Parvez Musharraf who slotted himself as President first through a controversial referendum but subsequently through a simple vote of confidence. Hence any tinkering or alteration within the system involves his person.

Musharraf oversees a quasi-democratic system which he maintains he will turn into a “genuine democracy.” While on internal security, foreign policy and economy fronts, aided and cajoled by numerous internal and internal factors, despite his occasionally questionable use of terminology the President has demonstrated skill, boldness and understanding of national interest, his ‘project political engineering’ remains highly controversial. Although the administrative advantages of the devolution plan, the existence of a multi-party ideologically diverse and representative parliament and the Constitutional passage of even the controversial Legal Framework Order with two-thirds majority according to Constitutional requirements cannot be denied, serious criticism about the current power play remains. It includes concentration of excessive power in one man , the undermining of the parliament through the formation of NSC , using threat of deportation and imprisonment to discourage Shahbaz Sharif and Benazir to return and the ‘establishment’s continued efforts to break away parliamentarians from the PPP and the PML(N). While the criticism in not unfounded there are difficult options that the opposition leaders have opted against; returning and being deported or being imprisoned.

No doubt these are hard times for politicians and despite criticism of the opposition, human rights organizations and sections of the opinion-makers the establishment’s ‘political re-engineering’ agenda continues. Elected parliamentarians are gravitating towards establishment power. Muslim League re-unification and re-organization , minus the PML(N) is moving ahead, new PPP ‘break-aways’ will join the pro-Musharraf PPPP and at least a couple of PML(N) members will head towards the establishment’s PML. Unless some major unforeseen event takes place the establishment’s political agenda of creating a two party system , along with MQM and the MMA and actively marginalizing Benazir and Nawaz Sharif, will continue. There are no indications of any anti-Musharraf or anti-army civilian political movement emerging since, the ‘greys’ in Pakistan’s politics, in which the military and civilians ‘co-exist,’ will dominate the power scene. Pakistan’s majority politicians having psychologically grown up in the shadow of the khaki and often external crutches see Musharraf and America as the winning combination. For many politicians Musharraf , the military democrat-dictator has also encouraged political freedom within prescribed limits.

This currently engineered military-civilian co-existence notwithstanding the irony is that civil-military relations within the context of state power and political power remain at the heart of Pakistan’s chronic political stability and a weak non-credible state structure. Yet more paradoxical has always been the fact that it would take a military not civilian man to stabilize this relationship, to ensure that this relationship is conducted in accordance with ‘Constitutional rules of the game.’ Active political battling, as we witnessed during the Bhuttos and the Nawaz Sharif or indeed the Zia ul Haq or Ayub era , is not the route to a stable civil-military co-existence in the power context with the civilians ascendant within the political context. Sustainable confidence building between civilians and military would be the result of a process yet in which the uniformed bridge builder demonstrates adherence to rule of law, to upholding the independence of the judiciary, to facilitating efficient functioning of the parliamentary and Senate Committees and effectively oversees the functioning of State institutions.

Musharraf slotted himself in that role when he delivered his October 17 1999 landmark speech which won him peoples’ support. Since, he has greatly deviated from his objectives in his power journey. If much of it would be justified as ‘realpolitick’ then essentially must we conclude that no matter who sits at the top the ‘more it changes the more it is the same’ in Pakistani politics ? No matter what the intentions its the consequential logic that must be at play when people in power make decisions. The outcome of the unauthentic referendum not Musharraf’s intentions became the relevant factor within the political context.

Pakistan’s principle commander’s power journey continues to be a turbulent one, no less a highly risky one for his person too. He still maintains he has the best plan to bring genuine democracy to Pakistan. The state of Pakistan’s politics, the nature of rule of law, barring any unforeseen accident, leaves us with no choice but to continue to let him have his way. Musharraf’s key test of credibility , self-confidence and ability to play the role of a builder of democracy and genuine civil-military bridge builder will come in December. He must say good-bye to his COAS post. That alone will strengthen him as the head of the Pakistani state for he will have demonstrated that transition of power from purely military zones is gradually moving towards civilian-military zones. As a civilian President, objectively Musharraf will continue to be viewed as a powerful President with 58(2)b and with the army’s support. He will enjoy military support since as an institution it holds a corporate view on national issues that Musharraf has devised along with the top military brass, the army will view him ‘their’ best choice to deal with local establishment-garnered political groups at home and with key constituencies abroad.

Any ‘sales pitch’to the president by politicians or others to convince him that he must retain his uniform beyond December flows from the old mindset of politics where all power flows from the GHQ. Such a mindset is what Musharraf himself had promised to alter through genuine democracy and through building the State apparatus. The only step for Musharraf to take within the power context and in the parliament and the military interest is to present himself as a civilian President committed to state-building. As for the politicians who are advocating he stay on as COAS they are the pygmies who with Pakistan’s military dictator’s have perpetuated the damaging civil-military divide within Pakistan. Musharraf will have served Pakistan will only if he would break this pattern. Or else he will go down as merely another military dictator wanting to cling to power. Musharraf , the maverick on Pakistan’s power scene can break from old.