Military regimes in this country have a triple choice of acts to follow, the Ayub, Yahya or Zia role models. Or they can do the smart thing, be selective about what is good for the country from all three models and shun what is bad. Ayub and Zia took the manipulative route to extend their respective tenures, in hindsight Yahya probably should have manipulated the elections to maintain the unity of this country. The Yahya model was easily the best with respect to governance but he gambled free and fair elections against the country’s future and lost, the good points of his regime have been long forgotten. Ayub’s formula was indirect elections through an 80000 strong electoral college, while Zia, more of a hands-on politician, mastered the art of manipulating a few hundred parliamentarians. Except for a profound belief in God, Zia never meant what he said and never said what he meant. Both the dictators enjoyed favourable international environment, reasonably good economies as well as having their considerable military outlays shored up by countries that had a self-interest in doing so, at least so long as it suited their geo-strategic grand designs.
Mosharraf inherited an impossible economic situation in a world extremely hostile to military takeovers. Placed No 2 in the Corruption index, an imperfect democratic system ensured that less than 16% of the total votes that could be cast was translated as a “massive mandate” alternately for either of the two major political parties to make hay while their sun shone. Except for a coup how where we to get out of the Catch-22 corruption trap while the leaders of both major political parties alternated in looting the public till in the name of democracy. The irony is that to avoid accountability the same politicians are brazenly recommending a “safe exit” for the military regime. Thrust into a situation not of his own making, Pervez Mosharraf faced a cabal of countries hell-bent on clamping sanctions on us till we whispered “uncle” and made the right noises on CTBT, nuclear non-proliferation being more on their minds of powers-that-be than any democratic mores. Our politicians went off to their uncles in the Commonwealth to bail them out, hypocrisy personified in their crocodile tears. The military regime capitalized on two brilliant moves, not declaring martial law and giving the press full freedom. No small help also in that internationally Mosharraf presents the liberal image of an Army painted by virulent Indian propaganda as having “fundamentalist” leanings.
A military regime by any name can never be a good enough replacement for democracy but with the major percentage of the civil administration and politicians thoroughly corrupt, the country’s very existence was threatened, military rule is an always acceptable alternative. Till very recently Mosharraf’s heart (and the minds of his closest aides) seemed to be pushing the Ayub model a la Turkey i.e. with garnishings of constitutional role for the military, but recent events have been more of the Zia-kind 80’s era. The military has involved itself in day-to-day governance more than is necessary and chosen an indifferent lot of civilian technocrats to help run the country, even so one felt that there is method in their madness. One has to be a little gone in the mind to try and govern Pakistan in the conditions prevailing. As the most professionally competent bunch among the four military regimes, one expected their performance levels to be far above that of the previous three. Therefore the events of March have been disturbing, creating doubt as to their ultimate intentions, more importantly as to their ability to apply the experience of yesteryears to today’s situations. Both the Ayubian and Zia scripts call for Republicanizing the PML into a “more loyal than the King’s party”, any time any Army plays politics it is a potential disaster in the making. To quote Col Otto Von Skorzeny, “politics is the soldier’s curse”.
Mian Mohammad Azhar may be a good man but certainly this country deserves better, he should not have been thrust upon us as a national leader, that he is not and will never be. One must remember that even a city like Lahore does not a country make, manipulation invariably begets deliberate misinformation in reaction. With devolution set to bring in grass-roots accountability of sorts, why wreck its credibility before it is even operative? If the whole exercise is meant to first bring in a Presidential system and use the “restored assemblies” to put their dhobi mark on amending the constitution to make the President all-powerful, Mian Azhar may be a convenient fall-guy but why not go the direct (and soldierly) route and for a change avoid Sharifuddin Pirzada’s legal subterfuge? To his credit Mian Azhar was among those who quite vehemently opposed the Sharif regime from within the PML when the Sharifs were in power but selective accountability and blatant political patronage has undercut both his and the military’s credibility, many believing that Zardaris and Sharifs excluded, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain’s Gujrat Inc had the most to account for. The intelligent men of the Intelligence have virtually assured a large bloc in the National Assembly for PPP, certainly a workable majority in the Sindh Assembly. Using the PML split to her advantage in the Local Bodies election, Ms Benazir, the most resilient comeback kid of all times, has run an effective filibuster on the theory that if she keeps up a drumbeat of denials and tell lies long (and loudly) enough, the falsehood will ultimately be accepted as the truth.
Mosharraf’s biggest problem is that he cannot tell a deliberate lie. With the result that when asked about doffing his uniform as COAS come October, he flatly said he would not retire. Questioned about Presidential aspirations, he chose to be deliberately vague, tacitly confirming to skeptics their fears. Howls of protest emanated from politicians of all ilk except the nouveau faithful i.e. PML (Republican), the same crowd that not only approved of Tarar but applauded him when he was brought out from oblivion like a rabbit out of a hat by the Sharifs. But can (or should) the military regime rely on the loyalty of those (with the honourable exception of Mian Azhar and few others) who have a proven record of turning on their masters when the masters are no longer in power?
The Chief Executive is presently the absolute ruler, the Supreme Court of Pakistan says so, more importantly the Army says so. All power of the State being vested in him by that diktat, what’s the fuss if he assumes the post of President? He should have done so on Oct 12, 1999 in the first place and saved us from the ridiculous sight of the “Tarar goose-step” on Constitution Avenue on Republic Day. Rafiq Tarar should have done the honourable thing and resigned when the Sharifs were downed but such nuances about honour and loyalty are probably beyond his lexicon. The Sharifs (and for all politicians) brought in Tarar on a two-fold purpose, viz (1) have a loyal puppet in the Presidency and (2) downgrade the importance of this august office. Convenient for the Sharifs (and for all politicians) perhaps but for a self-respecting country to have such a Head of State is nonsense logic. What we need is the rapid un-Tarar-isation of Pakistan, why play out this ridiculous farce?
The military must avoid initiating a pretty complicated political maneuver when the need of the hour is to formulate and execute a simple gameplan. While the end result is acceptable, i.e. only a powerful President will be a comprehensive insurance that institutional reforms being enacted will more importantly, continue to see light of the day in the future, the modus operandi being employed to ensure that is asinine. Given that politicians have repeatedly tried to put their favourites into the COAS Chair to fortify their own existence and that political parties have only carried out selective accountability of their opponents, if at all, the COAS Chair should not be made a political football and accountability a motivated revenge machine a la Saif. Defence and accountability should be Presidential subjects. The Supreme Court should suo-moto repeal such amendments in the Constitution that Nawaz Sharif brought in to circumscribe Presidential powers. Only as President can Mosharraf ensure not only free and fair general elections a la Yahya before Oct 2002 but more importantly, continuity. Any political party or grouping thereof that is elected should uninhibited in governing under a strong Presidency. Mosharraf believes in what he says but on issues that no one in uniform has ever had real command of e.g. the economy, he continues to be badly misinformed about possible courses of action. Mosharraf is a lucky man, he must use his own good fortune for the good of this country sensibly before both his luck and time run out. Let people without ambition or inhibition tell him the truth as it is, not as he wants to hear it. Armed with the correct facts and believing in his destiny, he can only do good for this nation. Instead of wasting time in a game of musical legal chairs, Mosharraf should end this charade, put Tarar out to pasture and get on with it!
Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).