Dictatorship goes constitutional


Shortly after the 1999 coup, General Musharraf told the nation: "I shall not allow the people to be taken back to the era of sham democracy." Four years later, the people realized that Musharraf has truly kept his word. He did not allow anyone to take people back to the era of shame democracy. He did it himself.
The lesson General Musharraf and his Western backers are leaving behind for other coup leaders in this process is: If the constitution does not legitimize your actions, delegitimize the constitution. That you can do by virtue of holding it in abeyance. In the meanwhile, instead of mending your ways, amend the constitution to legitimize both your actions and the “sacred” document.
It might sound odd and impossible but not for someone backed up by absolute power.
The former shame Pakistani democracies now seem far better by comparison when looked at in the perspective of all the crusaders of democracy fully approving and supporting a people’s living under a systematically legalized dictatorship.
Those who still have doubts need only to begin with the recently approved package of amendments to Pakistan’s constitution –” that “legitimize all the actions and deeds of General Pervez Musharraf since he seized power in a military coup four years ago,”[1] –” and see what actions has it really endorsed.
People hardly doubt when a BBC correspondent tells them that Musharraf’s “biggest critics” have provided the “constitutional legitimacy he so badly needed.” No one asks if only MMA is the real force behind granting legitimacy to Musharraf’s unconstitutional deeds, and if he is really now a constitutionally legitimate president.  
We need to look at who is actually behind bestowing the “constitutional” legitimacy on General Musharraf. Internally, it is now an open secret as to who brought the so-called critics of MMA to this bargaining position and how everything unconstitutional before the coup is not legitimate in the constitution amended with absolute power.

It would be too naïve to believe that the constitution says: "The Proclamation of Emergency of October 14, 1999, all President’s Orders, Ordinances, Chief Executive’s Orders… shall not be called in question in any court or forum on any ground whatsoever." This is the brute force talking.

Constitution is nothing more than what we put in it. Any clause inserted under the label of amendment can never be legitimate if it makes its way only through a series of extra-constitutional measures against the will of the people.

No one can tell that today’s General is sitting there with half as much public support as the General of October 12, 1999. By the same token, he occupies the top slot not because of any legitimacy but simply for having far more powers than he had on the eve of the coup.

Up to 9/11, he could not say he would be able to stay in power until 2003. Today his stay until 2008 is perfectly ensured with guaranteed extensions like any of the most-favored US-dictators. He formed the government party and he brought and bought the opposition. Who can beat him now?

His authority to dismiss Pakistan’s national and provincial assemblies is legitimized and despite all the tall claims to democracy, he can do so now without first consulting the Supreme Court.[2]

Furthermore, the General is now able to form a National Security Council that will directly involve the armed forces in the “civilian” government’s formal decision-making process.

In fact, the constitutional amendments have given Musharraf all these abilities. We, however, need not let our short memories hold us from asking: who made these amendments and for what purpose? And: who have approved these amendment and under what circumstances?

Let us not forget that the General’s 1999 coup was widely condemned. US President urged for a quick return to “civilian democratic rule.”[3] US State Department spokesman called the General to “respect the spirit and the letter of the constitution."[4] UK Foreign Secretary stressed that the General should respect the “civilian constitution.”[5]

Note the reverence for “constitution” and “civilian” in these messages of condemnation. Germany called for respect for constitution. EU president Finland said: "The EU can in no circumstances approve extra-constitutional and non-democratic means.”

European Union canceled plans to sign trade and cooperation agreement with Pakistan the very next day of the coup and Commonwealth leaders at their Durban summit decided a month later to suspend Pakistan from the group.

From the beginning, Musharraf’s was in the hunt for un-constitutional means to legitimize his rule. In the very first press conference on November 1, he hinted at holding a referendum to make amendments to the Constitution.

Four months later, the government decided to restore Article 58(2) B to give him powers to dissolve the national assembly and the government. In June, 2001, Gen Musharraf dissolved the parliament and named himself president to replace the figurehead president, Rafiq Tarar.

The US, European Union and Commonwealth once more criticized Gen Musharraf’s unconstitutional decisions. On August 10, Lahore High Court also observed that the coup leader has no extra powers as president.
The next month, however, came with many glad tidings for the General. Just 12 days after 9/11, Washington lifted sanctions against Pakistan. Constitution and democracy went up in smoke as Powell descended on Islamabad 35 days after 9/11 and Musharraf was offered $800 million immediate cash grant on October 20.
German Chancellor forgot all German calls for respecting the constitution. He did not hesitate to proudly embrace Gen Musharraf on October 28. Rumsfeld was in Islamabad on Nov 4 and Musharraf was in London four days later.
Less than a week later, the once unacceptable dictator was addressing the UN General Assembly. And exactly two month after 9/11, Bush –” the chief crusader for democracy –” was standing shoulder to shoulder with Musharraf on Nov 11, promising him up to $1 billion and talks on Kashmir.

Less than a month later, the IMF executive body agreed to lend Pakistan $1.3 billion. Afterwards, there appeared no bumps and turns on the highway to Musharraf’s legitimacy. If Blair was in Islamabad on Jan 07, 2002; Kofi Annan followed on 24th; Musharraf dashed to White House on Feb 13 and emperor Akihito of Japan lauded him in March.

It was an ideal environment for the rubber stamp cabinet and the National Security Council to approve holding of a referendum for extending the dictatorial rule.

Six days after declaring victory in a referendum widely criticized as unconstitutional and fraught with irregularities, Musharraf focused on inducting army in the future civilian setup. Constitutional amendments were next to come out of Musharraf’s Pandora box.

In August 2002, Musharraf granted himself further sweeping new powers for which he was widely accused of perpetuating dictatorship.

The champions of democracy turned a blind eye to Musharraf’s taking several measures prior to the October elections to ensure his long-term survival and influence the election outcome. 
The major embarrassment in referendum misled many to believe that the General would be less inclined to interfere in the future election process.  However, political developments indicated this was not to be the case. 
This summary of unconstitutional steps shows that a seemingly constitutional vote in the end does not legitimise all the means adapted by the General in the last four years.

It shows the extent of US interference and Western manipulation of democracy in countries such as Pakistan. The victims of shame democracy have absolutely no idea as to how to bring an end to a dictatorship that went constitutional with their own vote.
While voting in 2002 elections, very few Pakistani knew that most of the apparently anti- Musharraf candidates were also propped up by the most powerful government agency. The result is granting constitutional legitimacy to tyranny with people’s vote by people’s representative.
However, Pakistanis are not alone. Many Iraqis and Afghan are also busy digging their own grave as the US oversees their constitution developing process. Americans too are not spared as their representative in Congress are leading by example through extending governmental power to suppress the free and open exchange of knowledge and information or to intimidate individuals exercising free inquiry.
USA Patriot Act is an example of a present danger to the constitutional rights of Americans. The happy news for peace and freedom loving people of the world at these depressing times is that we are still at the early stages of our forced march towards perfecting global tyranny.
And the solution lies in shattering the myths of secularism, democracy and freedom as presented by the totalitarians sitting in high places today.

[1]. Zaffar Abbas, Musharraf and the Mullas, BBC report, December 30, 2003. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/3357245.stm

[2]. Ibid. Zaffar Abbas, BBC report

[3]. BBC News: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/473507.stm

[4]. BBC News: http://news.bbc.co.uk/olmedia/470000/audio/_472803_statedept.ram

[5]. Mr Cook said he was "deeply worried" by the situation but added: "The military there must be under no illusion: we will strongly condemn any unconstitutional actions.”I call on all parties to respect the constitution, the rule of law and the democratic process." http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/473314.stm


Abid Ullah Jan’s latest book "The End of Democracy" is now available here .

Author’s latest book, “The Musharraf Factor: Leading Pakistan to Inevitable Demise,” is now available.

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