Very few leaders have faced the series of crises that Pervez Musharraf has in his nearly three years of governance. As absolute military leaders in Pakistan go, he has been a cut above the rest and given that he took the ultimate risk of allowing a free print media, till several weeks ago he has had very good Press. Even the electronic media, Pakistan TV being within strict government control, ARY Digital being patriotically supportive and even though Shaheen Foundation pulled out its money and material support of Indus Vision, it was immediately replaced by frontmen of vested interest, has been very very supportive. Before the Referendum Gen Musharraf was a very popular man, and even though he was clearly the winner by far, a suddenly hostile media “took the laurels from his brow and cast it into the dust”, with apologies for paraphrasing Churchill describing Lord Wavell after Rommel had delivered to the victor of Abyssinia and Eritria a series of stinging defeats in the Desert in the Second World War. As we wound down the 90 days to the October elections and the “natives become restless”, the rhetoric will get rougher. The President will have to have a very tough skin to bear this verbal and written onslaught, particularly when it is only partly deserved. He deserves to have aides who will deflect the attacks rather than pursue their own crass commercial interests.
Lt Gen Tanvir Naqvi is presently the subject of intense political and media vituperation for his proposals concerning the constitutional amendments. While one holds no brief for this theoretical genius with a gift of the gab, one must give him his due, in the circumstances availing in Paksitan over the past 50 years, a major part of the proposed charges are relevant and necessary. Gen Naqvi is not street smart otherwise he would have realized that framing the amendments was only a part of his job, his major task was to sell the package wholly or in parts to a very skeptical public stoked with misinformation by vested politicians determined to maintain the status quo. Because of tactical mistakes made in the run-up to the Referendum the print media became suddenly hostile, assuming for itself the cause of the masses. It is no use doing the right thing, one must be seen to be the right thing. Selling the government’s viewpoint is now Nisar Memon’s domain and he has taken up cudgels quite effectively, supported efficiently by Federal Secretary Anwar Mahmood, a consummate bureaucrat who has been close, as every bureaucrat should be, to every regime that he has served. There is a duality of responsibility here because of the role of Rashid Qureshi who as the military Cardinal really runs the government media and manipulated Javed Jabbar’s ouster. This weakness for being a prima donna lies at the very heart of the military regime, the penchant for self-projection even at the cost of the person he serves. Leaving aside self-interest through proxies, if Qureshi is really loyal to his boss he should ask for another appointment.
Lt Gen Hamid Javed is a very fine officer, a good staff person who was an asset to the Army in his previous appointment in marvelously organizing the indigenous production of tanks and armoured personnel carriers (APCs). While he has been a reasonable success as Principal Staff Officer (PSO) to the President and Chief Executive, he has been unable to match the political savvy of late Lt Gen Ghulam Muhammad (GA). With rank uniformed amateurs in the ISI trying to be professional politicians and manipulating the political process, we have a potential disaster on our hands. Why in God’s name is the government hell-bent in getting political alliances together? Why do not they concentrate on how to sell it to the public that the President’s continuity in office is important for friend and foe alike, to give constitutional cover to the reforms enacted across the broad spectrum of governance and that it would not be in the national interest to have a political morass (a danga-fasad) post-Oct 12?
The military regime had three years to prove the charges of corruption and mal-administration against Benazir, Mian Nawaz Sharif, Asif Zardari, etc. By accepting parole in Saudi Arabia, Mian Sahib has disqualified himself, whether Ms Benazir will risk returning to face a court of law is a moot point. Asif Zardar has borne his incarceration with grace. In their absence, their parties will continue to do well politically, the PPP far more than PML (N). The only course open to Mian Nawaz Sharif is to be pragmatic, to give over the party Presidentship to Shahbaz Sharif. Even then one does not think PML (N) and PML (Q-A) will come together, but political survival will cause them to have seat adjustments, this would preserve the facade of two major political parties. The MQM remains a potent force but even with Sindh Democratic Alliance (SDA) support, Farooq Leghari’s Millat Party is not going to go far. The biggest beneficiary by far of the reduced voting age to 18 is Imran Khan. Those who were 21 in 1997 are 26 now, the youth encompassing 8 years from 18 to 26 is very much pro-Imran, but these votes do not translate into electoral seats in the Assemblies without at least one or two alliances of expediency. This Imran Khan is loath to have. The religious parties have banded together and it is to be expected that they will have seats by themselves but not much more than they traditionally get. With the barring of non-graduates and disqualification on other grounds, a whole new set of faces will come to the political fore as happened in the Local Bodies elections. Given the powers that the President will have in comparison to the PM and the Constitutional status given to a number of appointees in critical positions, good governance is more likely as bad governance will be difficult in the new constitutional circumstances. The President should have nothing to do with day-to-day governance, acting only through the proposal National Security Council (NSC) as and when politically required. As opposed to NSC in the political role, in the geo-political a NSC Secretariat is necessary, to differentiate and end the confusion, one may therefore re-name the political entity as either the National (or Presidential) Advisory Council.
We need President Musharraf and he needs to get his act together. As a survivor he knows when to cut his losses and consolidate his position. As a keen student of military history he knows that he cannot afford to reinforce failure. Whether he thinks his team has done well or not is not the issue, the issue is what is the public perception? The greatest tragedy will be if Musharraf’s place in history is sullied because of the inefficiency, ineffectiveness and insensitivity to political nuances of his aides, some may even have their grubby hands in the muck of corruption. Pervez Musharraf came with good intent and though longevity in power is the ambition of every ruler, the country’s interests coincide with his ambitions of continuing in a monitoring role as a non-controversial President. We do not need to have General selections by the CE’s Secretariat on the one hand and the ISI on the other, the military regime’s salvation lies in holding free and fair elections within the parameters of a workable Constitution. The Constitution cannot be mutilated by personal interests but it can be amended for the good of the entire nation. As the last 3 years have shown Pervez Musharraf has a remarkable tendency to ride destiny.
Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).