Indispensable or Indefensible?

0
73

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).

The President and the country are both at a crossroads, partly because of Pervez Musharraf’s own making in accepting convoluted legal advice complicating the constitutional situation but  mostly due to the drastic changes in the geo-political circumstances since 9/11.  While the full details of the deadlock on the LFO talks are still to be publicly aired, the crunch really lies in the President being the constitutional Head of State while hanging on to the office of the COAS. Where is ample evidence to suggest there is room for compromise on all other issues but a major part of the Opposition bloc has shown no inclination to budge unless the comprehensive package includes the shedding of his Army uniform by the President. The Opposition have shown a penchant for freezing all Parliamentary work by making a violent nuisance of themselves in the Assemblies.

The President and the country are both at a crossroads, partly because of Pervez Musharraf’s own making in accepting convoluted legal advice complicating the constitutional situation but  mostly due to the drastic changes in the geo-political circumstances since 9/11.  While the full details of the deadlock on the LFO talks are still to be publicly aired, the crunch really lies in the President being the constitutional Head of State while hanging on to the office of the COAS. Where is ample evidence to suggest there is room for compromise on all other issues but a major part of the Opposition bloc has shown no inclination to budge unless the comprehensive package includes the shedding of his Army uniform by the President. The Opposition have shown a penchant for freezing all Parliamentary work by making a violent nuisance of themselves in the Assemblies.

 

 

In any democracy the President cannot be the Army Chief concurrently. As long as Pervez Musharraf is COAS, this is not democracy but a continuation of the military regime, to suggest otherwise would be a farce.  The democratic institutions may have been put in place but it would be incongruity to suggest that while one man holds power through the barrel of the gun we are a democracy.  The gradual democratization process will not be complete until the COAS doffs his uniform. What the Opposition is suggesting is not wrong, theoretically. 

In any democracy the President cannot be the Army Chief concurrently. As long as Pervez Musharraf is COAS, this is not democracy but a continuation of the military regime, to suggest otherwise would be a farce.  The democratic institutions may have been put in place but it would be incongruity to suggest that while one man holds power through the barrel of the gun we are a democracy.  The gradual democratization process will not be complete until the COAS doffs his uniform. What the Opposition is suggesting is not wrong, theoretically. 

 

 

9/11 came after the SC verdict giving Pervez Musharraf three years till Oct 12, 2002 for a return to full democracy.  The US has paid scant attention (or respect) even to its traditional allies when their national perceptions (as in Iraq) have clashed with the US primary national interest,  today that happens to be the eradication of “international terrorism” personified by al-Qaeda. Even though Pervez Musharraf had the courage to make a U-turn in the country’s supreme interest, in the real sense he had hardly any choice.  The President took a  personal risk being brave enough to put country before self.  But do take a look at the economic (and political) windfall we have had because of 9/11, from going into default, we had a surge in economic terms because of aid, outright grants, debt rescheduling, tripling (this year) of home remittances, lifting of sanctions, etc.  When India found to its chagrin that we had become an “allied” state instead of  being a “terrorist nation”, they contrived to force us to the brink of nuclear holocaust.  It required nerves of steel for Musharraf to keep his cool in the face of conventional war destruction by an enemy poised on our borders in an offensive posture, this could have potentially led to nuclear devastation.  From refusing to talk to us under any condition, in a complete reversal Vajpayee is all “honey and sugar”.  The Indian PM wants to even discuss the core question of Kashmir, the raison d’etre for the collapse of talks at Agra! Notwithstanding Kashmir’s freedom fighters  repeatedly crossing the fine-line into terrorism by attacking civilian targets, God alone knows we fit the world’s perceived billing of “most terrorist nation” State for our ill-advised support of the Taliban. Thanks to the quick decision by Musharraf, the US attention did not shift to Pakistan, not that we have not tried our level best to be called a “failed nation”, take for example the behaviour of our Parliamentarians within the Assembly, in trying to “civilianise”  Pervez Musharraf they have been rather “uncivilized”. 

9/11 came after the SC verdict giving Pervez Musharraf three years till Oct 12, 2002 for a return to full democracy.  The US has paid scant attention (or respect) even to its traditional allies when their national perceptions (as in Iraq) have clashed with the US primary national interest,  today that happens to be the eradication of “international terrorism” personified by al-Qaeda. Even though Pervez Musharraf had the courage to make a U-turn in the country’s supreme interest, in the real sense he had hardly any choice.  The President took a  personal risk being brave enough to put country before self.  But do take a look at the economic (and political) windfall we have had because of 9/11, from going into default, we had a surge in economic terms because of aid, outright grants, debt rescheduling, tripling (this year) of home remittances, lifting of sanctions, etc.  When India found to its chagrin that we had become an “allied” state instead of  being a “terrorist nation”, they contrived to force us to the brink of nuclear holocaust.  It required nerves of steel for Musharraf to keep his cool in the face of conventional war destruction by an enemy poised on our borders in an offensive posture, this could have potentially led to nuclear devastation.  From refusing to talk to us under any condition, in a complete reversal Vajpayee is all “honey and sugar”.  The Indian PM wants to even discuss the core question of Kashmir, the raison d’etre for the collapse of talks at Agra! Notwithstanding Kashmir’s freedom fighters  repeatedly crossing the fine-line into terrorism by attacking civilian targets, God alone knows we fit the world’s perceived billing of “most terrorist nation” State for our ill-advised support of the Taliban. Thanks to the quick decision by Musharraf, the US attention did not shift to Pakistan, not that we have not tried our level best to be called a “failed nation”, take for example the behaviour of our Parliamentarians within the Assembly, in trying to “civilianise”  Pervez Musharraf they have been rather “uncivilized”. 

 

 

If the Assemblymen continue to run riot within the sacred Parliamentary halls and the President is powerless to intercede, either on behalf of the govt or against it, it would be open invitation for the Army to again intercede. And given Musharraf’s benign rule which went against the grain of traditional martial laws in not having martial law courts and maintaining complete media freedom, the next military rule is likely to be a tough affair. Repression could likely lead to reaction by the citizenry, turning civil disturbances into armed insurrection and ultimately to a full-scale civil war. And simply because the President needs a comfortable fail-safe period to ensure that the democratic process is not violently retarded?  There has to be an exit strategy for the Armed Forces.  As much as it is constitutionally abhorrent, so is the present arrangement of being not quite democratic. So why continue this Catch-22?  In the present scenario any step back by the President will be taken as a sign of weakness on his part that the immaturity in our political culture will not fail to try and exploit.

If the Assemblymen continue to run riot within the sacred Parliamentary halls and the President is powerless to intercede, either on behalf of the govt or against it, it would be open invitation for the Army to again intercede. And given Musharraf’s benign rule which went against the grain of traditional martial laws in not having martial law courts and maintaining complete media freedom, the next military rule is likely to be a tough affair. Repression could likely lead to reaction by the citizenry, turning civil disturbances into armed insurrection and ultimately to a full-scale civil war. And simply because the President needs a comfortable fail-safe period to ensure that the democratic process is not violently retarded?  There has to be an exit strategy for the Armed Forces.  As much as it is constitutionally abhorrent, so is the present arrangement of being not quite democratic. So why continue this Catch-22?  In the present scenario any step back by the President will be taken as a sign of weakness on his part that the immaturity in our political culture will not fail to try and exploit.

 

 

The geo-political and domestic circumstances point to the solution being that the President should continue as COAS till the term  of his (COAS) office is over in early October 2004 with the proviso that if the President deems it fit that circumstances permit that he relieve himself of the COAS post before Oct 2004, he would do so voluntarily at his own discretion.  This formula gives the Opposition a definite date while giving the President  the option of the date of retirement without a Sword of Damocles held over his head because of a definite cut-off date.  With the buck firmly on the President’s desk  and the fact that he is not a lame-duck incumbent, he can retire as COAS earlier and show that the nation’s trust reposed on him was not misplaced.

The geo-political and domestic circumstances point to the solution being that the President should continue as COAS till the term  of his (COAS) office is over in early October 2004 with the proviso that if the President deems it fit that circumstances permit that he relieve himself of the COAS post before Oct 2004, he would do so voluntarily at his own discretion.  This formula gives the Opposition a definite date while giving the President  the option of the date of retirement without a Sword of Damocles held over his head because of a definite cut-off date.  With the buck firmly on the President’s desk  and the fact that he is not a lame-duck incumbent, he can retire as COAS earlier and show that the nation’s trust reposed on him was not misplaced.

 

 

In the meantime it becomes incumbent on the President to listen to good advice from those who hold the country’s interest paramount and have the performance criteria to go with it.  The President is a very personable man but after advising him in print and in person without great success on many issues, most importantly in vainly advising him against the  holding of the Referendum,  one does get the feeling that while he hears you  intently, he does not listen.  The perception of a condescending attitude is dangerous, it alienates friends and supporters. The great rulers of the last 50 years to emulate are Deng Tsao Peng, Lee Kwan Yew and Nelson Mandela, they all made a difference to their respective nations without making a difference to their own personal fortunes, or allowing their associates to do so.  All of them have attributed their success to listening to good advice. They had no “court jesters” to give them “advice” on national issues.  The President has a responsibility to the nation to turn to the best possible talent in the country to tackle the country’s problems and not be susceptible to the advice of “loyal friends” only. Court jesters are necessary for rulers, they help him (or her) relax from the pressures of office, but it is fatal for the country if their advice is taken seriously. 

In the meantime it becomes incumbent on the President to listen to good advice from those who hold the country’s interest paramount and have the performance criteria to go with it.  The President is a very personable man but after advising him in print and in person without great success on many issues, most importantly in vainly advising him against the  holding of the Referendum,  one does get the feeling that while he hears you  intently, he does not listen.  The perception of a condescending attitude is dangerous, it alienates friends and supporters. The great rulers of the last 50 years to emulate are Deng Tsao Peng, Lee Kwan Yew and Nelson Mandela, they all made a difference to their respective nations without making a difference to their own personal fortunes, or allowing their associates to do so.  All of them have attributed their success to listening to good advice. They had no “court jesters” to give them “advice” on national issues.  The President has a responsibility to the nation to turn to the best possible talent in the country to tackle the country’s problems and not be susceptible to the advice of “loyal friends” only. Court jesters are necessary for rulers, they help him (or her) relax from the pressures of office, but it is fatal for the country if their advice is taken seriously. 

 

 

The “power play” going on in Islamabad about suspending/dissolving the Assemblies may be a necessary “Sword of Damocles” but it could backfire if it really comes to pass and is not handled with sincere intent.  I support the President as the COAS even though I believe he has no business wearing both the hats together, this support is because I believe that in the availing domestic and geo-political circumstances there is no choice, the risk of change being too great.   The President must understand that while presently he is indispensable to the country he must not make his own position indefensible by risking his credibility on the advice of aides without knowledge or experience espousing what he wants to hear rather than what is good for the country.

The “power play” going on in Islamabad about suspending/dissolving the Assemblies may be a necessary “Sword of Damocles” but it could backfire if it really comes to pass and is not handled with sincere intent.  I support the President as the COAS even though I believe he has no business wearing both the hats together, this support is because I believe that in the availing domestic and geo-political circumstances there is no choice, the risk of change being too great.   The President must understand that while presently he is indispensable to the country he must not make his own position indefensible by risking his credibility on the advice of aides without knowledge or experience espousing what he wants to hear rather than what is good for the country.

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here