Is Musharraf missing the point?

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In the last few days President general Parvez Musharraf has been forcefully communicating his views to the public. What he says reflects what and how he thinks. What general Musharraf , as the president and the army chief thinks heavily influences decision-making within a context where in matters of State power and politics institutionalized decision-making is almost missing. Instead there exists personalized decision-making led by the army leadership and a couple of key civilian confidantes. This curse of personalized decision-making has been carried through civilian and military governments. It has consistently undermined institutions and encouraged the unaccountable exercise of State power. However given that historically within Pakistan’s power construct it is ‘soldier power’ and not Constitutional power that calls the shots ultimately, when circumstances lead to a military man wielding both ‘soldier power’ and Constitutional power, then his ability to influence the destiny of the nation outstrips the authority of a civilian head of State.

Today, within the realm of State power and political, it is General Parvez Musharraf and his close key advisors who call the shots. As they did in the way the Waziristan issue, the Baluchistan issue, the issue of increasing threat to State authority in the NWFP districts, the Lal masjid issue, the reference against the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) issue, the lawyers’ movement, the potential politicization of the CJP issue and the May 12 CJP’s Karachi trip, were to be handled. Most of these issues are complex issues with a historical legacy and to some extent a regional and international dimension to them. Policy-making on these issues largely flows from the general Musharraf headed-military domain.

As have decisions linked to the Musharraf referendum, the Musharraf uniform, the Musharraf re-election and the Musharraf-Opposition dialogue. However occasionally on tactics there is some input from the political partners. Significantly on Baluchistan and perhaps to a lesser extent on Waziristan, despite the input from its political partners the Musharraf government opted to take the predominantly force route to establish internal sovereignty in Baluchistan.

As for the reference of March 9 against the Chief Justice of Pakistan(CJP), the most critical issue that progressively acquired the characteristics of a serious political challenge to the authority of the Musharraf government, the Musharraf government must take full responsibility; first for the mishandling of what was a Constitutional move and then subsequently for the blundering strategy adopted to tackle a deteriorating political situation.

While according to the President the Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz prepared and sent the reference to the President, most of the subsequent decisions including mistreating the CJP, coming down heavy-handedly on the initial lawyers protests on which the politicians had bandwagoned, on how to respond to the growing public and political support for what the CJP maintained he stood for- all this is what the president refers to as ‘tactics’ did involve the uniformed and civilian intelligence agencies. While in Punjab the PML leadership was allowed to call the shots on how to tackle the CJP Lahore rally, the president and his inner circle have been calling the shots.

The fact is that key members of the president’s own party the PML-Q have let the president know from the inception of the CJP that the issue could potentially snow ball into a serious political crisis for the government. There has been open and not-so-open disagreement with the President. Reports suggest that the president, the secretary-general, the former Prime Minister Jamali, Dr. Sher Afghan Niazi and others have suggested the path of reconciliation. There is also little doubt that irrespective of what may be the ruling wisdom, the post-March 9 developments including the media-lent transparency the Supreme Court judges are in fact been put on public trial themselves. They will have to stay within the parameters of law, Constitution and integrity not within the parameters of power politics in deciding on the petition regarding the Constitutionality of the presidential reference against the CJP. The decision can go either way. ‘Engineering’ outcomes may now be a matter of the past.

The President is right when he says the matter has gone to the Supreme Court and that is where it must be decided. Not in the streets. But those who believe ‘old habits die hard’ are keen to keep some show of street power alive. After all if the lawyers would not have come out initially opposing the handling and subsequently the substance of the CJP issue the Supreme Court would not have had the moral muscle to question the ways of the government and of the State institutions in handling the CJP reference issue.

While some political firework around the CJP issue will continue the more serious issue is now what emerged from the Karachi mayhem- the abdication of State’s responsibility towards its citizens. Perhaps no State institutions, no law enforcement institutions could have done worse in by abandoning their responsibility virtually becoming party to the killings and mayhem in Karachi. That point seems to get lost in the politically inspired babble that flows from many quarters. From an ordinary citizens’ perspective, who must demand protection of life and property from the State, the horrific events of May 12 are truly mind-blowing. Not so for those who wield power. The crime committed by the State has become the subtext of the endless political battling.

The main text of Pakistan’s current political narrative must be criminal negligence of law enforcement agencies. That main text demands action too. Essentially a neutral credible inquiry is required with recommendations on how to deter another horrific replay of the Karachi mayhem. Why are the Senate Committees not taking the initiative to push for a bipartisan inquiry –” the Senate Committee on Human Rights or the Senate Committee on law and Order, the Senate Committee on National Security ? The Human Rights Commission on Pakistan should also move to prepare a report on what forces led to the Karachi mayhem.

The CJP issue and the bloody mayhem in Karachi paradoxically provide an opportunity to clearly assess at what cost to the people and the country, lawless power games and individualized decision-making continue. The CJP and May 12 crisis can prove to be vital developments for the power-wielders to embark on new ways. In the eye of the storm our country also sits in the lap of opportunity. Every risky situation brings with it new openings. Crisis and chaos creates a context in which the old truisms get eroded. The old ways hence show their inadequacy of delivering on national objectives.

Much depends still on one man- on president Musharraf . He has strongly held views on Karachi. He has said that those political forces against me are trying to blame me for the Karachi killings, they are trying to give it an ethnic color and say that because of his own ethnic background. He said despite his ethnic background he was first a Pakistani and was concerned about all Pakistanis. That what happened in Karachi was because of Opposition parties who were determined to politicize the CJP issue. He said MQM was the majority party controlling Karachi and the CJP rally amounted to throwing a gauntlet to the MQM. The president wondered what would have happened if the CJP’s rally passed through MQM strongholds in Lyari etc.

The government’s ally the MQM however has been angry. The MQM leader Altaf Hussain, London-based and a British citizen, has been roundly criticizing all political parties as well as the Establishment. MQM has released alleged ‘evidence’ supporting PPP’s involvement, accused ANP for MQM killings and criticized the government party for creating confusion. MQM has held sections of the Establishment and the law enforcement agencies fore not intervening to stop the killings of MQM workers. The MQM leadership had taken on the CJP rally, resulting in the Karachi carnage, reportedly on Islamabad’s encouragement.

Any attempt by the government to explain Karachi away as an inevitable development because the CJP was to lead a rally from the airport to the Quaid-e-Azam’s mazar and to the Sindh High Court premises is unacceptable and dangerous. It is unacceptable because no party has a right to physically control any area. Citizens of Pakistan, whether lawyesr or other political parties should be free to go where they want, provided it is done peacefully. Surely the government is not saying that the MQM has a right to set up ‘no-go areas.’ The president’s explanation of the MQM militant behavior, i.e if the MQM was behind the killings, is also dangerous because the State is opting to withdraw from its law and order maintenance duties because its ally party is opting to enter into a political contest with its opponents.

The president’s responsibility as the head of the State is to order a high level impartial inquiry into what led to the May 12 bloody mayhem in Karachi. Absence to take such steps is what promotes hate and political extremism that the president believes is the real enemy of Pakistan.

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