Lack of clarity on the status of Musharraf and the judges issue, as well as indecision on economic and security policies raises doubts about whether or not societal forces will continue to maintain a friendly posture towards the government in the next six months
The new political government has inherited President General (retd) Pervez Musharraf from the erstwhile military-dominated political order. While it would like him to voluntarily step aside to complete the transition to civilian rule, Musharraf does not want to quit despite the electoral debacle for his loyalists and the overwhelming demand by political parties and civil society for his ouster.
Rulers like Musharraf do not understand that the era of ‘life-long rulers’ has ended, and that they should give up their office before they are forced to exit. This behaviour is common among rulers that assume power through dubious means, and then re-employ dubious means to sustain their power. There are also some who come to power through legal and constitutional means but work towards establishing their personal hegemony in the system and subvert all routes for orderly and legitimate political change.
Historically, Pakistan’s civilian political governments have faced problems completely their tenure or transitioning to the next government. Most leaders do not last beyond a couple of years. The story of military rulers is different, however. All except Yahya Khan stayed in power for long periods, and it took a military debacle at the hands of India in 1971 to end Yahya’s rule.
No Pakistani military ruler surrendered power voluntarily: Ayub Khan, the first military ruler, faced a massive popular uprising in 1968-69 that paralysed his government. He resigned only after the army chief, General Yahya Khan, refused to rescue his discredited regime. Gen Yahya had developed political ambitions of his own.
Gen Yahya’s surrender of power to a civilian leader, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was not voluntary either. He wanted to hang on to power but defeat in the 1971 war made it impossible for him, or any general for that matter, to hold power. Interestingly enough, on December 16, 1971, when the Pakistani commander in Dhaka formally surrendered to India, the Yahya government in Islamabad released the outline of its planned new constitution, which would have ensured the continuation of Yahya’s rule.
General Zia-ul Haq was working towards further entrenching himself in power when he died in an air crash. In May 1988, he had dismissed Prime Minister Mohammed Khan Junejo and was toying with the idea of another party-less election so that he and his loyalists could rule comfortably. Had Zia lived, he would not have easily given up power to civilian leaders.
Musharraf is no exception. He is either unable or unwilling to quit voluntarily. His current strategy is to maintain a low profile and wait for divisions to emerge within the new political dispensation. Perhaps he thinks that the political parties will start fighting among themselves in six months or so, a situation that would enable him to retrieve the initiative.
From this perspective, the recent violence in Lahore, Karachi and Multan is a helpful development as it adds to the problems facing the civilian government. Similarly, any confrontation between the lawyers and the civilian government on the restoration of the judges will give an advantage to the presidency.
It is relatively easy for the top commander of a professional and disciplined army to assume power in a country where civilian political elements are weak and divided and falter in governance. However, this does not mean that a successful coup maker will be equally successful in creating an alternate political order that commands the loyalty of the people and can stand on its feet without the backing of the military. However, no general-ruler admits that he failed to remove the major causes of political incoherence and instability. Rather, he uses all possible means, from coercion to cooption, to hold on to power and show that his rule has saved the country from a major political and economic disaster.
Another reason why a military ruler works towards longevity of rule is the mistaken notion of equating personal or regime interests with national interests. This leads to impatience towards dissent as all critics are then viewed as anti-national. He wants to stay in power with the self-ascribed mission of protecting the country from anti-national elements.
Still another reason is that the top brass entertain contempt for competitive politics and civilians, especially those who openly challenge their legitimacy. The latter are described as opportunists and power hungry elements that cannot be given a free hand in governance and political management.
Given such a state of mind, it is difficult for a ruler with a military background to easily quit. Naturally, Musharraf finds it difficult to leave and wants to wait for another turn to strike back when politicians falter.
What makes the whole situation ironic is that Musharraf flouted the Constitution on November 3, 2007 only to sustain himself in power. Later, he unilaterally amended the Constitution before its restoration on December 15. Why should a person who has blatantly violated the Constitution carry on as president?
The constitutional, political and administrative changes made by Musharraf in November-December 2007 have to be undone in order to establish a precedent under which no person, civilian and military, can be allowed to undermine the Constitution. This also calls for the removal of Musharraf, who has forfeited his moral right to function as president.
The present government appears to be ambiguous on Musharraf’s future and wants to evolve a compromise on the restoration of superior court judges, fearing that these steps may destabilise the situation. The prime minister has said that these issues will be decided by Parliament. However, as leader of the house, the PM needs to take the lead on such sensitive issues.
Undoubtedly, these are difficult issues and some people are working towards an accommodation between the government and Musharraf. The president may agree to surrender his special powers of appointments and dissolution of the National Assembly provided he is allowed to complete his second term and the restored judges do not question his past actions in court.
If there are problems in removing Musharraf and the full restoration of the judges, what is the guarantee that the alternative course of action offers political stability and continuity? Ambiguous policies or half-hearted administrative measures can divide political forces, which would be equally hazardous for the current government.
As long as these issues are not settled, the government will not be able to devote attention to serious problems of governance like the food and power crises, law and order and terrorism. Any delay in addressing these issues will be problematic.
The government is facing make-or-break challenges. Lack of clarity on the status of Musharraf and the judges issue, as well as indecision on economic and security policies raises doubts about whether or not societal forces will continue to maintain a friendly posture towards the government in the next six months.
Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi is a political and defence analyst
Courtesy: Daily Times, 20/4/2008