Jun 082008

If the PPP wants to govern Pakistan democratically, it needs to assign the highest priority to strengthening its relations with other political parties and societal forces

It is understandable that President General (retd) Pervez Musharraf would not like to quit. Most authoritarian rulers that come to power by political manipulation or in violation of established procedures often do not know when to step down. Their game plan does not envisage voluntary surrender of power.

Such rulers tend to develop a saviour complex and consider their staying in power as a requirement for stability and state-survival. They may use some democratic procedures to legitimise their rule but they are not amenable to adverse public opinion as they do not owe their office to popular will.

Musharraf’s refusal is in line with the earlier military rulers of Pakistan. Ayub Khan resigned on March 25, 1969, when his government was paralysed by street agitation and the then army chief, General Yahya Khan, refused to support him. General Yahya Khan’s military regime collapsed in the face of internal army revolt and street demonstration for his removal after the Pakistan military surrendered to India in East Pakistan on December 16, 1971. General Zia-ul Haq’s political career came to end with his death in an air crash on August 17, 1988.

Musharraf is under intense domestic pressure to step down, making it extremely difficult for him to function in a meaningful manner. He was unable to fulfil his constitutional obligation of addressing the joint session of Parliament when the new National Assembly was installed and the legislative year began in March. During the five years of the earlier parliament (2002-2007), he addressed it only once in January 2004, thereby not respecting the constitutional obligation of addressing Parliament at least once a year.

In the on-going National Assembly session, Musharraf was subjected to such sharp criticism that the Speaker had to delete the negative remarks of a member from official proceedings. He is expected to face more criticism in the general debate on the national budget later this month.

The major source of Musharraf’s support is external. The US administration headed by President George W Bush makes no secret of its support for Musharraf’s presidency. President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, as well as some senior officials of the State Department visiting Pakistan, have favoured Musharraf’s continuation in office. They are said to have discreetly suggested to the PPP leadership to work towards accommodation with Musharraf. A similar suggestion must have been made to Musharraf.

Having worked with Musharraf since September 2001 in a more or less cordial manner, the Bush administration finds it uncomfortable to deal with a host of political leaders now who are not prepared to make categorical commitments regarding US concerns on counter-terrorism in and around Pakistan. Another reason for American interest in Musharraf is their perception that his exit might cause confrontation between pro- and anti-Musharraf elements that would divert attention away from the pressing issues of governance and political management. Further, the performance of the government does not inspire confidence in its long-term prospects. Americans are likely to view the presidency and the military as the sources of stability.

Despite the official US tilt towards Musharraf, the latter’s political future will be determined by the agenda of Pakistan’s political forces. If they decide to remove Musharraf by constitutional means, the US administration will accept the ground realities.

Pakistan’s political leaders are not giving adequate attention to evolving consensus on the future of Musharraf. Some political actors like the PMLN are more active in criticising US support to Musharraf rather than initiating negotiations on this issue with other political forces. Others have softened their attitude towards Musharraf with the hope that it would help their interaction with the US. The PPP has another consideration. It recognises that the US facilitated the return of its slain leader, Benazir Bhutto, to Pakistan in 2007 and thus assigns weight to US preferences in its policy choices. It also wants to play a tough bargainer with the PMLN.

The major political parties have lost the initial advantage of addressing the restoration of the ousted judges and the future of Musharraf. It would have been easier for them to settle these matters without problems in the immediate aftermath of the installation of the new government.

The delay caused divergence in the perspectives of the two major parties as they began to examine these issues from their narrow partisan perspectives. The PPP faced greater internal and international pressures to moderate its position and some of its leaders felt that the PMLN-led effort to restore the judges through a resolution or the impeachment of the president would land the government in constitutional, legal and international crises. This would, it was believed, have more political cost for the PPP than the PMLN.

The PPP’s decision to retain the Musharraf government’s Attorney General was bound to move the PPP away from the PMLN perspective. Having advised Musharraf to suspend the constitution and remove the judges, the Attorney General was bound to justify his action and, thus, advise the PPP to discard the PMLN demand and suggest a course of action that has made it difficult, if not impossible, to restore the judges.

Though the PPP leadership has not given up the option of reviving cooperative relationship with the PMLN, it shows no accommodation on the restoration of judges and removal of Musharraf. Rather, it has confronted the PMLN with tough decisions like the appointment of a new governor in the Punjab and the lumping together of all constitutional and legal issues in one amendment. If the PPP gets its way, it would like to restore the judges selectively.

Similarly the PMLN is pursuing two tracks simultaneously. It continues to talk with the PPP but extends full support to the lawyers’ movement. Its activists would join the lawyers in their Long March to Islamabad.

The PPP’s back-channel diplomacy with the presidency ran into difficulties recently because the latter expressed reservations on the drastic reduction of the president’s powers. PPP leaders responded by criticising Musharraf. Co-chairman of the PPP, Asif Ali Zardari, described Musharraf as a relic of the past and an obstacle between the people and the government. However, the PPP did not give up the idea of some working arrangements with Musharraf.

However, the proposed amendment incorporates so many complex issues that it may not be acceptable to the parliament without making major changes in the draft. This means that the restoration of judges may not be possible in the near future. One option to speed up the pace of political change is to separate the restoration of judges from other amendments.

If the PPP wants to govern Pakistan democratically, it needs to assign the highest priority to strengthening its relations with other political parties and societal forces. Political confrontation will be equally threatening to the lawyers’ agenda. If the government’s credibility is undermined by the lawyers’ protest, the restoration of judges can be delayed for an indefinite period. Therefore, both the lawyers and the government should find some way out of the current stalemate.

The unified disposition of the political and societal forces is the most credible guarantee of democracy and civilian primacy. Any other strategy will divide and weaken the political forces and shift the initiative to the military-bureaucratic elite.

Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi is a political and defence analyst

Source: Daily Times, 8/6/2008

 Posted by at 12:01 pm

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