The drop scene —Talat Masood

President Musharraf is so blinded by his obstinacy that he fails to acknowledge that his era is over and that he has to resign to save the country, his former institution and the presidency from any further humiliation and damage
Battle lines have been clearly drawn and the coalition government and President Pervez Musharraf are set on a collision course. In a landmark decision to impeach Musharraf, the main political parties are putting up a united front to remove the president whom they consider illegitimate and unconstitutional. The call for impeachment was a major incentive for holding the coalition together. The outcome of the impeachment process could be a defining phase in Pakistan’s chequered history that could determine the future course of the country.

The current struggle has to be seen in a broader context — it has been going on for several decades for the supremacy of civil democratic forces over the military. It has intensified over the last fifteen months and is reaching its climax, but not necessarily its end. No doubt, Musharraf’s obstinacy has given it an impetus and sharpened the civil-military divide. It has also brought to the fore movements for change among different segments of society in different forms.

The judicial crisis, the lawyers’ movement, the media revolution, the partial awakening of civil society and the rise of militancy are all part of this struggle between the forces of status quo and the agents of change. Political consciousness has been stimulated by these happenings and has created a group of people with shared grievances and resentments, albeit seeking different solutions.

For example, in FATA and the NWFP, it has taken a violent and dangerous course due to first the Soviet and later the American occupation of Afghanistan. Militants and radical groups wearing the garb of religion are trying to find answers to the myriad problems of communities where successive governments have failed in providing security, justice and employment opportunities. The Taliban are imposing their will through coercive tactics and use of force in the conservative cultural society of the NWFP and FATA.

The lawyers and civil society are struggling for rule of law and constitutionalism by galvanising public opinion in a more urban environment and softer cultural context.

No doubt removal of the president through impeachment or preferably by his resignation will be a major step in moving the democratic process forward. But there is a long and tortuous road the country has to travel before this change can fully materialise and stabilise the country.

Musharraf’s departure does not imply that army’s role in Pakistan would disappear or that the grave threat of expanding militancy and dire economic problems will ease. The military in the foreseeable future will continue to play a central role in fighting the war on terror in the tribal belt and the NWFP, countering insurgency in Balochistan and keeping a watchful eye on the eastern border. Deep and expanding involvement of the US and NATO in Afghanistan and now in our tribal belt will also raise the profile of the military and the security establishment. It will remain the major recipient of the national budget and foreign aid.

Multiple security threats, however, demand high professional competence and undivided attention by the military to its profession. As recent events have demonstrated, the Frontier Corps and the army are weak in counterinsurgency operations and will have to be better equipped and trained to succeed. With the resurgence of insurgency in Kashmir, the eastern front too would need the army’s full attention.

Prolonged involvement of the military in governance and politics has alienated the masses. Winning back the confidence and earning the respect of the people is crucial in fighting internal militancy and external threats. Democracy is now an institutional and security imperative for the military as much as it is for the country.

Nonetheless, take-over by the military is no more a viable option due to its current professional compulsions. The military cannot deliver on the economic front either. The problems of Balochistan, Sindh, the tribal belt and the NWFP demand political solutions rather than mere reliance on military solutions, and politicians, at least in the long run, would be better equipped for that purpose. In Punjab, there could be a strong reaction from the public and civil society. Mediapersons and lawyers would all join the political forces in case a lawful government is arbitrarily removed.

All these factors clearly indicate that the army will at least for now stay away from politics, but its inherent power and role in the country has not diminished. Disengagement is essentially tactical and not necessarily strategic. For making the process irreversible, the civilian government will have to also acquire performance legitimacy by considerably improving governance and strengthening democratic institutions, especially the parliament and cabinet.

Clearly, the Army would not want President Musharraf’s impeachment and would prefer his resignation. As Musharraf has worn two hats — President and COAS — his trial would directly or indirectly drag the army into the impeachment process and could be embarrassing and even intolerable.

In any case, Musharraf has hardly any options left but to quit. His main political supporter, the PMLQ is tottering although putting up a façade. It is most likely that those on the fringes of the PMLQ and the PPPS would side with impeachment to whiten their sins and to be seen on the right side of the divide for their political future. Of course, only the diehard among them like Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and company would stick with the president as their politics is all about patronage and Biradari and has less to do with principles or serving the masses.

The Bangladesh model will be equally dysfunctional and unacceptable, with the same problems that would arise with an overt military takeover. After all, the BD model is a somewhat innovative way of the army retaining control and supremacy over the civilians in the garb of bringing political stability and economic growth. Pakistan’s current problems are more of a political and social nature as mentioned earlier.

President Bush may continue being loyal at the personal level to President Musharraf. But the Bush administration clearly sees that the situation in Pakistan has dramatically altered since February and power today is diffused, which is characteristic of all democratic governments. The US will have to relate to the new power structure, however weak and incoherent it may be. In fact, the Musharraf-centric policy of the Bush administration has discredited the war on terror and makes it difficult for the current civilian government to market to the people that it is their war and our greatest challenge.

President Musharraf is so blinded by his obstinacy that he fails to acknowledge that his era is over and that he has to resign to save the country, his former institution and the presidency from any further humiliation and damage.

The writer is a retired Lieutenant General of the Pakistan Army. He can be reached at talat@comsats.net.pk

Source: Daily times, 14/8/2008

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