Musharraf’s options — Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi

The army wants the political leaders to fully own the war on terrorism. Naturally, this will not be possible if the former sides with Musharraf and acts in a manner that weakens the political forces

Pakistan is undergoing a major political transformation from a centralised authoritarian Musharraf-dominated political order to democratically elected people-oriented governance. The resolutions of the provincial assemblies rejecting Musharraf’s presidency show that he is no longer acceptable to major political parties and groups all over the country.

President Pervez Musharraf missed an opportunity to gracefully quit when his loyalists were rejected in the February 2008 elections. He can still exercise damage control by stepping down before the joint session of the parliament takes up the impeachment resolution. This will enable him to exit with some grace and save the political process from internal strains and uncertainty.

The PMLQ’s top leaders and others who are advising Musharraf to fight impeachment are neither his well-wishers nor do they want Pakistan’s quick return to normal political life. Any confrontation on the impeachment situation will not save Musharraf from ouster but it will cause greater tension in the political system and drag him into more controversies.

The PMLQ leadership should now practice damage control. Unlike Musharraf, the PMLQ will stay on in politics. Its leaders need to articulate their role independent of Musharraf otherwise their support will further deplete.

Impeachment is the exclusive domain of the two houses of the parliament in a joint session after notice is given to the Speaker of the National Assembly or Chairman of the Senate as set out in Article 47 of the Constitution. The grounds for initiating impeachment as stated in the Constitution are physical and mental incapacity, violation of the Constitution, and gross misconduct. Those initiating impeachment charge-sheet the president, the Speaker communicates the charges to latter, and the joint session then takes them up within a timeframe determined by the Constitution. The President may personally appear before the joint session to respond to the charges or do so through his representative.

The joint session takes up the impeachment notice and the charges for discussion or seeks their investigation through any appropriate manner. It may assign the investigation task to a special committee. However, the joint session has full discretion to adopt any method. If a committee is appointed, the president has the right to be present or be represented through someone while investigations are taking place.

The two houses of parliament cannot meet separately to discuss the impeachment resolution. All impeachment proceedings take place in the joint session or in a committee. When the impeachment resolution is passed by two-thirds of the total strength of the joint session, the president ceases to hold office forthwith.

Pro-Musharraf political circles have attempted to create a misleading impression that the matter would not end with the approval of impeachment by parliament because they can go to the Supreme Court to challenge the decision. However, these proceedings cannot be challenged in any court of law because the Constitution gives impeachment powers exclusively to parliament.

Further, whatever is said or done on the floor of the parliament has immunity from judicial challenge with the exception of the superior judiciary’s power to review ordinary laws, ordinances and executive actions on constitutional grounds. Nor can the judiciary stop parliament from performing its constitutional duties.

If we assume for the sake of discussion that there is some kind of judicial interference with impeachment proceedings or the vote on the impeachment resolution, it will cause a clash between the superior judiciary and parliament which will be destabilising for the political system. Political parties and societal groups are likely to engage in popular mobilisation in defence of the parliament. Such mobilisation will be possible because of Musharraf’s unpopularity due to his suspension of the Constitution and reconstitution of the superior courts.

Musharraf is not expected to get any political support from the United States, the European Union or Great Britain — all relied heavily on him in the past for pursuing their counter-terrorism agenda. As a matter of fact, these states did lobby with Pakistani political leaders in the immediate aftermath of the February elections for working with Musharraf, thinking that his removal so soon after the installation of the political government might have negative implications for counter terrorism in and around Pakistan. They secured time for Musharraf to review the domestic political situation and decide his course of action.

Now with the failure of Musharraf to change his political ways and the decision of the ruling coalition to initiate impeachment, the US and the EU are treating this as Pakistan’s internal matter and would support any decision taken in accordance with the Constitution. The US may be inclined to seek an honourable exit for Musharraf.

The army appears non-partisan on the matter. The top brass wants this matter settled in accordance with the Constitution. They are expected to honour the decision of the parliament provided constitutional procedures are adhered to and it is done in a peaceful and orderly manner.

The army’s current disposition is an extension of General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani’s decision, on assuming command in the last week of November 2007, to pull the army back from active politics. The army top brass faces three interrelated issues which make it imperative for it to emphasise professionalism, and avoid taking sides in politics or assuming a direct or indirect role.

First, Musharraf’s efforts to use his position as Army Chief to hold on to power undermined the army’s reputation at the common person level. However, the criticism was focused on its political role rather than on the military as an institution. General Kayani and his top brass are working hard to improve its image with the people.

Second, it is well known in political and military circles that Musharraf has lost political credibility. The army will not put its reputation at stake to rescue a discredited ruler. This will negate the army’s current image-building efforts.

Third, the military in general and the army in particular have been unhappy with the way the Musharraf government conducted counter-insurgency in the tribal areas. These operations were conducted without building any popular support. The security establishment faced two dilemmas: on the one hand they suffered heavy human losses and reverses, and on the other, they were accused by some political circles of pursuing an unjust war.

Now, the army wants the political leaders to fully own the war on terrorism. Naturally, this will not be possible if the former sides with Musharraf and acts in a manner that weakens the political forces. Therefore, the triumph of the political forces in the current confrontation serves the military’s interests, at least for the time being.

Musharraf and his associates in the presidency need to make a realistic assessment of the situation. A down-to-earth analysis shows that his support base is completely eroded. Whatever political support is still left, it will weaken further in the next week as it becomes clear that the impeachment motion will succeed. Musharraf can turn his removal into a messy affair but this will not salvage his position. He needs to make the much needed move of bowing to public opinion. His civilian and military friends, who have no personal axe to grind, need to advise him to opt for a graceful exit rather than to go through the impeachment process.

Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi is a political and defence analyst

Source: Daily Times, 17/8/2008

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