Musharraf’s legacy —Talat Masood

It is only by strengthening institutions that the state will promote meritocracy and cease to be a victim of patronage and pervasive corruption. We have repeatedly seen that political, economic and social reforms that are not backed by credible and honest operational mechanisms, seldom get implemented

For nearly nine years, General Musharraf, first as Chief Executive and then as self-appointed President (while retaining for most of the period his position as COAS), was the sole arbiter of the destiny of Pakistan. What are the implications of his prolonged military and authoritarian rule? What legacy does he leave behind and what lessons can the nation draw from it?

Clearly, the events of 9/11 enormously helped President Musharraf steer the country away from isolation, in which it found itself as a consequence of the nuclear detonation of 1998 and his military coup of October 1999.

Several politicians and analysts castigate him for completely siding with the US and bringing about a major and abrupt shift in foreign policy. But the American military impulse was so strong that even a representative leader would have had no choice but to adopt more or less a similar policy.

What many fail to realise is that withdrawing support from the Taliban was vital in the domestic context too, if we were to turn the country into a moderate Muslim state. Continuation of the previous policy would have bracketed us with the Taliban, completely isolating us from the international community and Talibanising us domestically, with horrendous consequences.

Where President Musharraf went wrong was that he failed to market the policy internally in Pakistan. With his sights focused on Washington and relying exclusively on the military and American support, General Musharraf underestimated the value of public support in this “war on terror”. This failing still persists and it will require a serious effort by the civilian democratic government to own the war. Otherwise the perception among the masses would be that Pakistan is a client state and the army a client force, providing militant groups and Al Qaeda with an opportunity to exploit this vulnerability.

General Musharraf spoke ad nauseum about extremism and terrorism and formulating a comprehensive policy to fight them. Nonetheless, the policy remained ad-hoc and military-centric with practically no follow up action on economic development, social justice and political engagement. Peace agreements signed with the militants were one-sided and more of an attempt at pacification than at establishing the writ of the state and achieving durable results.

Regrettably, the civilian government so far has failed to inspire any confidence that it is capable of addressing this most vital problem of fighting terror and growing radicalisation. It requires a sense of urgency and resolve. A litmus test of the effectiveness and competence of the present government would largely depend how it handles this issue. Passing the responsibility over to the military to formulate policy on this issue is not the answer. There appears no consensus or coordination between the coalition parties on how to combat terrorism and growing insurgency. They all seem to be speaking with different voices and there is no ownership.

The sooner the policy is discussed in the parliament and owned by them jointly, the better for the country. Owning the policy and implementing it in earnest will give a clear message to the militants about the government’s resolve. Moreover, it will let the international community, especially the US, know that this government is serious. Failure to do so will invite more air strikes and limited ground operations by American and NATO troops in the tribal areas.

Ironically, despite being the architect of the Kargil operation, President Musharraf did make a significant contribution in improving relations with India. Nonetheless, his unilateral concessions and innovative approaches to resolve the problem of Kashmir showed his lack of experience in diplomatic negotiations and invited justified criticism. Public airing of proposed solutions gave New Delhi an excuse to trivialise and drag the issue.

Kashmir is now truly facing a serious insurgency, perhaps the worst, even greater than the one in 1989. It provides a valuable opportunity for the new Pakistani government to revive the Kashmir issue proactively through dialogue, and stress upon India and the international community that the situation could get out of control if the genuine aspirations and demands of the Kashmiri people are not met.

India’s undemocratic and theocratic policies, as practiced in the Valley and parts of Muslim-dominated areas of Jammu, have greatly exacerbated the insurgency that was already simmering. There is a danger that this insurgency could build a nexus with the Taliban, Al Qaeda and other militant groups in the region. After all it would be wrong to assume that India can remain isolated from the rest of the region.

These developments cannot be overlooked by India and Pakistan. Unless a common vision and a cooperative approach are adopted, events will overtake and undermine the peace process. India and the international community have to be alerted to these potential dangers not for point-scoring but to draw them into a genuine political process for moving the Kashmir problem towards resolution.

In dealing with Balochistan, General Musharraf was reckless. His intense dislike for and deplorable attitude towards Akbar Bugti resulted in his murder. This triggered a low intensity insurgency and further deepened the alienation and anguish of the Baloch who already suffer from a sense of deprivation. The civilian government has taken some preliminary and half-hearted steps to reach out to the Baloch nationalist leaders.

However, to heal their wounds and win over the Baloch people the government will have to take concrete measures and give them their legitimate rights; economic development, full political participation and devolution of power will surely minimise their grievances. The next President or Chairman Senate should be a Baloch and their representation in the Federal cabinet and other institutions of the state has to be substantially increased.

On major national issues, President Musharraf has been arbitrary and dismissive of the system. On Kalabagh Dam, despite its merits as a reservoir, mishandling and a cavalier approach have accentuated the tensions between Punjab and the three smaller provinces. The present government has a great opportunity to bring major domestic, foreign and defence policy issues before the parliament for developing a national consensus. This should include relations with India, Afghanistan and America. Consensus has to develop on fighting terror and extremism, dealing with the insurgency in Balochistan, on broad parameters of economic and energy policy and matters pertaining to the National Finance Commission.

Higher education was given high priority during President Musharraf’s tenure and Professor Ata-ur Rehman played a key role. Primary and secondary education however, which are provincial responsibilities, remained grossly neglected. If Pakistan is to make any real progress in human resource development, scientific and technical education should especially be given the highest priority by the government.

President Musharraf weakened state institutions in order to strengthen his hold on power. This government should reverse this by restoring the judiciary, empowering parliament, strengthening the executive and all other organs of the state. It is only by strengthening institutions that the state will promote meritocracy and cease to be a victim of patronage and pervasive corruption. We have repeatedly seen that political, economic and social reforms that are not backed by credible and honest operational mechanisms, seldom get implemented.

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

Source: Daily Times, 21/8/2008

Leave a Reply