Musharraf’s mistakes — Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi

Pakistan’s state and society were fully overwhelmed by the military, leaving little space for autonomous functioning of civilian institutions and processes. Political and commercial advancement was no longer possible without being co-opted by the Musharraf government

Pervez Musharraf’s spirited defence of his policies in his last address to the nation as president did not alter the fact that he represented yet another failure of a military ruler to create viable civilian institutions and processes. Having lost all political support, he left the presidency as a lone man with an uncertain future. It is not clear if he will live in Pakistan or join his favourite prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, abroad.

Many had welcomed Musharraf’s assumption of power on October 12, 1999, because the civilian government led by Nawaz Sharif had mistreated its political adversaries and attempted to subdue all state institutions, including the army, to his partisan agenda.

Musharraf’s departure was equally celebrated in the streets of the main cities. Whereas the supporters of the ruling coalition distributed sweets, others expressed relief and hope for a better future. There was hardly anyone who regretted Musharraf’s departure with the exception of his close associates, especially the top leadership of the PMLQ.

Had Musharraf resigned immediately after the February elections, he would have gone home with some goodwill, which would have set him apart from Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan and Zia-ul Haq. However, like his predecessors, he did not quit until he was fully discredited and had lost all other options. Zia also had no plans to quit and was planning another carefully managed election when he died in an air crash in 1988. Therefore, history’s judgement on Musharraf will be as negative as its judgement on earlier military rulers.

Pakistan’s experience suggests that the top generals can rely on a disciplined and professional army to overthrow divided and weak political leaders and establish a government that is able to show some effectiveness in the beginning. However, when it comes to addressing socio-economic and political problems that cause fragility and inefficacy of civilian institutions and processes, military rulers fail miserably.

A military government can show some specific and individual successes but these “achievements” neither pull in one direction nor do these create an alternative political and economic order that can sustain itself without the backing of its founder. The military-tailored political and economic system reflects the military ethos of hierarchy, discipline and management from above. It cannot cope with the pressures of political participation and socio-economic justice. A military government falters in promoting a broad-based political consensus and continuity because of its aversion to open competitive politics.

Rulers like Musharraf have a tendency to develop a ‘messiah’ complex and tend to view themselves as indispensable. This is a self-created illusion that makes it difficult for military rulers to consider voluntary surrender of power. Musharraf’s downfall was expedited by his refusal to recognise that he had lost much of his political support, making it difficult for him to get re-elected. His sycophants in and around the presidency, especially ex-PM Aziz and the PMLQ leadership ill-advised him on ways to overcome constitutional and legal obstacles to his re-election to a second presidential term. His over-ambitious and blatant actions in 2007 cost him his office.

Musharraf created an authoritarian and centralised political order that was based on the military principle of centrality of command and concentration of power in the presidency. He carefully tailored the system to civilianise his military rule by constitutional and political engineering, co-option of a section of the political elite who agreed to play politics on his terms and exclusion of those who questioned his legitimacy. He carefully managed an uncontested referendum to ensure his continued rule and held a dubious election to ensure the success of the co-opted leadership. When this method did not achieve all objectives, he used the intelligence agencies to divide and weaken political adversaries and installed his favourites in powerful positions.

Naturally, a parliament and prime minister created though such manipulation could not acquire an autonomous role. The three prime ministers who served under him were appointed or removed by him in his exclusive discretion. The ruling PMLQ and the parliament gave formal approval only. During the Shaukat Aziz years, major policy decisions were taken in special meetings presided over by the president; the federal cabinet had fewer meetings in which it dealt with routine matters.

Musharraf strengthened his rule by inducting a large number of serving and retired military (mainly army) officers to key posts in government departments and semi-government institutions. He inducted more army officers to civilian institutions than any previous military ruler.

Musharraf strengthened his position by allowing the military to expand its business and commercial activities at a phenomenal pace. By 2007 the military had penetrated all major sectors of Pakistan’s economy.

Pakistan’s state and society were fully overwhelmed by the military, leaving little space for autonomous functioning of civilian institutions and processes. Political and commercial advancement was no longer possible without being co-opted by the Musharraf government.

His centralised governance was also marked by duality of policy. The government subscribed to a declared policy on a particular issue but the people within the official civilian and military circles were allowed to pursue a different approach that conflicted with the declared official policy. This duality reflected in all major policies, including counter-terrorism, treatment of the smaller provinces and economic development.

Counter-terrorism was the most publicised feature of Musharraf’s government but elements in official civilian and army circles continued to sympathise with, if not support, the Taliban and other militants.

Musharraf vowed to reduce inter-provincial tension but his effort to force development projects on Balochistan without taking into account the concerns of Baloch leaders increased political tension in Balochistan. The situation worsened with the initiation of military operation in parts of Balochistan and the killing of Sardar Akbar Khan Bugti. Today, the federal-provincial interaction is more troubled than it was when he assumed power.

Similarly, economic development also suffered from duality. The government publicised its economic strides and down-played the contribution of foreign economic assistance since September 2001, arguing that the key to economic strides was the inherent strength of the economy under Musharraf.

However, the fruits of foreign economic assistance did not reach the common people and the gap increased between the rich and the poor. The government fabricated data on economic development to show that Pakistan would soon become an economic miracle. Had there been genuine economic development Pakistan would not have faced the current economic crisis so soon after the collapse of the Musharraf system.

The duality in Musharraf’s policies alienated most sections of Pakistani society but the façade of Musharraf’s invincibility sustained until he overplayed his hand by attempting to remove the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the lawyers launched the movement for an independent judiciary. They were joined by other societal groups and political parties, setting the stage for Musharraf’s downfall. How the lawyers were able to sustain their autonomy and launched a movement that mobilised the society is discussion that warrants another article altogether.

Hopefully, the military top brass in Pakistan recognises its limits in directly handling political power. The experience of effectively managing a corps or a regimental centre does not qualify a general to run state affairs. These are two different domains and a task-oriented institution like the military is not suited to directly handling socio-economic and political problems in a diversified society.

Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi is a political and defence analyst

Source: Daily Times, 24/8/2008

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