Musharraf’s rule is no better than others

Gulf News, September 27, 2006

Pakistani supporters of military rule justify the army’s political role by citing its assumed advantages. Pakistan, it is argued, finds greater stability with a general at its helm.
This stability, in turn, is said to contribute to economic growth and development. Military rulers supposedly bring corruption under control.

Their conduct of foreign relations, too, is considered to confer strength compared to the foreign policy of an administration that must constantly defer to public opinion.
But during the last few days, it became clear that none of these alleged benefits of military rule are currently flowing to Pakistan.

Last week, a widespread power cut resulted in rumours of a military coup against General Pervez Musharraf who is on an extended trip to the United States.

Coup rumours

The rumours were, of course, baseless and were vehemently denied by officials. The Federal Information Minister announced that Musharraf underwent a routine medical check-up in Texas with a Pakistani-American doctor while the coup rumours circulated around Pakistan and “he is absolutely all right”. But one question remained unanswered. How stable can a country be if its citizens are prepared to entertain rumours of a military coup the first time a massive power breakdown occurs since the last coup?

One of the benefits of constitutional governance is the certainty it brings into the affairs of state. In a raucous parliamentary democracy, there is much political noise and a lot of compromise that some people see as instability. But, by and large, everyone knows how governments will ascend to office and how they would be removed from power. Such certainty is almost always missing under personalised military rule.

That military rule ensures reduction in corruption has also been exposed as a myth in Pakistan’s case by the publication of Transparency International’s 2006 National Corruption Perception Survey.

Transparency International is a Berlin-based anti-corruption watchdog organisation that publishes an annual Corruption Perceptions Index based on “the opinions of business people and country analysts”. The latest Pakistan national survey indicates that 67.3 per cent of respondents view the present government, with Musharraf as president and with the parliament elected in 2002, as the most corrupt government to hold power since 1988.

By way of comparison, it is important to note that 48 per cent of the business community considered the second Benazir Bhutto government (1993-96) as the most corrupt while 34 per cent described the second Nawaz Sharif administration (1996-99) as the most corrupt.
It is important to note that civilian governments have been the target of vicious propaganda by the military-led Pakistani establishment and, therefore, it is not unexpected that the perception of corruption under Sharif and Bhutto’s administrations would affect significant numbers of people.

Receiving end

The two political leaders did not help their image or that of democratic rule by periodically accusing each other of corruption. But Musharraf’s regime has not been at the receiving end of endless prosecutions by the military-run National Accountability Bureau (NAB) nor has it been described endlessly as corrupt in the media.

While perceptions of corruption under civilian governments could be the result of media influence, the 67.3 per cent that view the Musharraf-Shaukat Aziz regime as most corrupt have more likely formed their opinion on the basis of personal experience.

According to Transparency International, only 8 per cent of those surveyed viewed the first Bhutto government (1988-90) as Pakistan’s most corrupt government even though Bhutto and the PPP were labelled “corrupt” during that period through a massive propaganda drive by Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

If Musharraf’s military regime has failed to bring domestic stability and an end to corruption, has it helped project Pakistan’s strength overseas? Alas, the answer to this question, too, must be in the negative.

It is true that Musharraf made the correct choice in allying with the United States in the aftermath of 9/11. But his recent disclosure that he made that choice under the American threat of bombing Pakistan into the Stone Age takes away the credit of any wisdom on his part. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd recently described Musharraf as being part of an “Axis of Sketchy Allies”.

The truth is that Musharraf is muddling through like most of Pakistan’s previous rulers and offers little better in key areas such as domestic steadiness, reduction of corruption and external strength. If anything his regime’s performance is becoming poorer with each passing day.

If muddling through is Pakistan’s best option, it would be better to do so under civilian democratic rule, with a legitimate and representative government. Why persist with dragging the army into politics if the so-called benefits of army rule are just not available?