Generals Cannot Rule

Gulf News, June 13, 2007

Since the day he joined the Pakistan Military Academy (PMA) as a cadet, General Pervez Musharraf is used to taking orders from his superiors and giving orders to those below him.

Based on his lifelong career as a soldier, he considers the people of Pakistan his troops and civilian politicians who joined the “king’s party” formed after Musharraf’s 1999 military coup as junior and non-commissioned officers.

Those protesting against him are seen by Musharraf as the enemy. The general is now beginning to voice the worry that his “subordinate officers” are failing to motivate “the troops” sufficiently. He is afraid that the failings of his officers’ corps will cause him to lose the most important battle of his life.

The training of a military officer prepares him for waging war not for effecting compromises or conducting politics. Former Pakistan army chief General Musa Khan used to say that he was trained to “locate the enemy and liquidate the enemy”.

He found this training useless when dragged into politics as governor of West Pakistan during the late 1960s.

Musharraf recently complained that the more than 1,000 elected officials of the ruling coalition are doing little to defend their benefactor.

His complaint reflected the surprise Ayub Khan had expressed when members of his Convention Muslim League disappeared soon after the popular agitation against his rule began in 1968.

Both Ayub Khan and Musharraf never grew into politicians and could not see that those who join the “king’s party” for perks and privileges are risk-averse individuals in search of benefits.


Musharraf has been as contemptuous of Pakistani politicians as were generals Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan and Ziaul Haq. He once spoke of how he would “rather kick” Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto than negotiate with them if they did not show signs of “seriousness”.

Judging by history, Musharraf’s definition of seriousness would probably be to give in to his command, which is what Pakistani generals have always sought from politicians.

Ayub Khan “kicked” Pakistan’s first generation of politicians, only to be forced to resign amid turmoil after a decade in power. Pakistan has remained a football field ever since, with generals kicking politicians but never being able to build anything resembling a stable country.

The difference between Musharraf, on the one hand, and Bhutto and Sharif, on the other, is irreconcilable not because of the alleged corruption of the former prime ministers but because of where each comes from. The general derives his power from his command whereas the political leaders have a voluntary following.

The lack of understanding of politics leads Pakistan’s military rulers to believe that they are better suited to run the country than politicians.

In their long career in cantonments, generals learn to ensure that the walls of cantonment buildings are whitewashed, their unit gets its funds, no one steals the rations, exercises are conducted in an orderly fashion and the goings on in the unit remain confidential. They extrapolate this experience into running the country.

Technocrats are brought in to ensure that funds are plentiful. Summary justice is introduced to eliminate “corruption”. Obedience is sought from everyone.

But nations are not military units. They need someone to aggregate various interests (i.e. politicians) and the inter-play of these interests, rather than the good intentions of the commander, are what determine a nation’s long-term direction.

Two years ago, when most people saw Musharraf as firmly entrenched in power, I had written: “Pakistan’s politicians have many flaws but without politics Pakistan cannot have a stable future.

“The general remains a general and under his stewardship Pakistan is on the path of further institutional erosion … It seems that a military leader simply will not write out the military from the script of Pakistan’s power game. Military intervention is part of Pakistan’s problem, not its solution.”

Today, as Pakistan reels from the mass movement instigated by the removal from office of the Chief Justice, those words seem eerily prescient.