Supreme Humiliation for Musharraf

Gulf News, July 26, 2007

For more than five decades Pakistan’s military rulers have depended on the country’s judiciary to provide a fig leaf of legitimacy for their arbitrary decisions.

Last week’s judgement by the Supreme Court to restore Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry as Chief Justice and to declare General Pervez Musharraf’s decision to remove him from office as unlawful brings to an end that arrangement between the courts and the military.

The Supreme Court ruling weakens an embattled Musharraf further and demonstrates the unwillingness of Pakistan’s civilians to endlessly obey the military’s commands. Musharraf now has two options.

He could he recognise the emerging reality and initiate a process of national reconciliation that allows civilian institutions – from courts and the civil services to political parties and civil society organisations – to function independently within their respective spheres.

Or he could persist with the doctrine of the military’s supremacy that has polarised Pakistan along several lines.

Musharraf recently told newspaper editors that he believed in “unified command”, which indicates that he has yet to understand how he and his military predecessors have obstructed the emergence of a consensus system of governance that absorbs differences within society without widespread resort to violence and tearing apart the country.

The notion of a single individual leading the nation to greatness is embedded in the Pakistan army’s thinking ever since Field Marshal Ayoub Khan introduced it as a substitute for national consensus, constitutional rule and rule of law.

Unified command

In his quest for unified command, Ayoub Khan fragmented the Pakistani nation within the first few years of its creation. So deep-rooted was Ayoub Khan’s belief in the army as Pakistan’s saviour that when he was forced to resign in 1969 amid massive street demonstrations, he chose not to transfer power to a civilian under the terms of the constitution he had himself ordained in 1962.

Musharraf’s humiliation at the hands of the Supreme Court should be cause for him and his fellow army officers to review their fundamental approach to governance. The doctrine of unified command should be abandoned in favour of governance by national reconciliation and consensus.

The people must have the right to vote governments in and out. The politicians they elect must be able to govern according to the constitution until their term runs out.

Judges should adjudicate disputes according to law and not as per the doctrine of necessity. The army should defend the country against enemies identified by the elected parliament and army chiefs should have fixed terms.

Musharraf sees no contradiction in his assertion that Pakistan is in a state of war with Islamist extremists and his desire to have his way on all issues big or small.

Nations must unite at times of war but Musharraf has not done anything to overcome any of Pakistan’s divisions to focus exclusively on fighting terrorists and militants.

Pakistan is polarised between rich and poor, Islamist and secularist, pro-military and pro-civilian rule. Ethnic divisions not only persist, they seem to have aggravated over the last eight years.

Democracies subsume disagreements and diversity by allowing the majority to have its way until the next election while protecting the rights of the minority under law. Authoritarianism, or “unified command” as Musharraf describes it, simply hardens the divisions in society.