Musharraf Fails to Tackle Islamic Threat

Asian Wall Street Journal, June 24 , 2003

The decision by the legislative assembly of a key Pakistani province bordering Afghanistan to impose sharia laws demonstrates the ineffectiveness of Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s military regime.

An Islamist alliance won a majority in provincial elections in October, which gives it the mandate for Islamic legislation. But its members have gone beyond legislation to force women to wear veils in public and to forcibly stop the playing of music in buses and restaurants. They have also damaged billboards with women’s images and trashed cinemas and circuses. This vigilantism is coupled with the provincial government’s plans to set up a religious police force and enforce segregation in all (including privately run) educational institutions. The Islamists plan to make prayers for men mandatory, in a move reminiscent of the Taliban.

Gen. Musharraf, the nation’s president and military ruler, has declared his opposition to the actions of the Islamists. But he persists in excluding popular politicians from the process, creating worries he might use the threat of Pakistan’s “Talibanization” as justification for more authoritarian rule. If mainstream secular political parties were allowed to play their role, groups that share the Taliban’s vision would not necessarily dominate politics. The Islamists would face a vibrant opposition even in the legislature they dominate. Political give-and-take in the country’s federal and four provincial legislatures would restrain the ability of Islamist politicians to push for a complete overhaul of state and society. Limitations imposed on the secular parties by Gen. Musharraf have created a political vacuum that is currently being filled by the Islamists.

When U.S. President George W. Bush meets Gen. Musharraf at Camp David this week, he should not let him continue to believe that the U.S. will let him get away with anything as long as he helps arrest members of al Qaeda escaping from Afghanistan. The Pakistani leader will probably hear U.S. concerns about the activities of Islamic militants who launch attacks in Indian-controlled Kashmir, allegedly from bases in Pakistan. But he should also be told that his domestic policies do not meet American criteria for a phased transition to democracy, and that his desire to perpetuate military rule by repressing secular politicians is increasing the clout of anti-American Islamists.

Recently, the Commonwealth — a group of former British colonies — refused to restore Pakistan’s membership, which was suspended after the 1999 military coup that brought Gen. Musharraf to power. But the U.S. has been willing to give Gen. Musharraf greater credit for his “liberalized” autocracy. Gen. Musharraf has earned Washington’s gratitude for his cooperation in the war against al Qaeda. For this, his government has been given substantial debt relief and economic assistance.

The U.S. should now join the Commonwealth in expressing misgivings and concerns about the long-term direction of Pakistan. Pakistan is not moving toward democracy, religious tolerance and a greater role for civilians. Although parliamentary elections were held last year, members of the body have met infrequently and have yet to exercise their law-making powers. Gen. Musharraf’s handpicked prime minister, Zafarullah Jamali, leads a civilian coalition cobbled together by the country’s security services.

At the heart of Pakistan’s political troubles is Gen. Musharraf’s effort to keep out of power the mainstream parties led by former Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, who are accused of past corruption and incompetence. Gen. Musharraf miscalculated the political strength of various factions. Some studies suggest that changes in electoral laws introduced by the military helped the Islamists secure a disproportionate influence even though they won only 10% of the popular vote. In addition to controlling the province bordering Afghanistan, they also hold a large number of seats in the new parliament. They are now using this leverage to define the terms of debate in politics. The apparent power of the Islamists enables Gen. Musharraf to present himself and his military as the only barrier to an Islamist takeover of a nuclear-armed state.

Instead of allowing Gen. Musharraf to consolidate the military’s political pre-eminence, the U.S. should ask him to initiate the fundamental shift needed to make Pakistan a self-sustaining democracy free of threats of terrorism. Like the Commonwealth, the U.S. must also insist that Gen. Musharraf recognize parliament’s rights and authority, hold open elections and allow for genuine politics. America’s tendency with Pakistan to look the other way while focusing on what matters to Washington in the short-term has, in the past, contributed to Pakistan’s inability to establish the rule of law and to evolve strong civilian institutions.

It was the military’s ascendancy that made Pakistan a troubled state. Indeed, not long ago, it backed the Taliban on the assumption that a friendly regime in Kabul, however unpalatable otherwise, would enhance Pakistan’s strategic depth against India. Gen. Musharraf and the Pakistani military could similarly be thinking of their advantage in letting the Islamists dominate domestic politics for the moment.

General’s New Clothes

Indian Express, June 20 , 2003

Some of General Pervez Musharraf’s recent pronouncements about Pakistan’s political future should end the illusion of those who see him as a well-intentioned soldier forced by circumstances to take over the country. His statements that ‘‘Pakistan is not ready for democracy’’ come on the heels of his declaration that, for national interest, he would not relinquish power.

Both comments reflect a dictatorial mindset and cannot be the thoughts of someone who stepped in simply to save the country from a bad situation created by incompetent politicians. They are a clear departure from Musharraf’s previous line that he represented an interim or transition arrangement aimed at creating ‘‘real democracy’’ in Pakistan.

When he assumed power in 1999, Musharraf faced international condemnation and US sanctions. The promises of ‘‘real democracy’’ were aimed at placating donors whose money enables Musharraf, his generals and technocrats to keep the country’s economy afloat. With his status as a key US ally in the war against terrorism, the fear of democracy-related criticism or sanctions is gone.

Musharraf thinks he can afford to shed the cloak of ‘‘real democracy’’ now that he is about to be received by President Bush at Camp David on June 24. But short-term US support, based on Washington’s needs of the moment, cannot be a substitute for creating a viable political system in Pakistan.

Other Pakistani military rulers, too, thought they were indispensable and that they alone knew Pakistan’s national interest. Musharraf’s ‘‘Pakistan isn’t ready for democracy’’ arguments are not new. Field Marshal Ayub Khan, General Yahya and General Zia all made the same arguments. Ayub ruled for 10 years, only to lose a war with India (in 1965) and to resign amid protests. Yahya presided over Pakistan’s bifurcation and a lost war (in 1971). Zia unleashed Islamist militancy in another decade of military rule. General Musharraf’s legacy is also likely to be the same, notwithstanding whether he rules for a decade (like Ayub and Zia) or blunders into early ouster like Yahya.

There is little disagreement among analysts that Pakistan’s political class has flaws and often makes mistakes that do not advance either democracy or good governance. But that said, civilian rule has not caused the greatest disasters of Pakistani history such as civil war, as in former East Pakistan, or breeding of Kalashnikov culture. Given their control of state’s resources and ability to declare any critic of a military man as a ‘‘traitor’’ or ‘‘foreign agent’’, the generals simply manage to keep the nation’s political discourse focused on the civilians’ flaws.

Bring up corruption under Field Marshal Ayub or the completely degenerate rule of General Yahya and journalists and academics start receiving phone calls about the ‘‘need for protecting the military’s image’’. Somehow the politicians’ errors, including corruption, are the fault of the entire political process but the flaws of previous military rulers were just individual weaknesses. The secretiveness of the military’s culture, and the khaki tendency to cover up for its own, does not allow the same level of scrutiny of general-rulers that is applied to the blunders of civilians.

There is, of course, no logic in the ‘‘Pakistan is not ready for democracy’’ argument, which raises more questions than it answers. Pakistan emerged out of British India in 1947 and included Bangladesh until 1971. India was ready for democracy from day one and Bangladesh, too, is a democracy with alternation of power and civilian control. India’s economy is growing, the number of its people living in poverty is declining and its literacy level is rising despite its chaotic democracy or maybe due to it. Bangladesh too has contained its population explosion, expand literacy and transform from an economic basket case into a growing economy.

If the country out of which Pakistan emerged, and the nation that was born out of Pakistan, can both be democracies why is Pakistan alone not ready for democracy? All the traditional answers given by apologists of military rule can be rationally refuted. If religion is cited as the reason for Pakistan’s inability to sustain democracy, Bangladesh is overwhelmingly Muslim and India has more Muslims than Pakistan in numerical terms.

The ‘‘Pakistan has just been unlucky with the kind of politicians it has’’ approach also has its answer. The bickering Bangladeshi rivals, Begum Khaleda Zia and Begum Hasina Wajed, are no better or worse than Pakistan’s politicians. The ‘‘Pakistan’s feudal system obstructs democracy’’ view is losing relevance with urbanisation and declining share of agriculture in national wealth. The truth is that it is not Pakistan but its military leadership and its hangers on who are not ready for democracy.

Since 1958, the generals have refused to let politics take its course. Training at the Pakistan Military Academy, the Military Staff College and the National Defence College drills the simplistic notion in army officers’ head that they alone are Pakistan’s saviours. Successive generations growing up in military cantonments and in civil service residential estates have been brought up to think that the English-educated Sahib log are superior and better-equipped to run the country than earthy politicians representing the poor uneducated masses. It is no coincidence that most of the technocrats and columnists supporting the military over the past three decades are themselves the children of military officers.

Musharraf’s assertion that Pakistan is not ready for democracy might lead the world to ask how a nation unprepared for democratic governance can be prepared to maturely deploy its nuclear weapons or to absorb large amounts of foreign direct investment. If Pakistan is ready for the most destructive weapons technology available to mankind, why is democracy the only contemporary system its ruler feels it cannot sustain?

Soon after taking over, Musharraf claimed that he planned to lay the foundations of a democracy in Pakistan with changes in the legal and political system. But now he is suggesting that changes worked out by his National Reconstruction Bureau (NRB), headed by his handpicked retired general, have not solved the country’s problems. The one thing he and his fellow generals do not seem consider is that it is in their identification of Pakistan’s core problem that the mistake is consistently being made since 1958. The military’s attitude towards governance, and the assumption that generals alone know Pakistan’s national interest, needs a drastic revision than the one proposed by NRB in the constitution and election rules.

Khakhi Rules the Roost But Loses Popularity

Gulf News, June 6, 2003

If General Pervez Musharraf expected the Pakistani nation to turn on his command like a military parade, he must now learn the difference between a parade and a nation the hard way.

From the unruly Jihadis to the officially approved university graduates who now populate the Punjab provincial assembly there is hardly a civilian who is following the general’s script. The general wants Jaish-e-Muhammad founder Maulana Masood Azhar to lower his profile but he keeps appearing in public in defiance of these instructions.

The Punjab Assembly was expected to quietly pass a resolution endorsing the nation’s “need” for a uniformed president but the opposition turned it into a fiasco. And the debate over the Legal Framework Order (LFO) simply refuses to wither away.

Pakistan’s generals and their English-speaking, drawingroom dwelling supporters often lament that the Pakistani people are not ready for democracy. But in fact it is the generals‚ failure to understand the dynamics of politics that has obstructed Pakistan’s gradual evolution into a mature state.

No nation can have discipline without rule of law. And there can be no rule of law unless laws are made in a transparent manner, with complete observance of a constitutional scheme that enjoys broad consensus.

The Pakistani military’s conventional wisdom is that the country’s only tragedy is its lack of capable leadership. From Ayub Khan to Musharraf, the generals have tried to fill this leadership vacuum with their superior talent. But their rejection of the normal process of politics has harmed the country far more than the alleged mediocrity of our political leadership.

Let us examine each one of the several tempests in teapots that the country is currently facing. First, the matter of the Jihadi leaders. If Pakistan followed the rule of law, it would be a matter of law whether organising Jihadi militias was lawful or not.

Then, individuals such as Maulana Masood Azhar would either have complete freedom to move around the country or none at all, depending on whether their conduct was lawful or otherwise. But what has happened so far has little to do with the law.

A few years ago, Pakistan’s establishment thought that Jihad was a good instrument of strategy. Now, the same officials who asked religious leaders to mobilise their followers for Jihad not long ago are asking them to keep quiet or drop out of public view to save Musharraf international embarrassment over supporting militants. The Jihadi leaders refuse to be handled like puppets, hence their refusal to comply.

Next, the brouhaha in the Punjab Assembly. Since the elections of parliament and provincial legislatures last October, the government has shown nothing but contempt for the elected assemblies.

Instead of allowing parliament to vote on his proposed constitutional amendments and negotiating with the elected leaders to secure an outcome of that vote favourable to him, Musharraf chose to act aloof.

His assigned interlocutors with politicians, serving and retired intelligence officers, threatened or tried to bribe every politician failing to get an effective deal.

In the process, they also undermined the potential for political compromise among the politicians who had survived the hurdles put in their way in the course of elections. Political negotiation, after all, is not a skill taught at the Pakistan military academy or even at the school of intelligence.

The legislatures have not been entrusted with any legislation so far and have not even met sufficiently frequently.

The regime’s penchant for secrecy is so pervasive that it has failed to share details of its co-operation with the United States in the global war against terrorism, even urging the local press to ignore information on the subject published on the CENTCOM website on the internet. (Questions: If co-operation with the U.S. is good for Pakistan, why hide its details from Pakistanis? If it is something to be ashamed of, why do it?)

In such circumstances, the government’s effort to use the Punjab assembly to demonstrate support for Musharraf remaining in uniform was clearly a provocation for the opposition. Even then, pro-government politicians knew their side would be better served by allowing the opposition its say.

But the provincial Home Secretary, a former intelligence official and retired military officer who boasts of his friendship with “The Chief” decided to strong-arm the opposition.

The result was the shameful police attack on opposition members of the provincial assembly, accompanied by the ritual brutality against the press that attends such occasions.

Now the military regime is trying its best to “spin” its failure in managing dignified proceedings of the Punjab assembly into the traditional “our politicians are irresponsible” line of propaganda.

The argument of the uniformed ones can best be found in an article by a former four star general and vice chief of army staff published in a Karachi English daily. The general begins by saying, “The political rhetoric by our parliamentarians in public meetings, in the print media and the loud and rowdy rumpus by them inside the house reflects the disorder that ails our society”.

He then argues that “indiscipline and chaos are a part of our political milieu” before launching into a list of major and minor issues he sees as causes of our national malaise.

Ironically, this list includes the nuisance of plastic shopping bags and wall chalking but does not include absence of constitutional governance or usurpation of civilian power by the military. Pakistan’s generals have tried repeatedly to make the nation walk in a straight line but their efforts have come to naught.

It is time for them to realise that it is not “bloody civilians” who keep setting the nation back but their own tendency to consider themselves a solution to every problem. Last year, Musharraf argued that restricting the electoral process to university graduates would ensure a better quality of public representatives.

After the recent clashes in parliament and the Punjab assembly, that argument seems hollow. Similarly, the National Security Council had been introduced into the constitution as the body that would serve as a bridge between the military and the elected civilian leadership.

But now Musharraf argues that he must continue as president in uniform to be that bridge. Surely, one of those two bridges is redundant.

Politics has its own dynamic and until the military leadership recognises that, its desire for a “disciplined” Pakistani polity will only sow the seeds of greater chaos and confusion.

Making an entire nation walk in a straight line is impossible, which is why mature nations respect dissent and evolve procedures for allowing the minority to have its say while the majority gets its way.

Military training is insufficient preparation for leading a nation, which requires multi-faceted talents usually provided by a team of experienced politicians.

All of Pakistan’s general-rulers thought they had laid the foundations of economic prosperity and political stability. But their limited knowledge kept their focus on a few aspects, leading them to drop the ball on other equally crucial issues.

Right now, too, Musharraf is pleased with the improvements in the government’s finances with external assistance, ignoring that Pakistan averages seven suicides a day because of poverty and the number of those living below the poverty line has risen to 31 (possibly 34) per cent of the total population.

His political “strategy” of total control is likely to backfire as different political forces, from Jihadis to democrats, seek to mobilise an increasingly unhappy populace.

Pakistan would be better off if constitutional and political mechanisms were allowed to run their course and General Musharraf, and his team of serving and retired military officers, reverted to doing what they know best: obeying their superiors and ordering their subordinates.