Musharraf’s ills lie in his military attitude

Gulf News , June 6, 2007

Facing massive popular disapproval at home and abroad, General Pervez Musharraf’s military regime is trying to find comfort in support from the Bush administration and Pakistan’s top military commanders.

But Musharraf’s current problems do not stem from lack of US government support or the absence of backing from the Pakistani military. They are the result of disenchantment of the Pakistani people with the authoritarian order.

As several Pakistani commentators have pointed out, it is expected that military commanders express loyalty to Musharaf. Just to prove that they were unlikely to be swayed by assurances of loyalty by senior military commanders, tens of thousands of demonstrators continued with their protests in support of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry even after the imposition of new restrictions on the media and the much publicised statement issued after the 101st Corps Commanders Conference.

As several Pakistani commentators have pointed out, it is expected that military commanders express loyalty to their chief.

If the army chief asks them to tell the press that they stand for the “security of their country under the leadership and guidance of the president and the chief of army staff,” they will. How does a statement showing support for the army chief by officers under his command resolve the issue of Musharraf’s political legitimacy and lack of public support?

The generals’ statement had one other dimension that is significant. It took “serious note of the malicious campaign against institutions of the state launched by vested interests …”

This is a clear reference to the increasing questioning by Pakistani civilians of the military’s dominance over Pakistani public life and its alleged privileges. Musharraf’s civilian minions, such as Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz have been saying for a while that statements against the armed forces would “not be allowed or tolerated,” with ruling party president, Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain going so far as to demand that those criticising the army be shot to death.

There is no doubt that civilised, modern governance requires deference to and respect for institutions of state. But it is wrong, as is common in Pakistan, to think of the armed forces and the security services as the only institutions worth protecting.

A cursory glance at Pakistan’s history would reveal that Pakistan’s judicial and legislative institutions of state have been under relentless attack since 1951 – when General Ayub Khan became the country’s first indigenous army chief.

Frontal attack

The first frontal attack on a state institution came in 1954 when Governor General Ghulam Mohammad dissolved the Constituent Assembly just because it would not give him viceregal powers.

Over the years, Pakistan has become a state that stands only on one pillar – that of one part of the executive branch of government represented by the military and the intelligence services.

The judiciary’s standing was diminished by making it repeatedly endorse extra-constitutional interventions and pledging oaths to military coup-makers. Only now, with Justice Chaudhry’s stance against Musharraf, is the judiciary recovering some of its prestige.

The military sub-branch of the executive also constantly circumscribes the legislature in its functions. Political parties operate in the shadow of larger than life figures, slandered, jailed or exiled with alarming frequency. And then there are the ubiquitous intelligence agencies, hidden from public view but frequently seen pulling the strings in Pakistan’s complex political drama.

The assault on Pakistan’s institutions of state that started with Ayub Khan’s intervention in politics will come to an end only if all institutions – the judiciary, the legislature, political parties and the media – are allowed to function independently under the constitution.

Claims by the military regime about criticism of one sub-branch of the state as a malicious campaign against state institutions, without recognising the constant battering of other institutions will not resolve Pakistan’s crisis.