When The Future Calls

Indian Express , May 16, 2007

Recent events indicate that General Pervez Musharraf has no intention of becoming the first ruler in Pakistani history to relinquish power without first trying to hold on to it by all means, fair or foul.

Instead of allowing politics to take its course, Musharraf is once again insisting on his indispensability. It appears that he hopes to do so with threats of violence ignited with the help of allies in Karachi, some of whom have now taken to shouting the slogan, “Pakistan without Musharraf is unacceptable.”

By most accounts, backed up with video footage, the violence in Karachi was initiated by the pro-government Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) which claimed that it ‘controls’ Pakistan’s financial capital and largest city. The MQM said it would not allow the opposition to hold a rally in support of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, a blatantly anti-democratic stance. Even if, as the MQM asserts, the majority of the people of Karachi are not with the opposition parties, surely they have the democratic right to march in the streets peacefully and voice their opinions.

General Musharraf’s refusal to go with the flow of politics was also reflected in the government-sponsored, lacklustre rally organised for him in Islamabad. Speaking from behind a bullet-proof glass wall, Musharraf repeated his call that the chief justice issue should not be politicised.

Musharraf repeated his assertion that Pakistan had progressed economically under his rule. He then claimed that he would be elected for a second term as president. Considering that he was not elected under the Constitution for a first term, and given his refusal to take off his uniform and contest a free and fair election on a level playing field with the opposition, both claims rang hollow.

Pakistan’s military men as an institution, and their assorted supporters, have almost never accepted the value of the political process. They seem to have embraced the view of the country as a corporation.

Under this view, military rulers are measured by their ability to improve GDP growth rates and civilians are condemned for lower productivity or corruption. In Pakistan’s chequered history, rulers have insisted on applying the accountant’s criteria to measure national leadership. This has proven to be a major stumbling block to understanding the dynamic of politics and history that shapes nations.

A careful study of Pakistan’s history would reveal that methods such as muzzling the press, arresting and harassing political opponents, using government machinery to frame, intimidate and humiliate opponents were widely practiced and many even originated under General Ayub Khan without much complaints from the military-bureaucrat-technocrat class.

Ayub Khan’s governor, the Nawab of Kalabagh, did not hesitate to threaten the president’s opponents and used Intelligence Bureau (IB) personnel to plot assassinations and blackmail. The institutional role of the army and the permanent state structure in undermining normal democratic politics in Pakistan is only now being fully debated.

Pakistan’s greatest problem is its institutional imbalance, the pattern of military intervention and the recurrent political problems of Pakistan. The refusal of the Pakistani elite to accept the principle of elected civilian leadership keeps drawing the country into crisis after crisis.

It is time for Pakistan’s military officers, professionals and business classes to withdraw support from the past pattern of military rule and accept the principle of institutionalised political process.

Mobilising street thugs to combat a people’s movement for democracy may be part of Pakistan’s unfortunate history. It does not augur well for the country’s future.