April issue 2002

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 20 years ago

Why is General Musharraf so miffed about the parallels that are being drawn between him and his erstwhile comrades-in-arms, specifically General Zia-ul-Haq?  The general’s protestation aside, the entire referendum exercise has a ‘been there, done that’ ring to it.  The methodology may be different, thanks to the machinations of Pakistan’s ingenious constitutional experts, the reasons may range from introducing a “fundamentalist” Islamic system to reversing that trend, but the goalpost remains the same — the ubiquitous chair.

That General Musharraf will occupy the coveted chair is a foregone conclusion.  His information minister and his ISPR chief have testified to that.  The general himself has categorically stated that he is not going nowhere in a hurry, Pakistan needs him for continuity in the reform process that he has set in motion.  If so, why is the general going through the motions of what seems like an exercise in futility?  Why is he laying the foundations of what is already being branded a ‘sham’ democracy when he has clearly stated that his avowed intent is to introduce ‘genuine’ democracy.

Already questions are being raised about the constitutional validity of the gargantuan operation, the controversial manner in which it is to be conducted and the likely use of the nazims and the entire administrative machinery to get people to the polling booths and to secure “positive” results.

But more than that, both the general public and the politicians are concerned about the shape of the system to come.  What is it to be — a quasi-democracy or a quasi-martial law?  Who will call the shots — the President or the Prime Minister?  Will the Eighth Amendment be revived or will the National Security Council idea be pushed through?  Who will carry the decisive vote in the event of dissent — the NSC or the assemblies?  Is the army going to be inducted into Pakistan’s “democratic” setup for all times to come?  Past experiments of a similar nature have left nothing but chaos and contradictions in their wake.  The country has been witness to endless power tussles when there have been two seats of power in Islamabad.

General Musharraf maintains that he will not allow the assemblies to ‘blackmail’ him as they did General Zia.  Zia, blackmailed?  How could a man who came for 90 days and stayed for 11 years (and would have stayed longer had fate not intervened), ruled the country with an iron fist, violated every law in the book with impunity, sent an elected prime minister to the gallows and turned the entire country upside down, be blackmailed by toothless legislators?

To his credit, Musharraf has a better track record than General Zia thus far.  He is viewed as being progressive and liberal.  His decision to proceed against religious extremists, to ban sectarian parties, to reintroduce the system of joint electorates as demanded by the minorities, and give 33 per cent representation to women in the local bodies have all won him kudos.  But that record is in danger of being tarnished by his recent manoeuverings and utterances.

By letting the courts decide the fate of Bhutto and Sharif, rather than showing a general disdain for politicians and political parties — true several of them deserve it — and not trying to equate good governance with army rule, Musharraf might have earned the vote of the political parties and probably secured the constitutional legitimacy he so keenly desires.

What he has ended up doing instead is alienating the politicians and confusing the public.  As for his third constituency — the west — they too have not exactly given him the seal of approval.  The Commonwealth and the European Union have been critical of his referendum move.  And his biggest supporters, the US, will support him for as long as it suits them.  After that, Musharraf is on his own.

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.