Saturday, June 27, 2009

In Defence of Pervez Musharraf

By Saeed Qureshi

I have a question and let us call a spade a spade. Did General Pervez Musharraf manipulate his advent into power or was he accidently catapulted into the power corridors by an unpredictable trail of fast happening events on the fateful day of October 12, 1999?

The incontrovertible fact is that on October 12, 1999, the aircraft flying from Sri-lanka to Pakistan with COAS Musharraf on board was not allowed to land at the Karachi airport. The plan was preplanned to be diverted to a remote small airport for landing. The plan carrying full load of passengers kept hovering over Karachi airport with little fuel left. Incidentally, the COAS managed to establish contact with some army generals with whose speedy intervention, the plane landed at the Karachi airport. During the period from the take off of the plane to its being airborne, the then prime minister made a clumsy bid to dismiss Musharraf and install Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Director Ziauddin Butt in his place.

The misconceived plan backfired and the prime minister was caught into a suddenly developed detrimental situation that turned him into a loser. If army could control the Karachi international airport against the orders of the then prime minister to save their Chief, it would get emboldened enough to arrest and depose him and that is what happened. This is one army coup that was not hatched by the armed forces but came about as a counterpoise to the civilian government’s idiotic blunder. It is, therefore, easy to infer that the power descended on Musharraf as windfall booty.

Thereafter, Musharraf was free to do what every army chief or a dictator with absolute powers does. He had to be hard on Sharif and his conglomerate for his own survival. It bore an amazing similarity between the Zia and Bhutto feud. Either Bhutto had to live or Zia. Zia was in power so he physically eliminated his rival through a highly dubious legal process. The power game is the most ruthless and blood cuddling.

A timid and professional army general, Musharraf, assumed the role of an arbiter not only of the fate of the deposed and a loser prime minister but also of the entire dazed nation who jubilantly welcomed him as a military head of government. Even the political parties, PPP and TIP among others expressed their approval of the change from a democratic parliamentary government to the throw-back of military authoritarianism. This explains how repressive Nawaz Sharif’s dispensation had become that the fellow politicians preferred military rule over an elected government.

Military rulers in Pakistan have been relatively lucky to get external prop and the creation of sudden favorable circumstances to hang on to power. America has always found it convenient to deal with powerful autocrats to promoter her agenda. In the case of Both Ziaul Haq and Musharraf, Afghanistan was the pressing issue for which Pakistan’s participation was inevitable. Ziaul Haq, as a reincarnated Ghazi Salahuddin of crusaders’ fame mobilized and recruited Mujahidin ( holy warriors) from all over the Islamic countries to provide a committed fighting force to America and her allies to fight against the red army in Afghanistan.. For this mercenary role he enjoyed unstinted support of the arch godfather America. Indeed he performed his hireling role with exceeding efficiency.

Now Musharraf started spreading his tentacles to secure his power. Unlike Zia he was under no obligation to honor a promise to hold elections within 90 days after the take-over. His hands were free to firm up his hold on power. But in his maneuvers to consolidate and continue his grip over the power, he was assisted by the superior court of Pakistan and the assemblage of religio- political parties called MMA.

On May 12, 2000, Pakistan's 12 member Supreme Court unanimously validated the October 1999 coup and granted Musharraf executive and legislative authority for 3 years from the coup date. In a referendum held on April 30, 2002, Musharraf's presidency was extended by five more years, later to be endorsed by the National Assembly. Ironically the supreme court Judges’ spirit of justice was not evoked nor the conscience of members of national Assembly pricked while endorsing the referendum results which was essentially, a unilateral way of getting favorable result for the lone candidate. So why to blame Musharraf who was playing power game according to his rules and in his pitch?

As if this violation of legal and constitutional provisions was not enough, on 1 January 2004, Musharraf had won a confidence vote from both houses of Parliament and the four provincial assemblies, As a result of that vote; his term was extended to 2007.

In September 2007, Pakistan's Supreme Court cleared the way for President Pervez Musharraf to seek another five-year term, when six of the nine judges, rejected a tangle of petitions against him and threw out a major legal challenge to his re-election plans.

On the basis of a deal in December 2003, with MMA (Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal), a six-member coalition of Islamic parties, Musharraf was able to muster the two-third majority required to pass the Seventeenth Amendment, which retrospectively legalized Musharraf's 1999 coup and many of his decrees. If later Musharraf went back on his agreement of doffing his military uniform by December 2004, then he is not to blame, because he was not playing a moral game. It was a cut and dried political game and he knew that MMA was playing a trick, as well, with him. Later, the pro-Musharraf legislators in the Parliament passed a bill allowing Musharraf to keep both the offices of president and the army chief. The MMA’s support to legitimize Musharraf’s 1999 coup and passage of the 17th amendment, barring a few clauses, was not in the national interest. The religious parties turned against Musharraf not because of Pakistan’s coalition with America but for not honoring his pledge to retire from the army.

If Musharraf had faced resistance from the political parties and the judicial process, he could have never obtained the sweeping powers under the 17th amendment with incorporation of draconian 58-2/B clause. Musharraf was not a moral icon. If all is fare in love and war then political power wheeling dealing is a cut throat game of wits. Musharraf won that war against the opportunist and self serving political leaders especially the discredited religious stalwarts. Again the question is: was it Musharraf alone who was pushing his agenda through by use of force or was he being aided and bolstered by the legal system and by the elected representatives also, in furthering his self serving plan?

Musharraf is much berated for involving Pakistan in American war on terror against Taliban and Al-Qaida. Now I dare say that any one in place of Musharraf would have adopted the same course, which Musharraf took. Was Pakistan so strong economically or militarily as to offend America to invite that country’s wrath? . Rejecting America’s right or wrong offer for cooperation would mean that we were like Taliban or their supporters. There is no doubt that Pakistan would have become another Iraq or an Afghanistan. Siding with America is much less harmful than spurning the American urge for an alliance. Taliban, in the final run, would have proven to be the heaviest liability for Pakistan. Their religious and moral code is neither Islamic nor civilized as evidenced in Swat and adjoining valleys.

“Galvanizing the whole nation into agreeing to fight the USA and NATO was another impossible task. Indian eagerness to join the War on Terror was an alarming condition that Pakistan could not have over-looked.” is a comment that so aptly portrays the situation then and even now prevailing?

Till that moment, the American attitude towards Pakistan was hostile. Besides, Pakistan’s economy was in dire straits. The American need for our support in the aftermath of 9/11 was, nothing short of a blessing in disguise and most desirable timely help in a state of Pakistan’s extreme adversity. Musharraf‘s pledge of support for America was a very pragmatic approach. The United State, after 9/11 felt humiliated and brutalized. With a ferocious and vengeful president, George Bush, and with the bruised megalomaniac pride of s super power, it would have been suicidal for Pakistan to oppose America and its western allies. Pakistan was saved from a colossal catastrophe by Musharraf by seizing the rare and divinely sent opportunity that entailed a host of dividends for Pakistan. If Musharraf had declined to cooperate, the hostile India, Afghanistan and U.S. and NATO forces would have shown no mercy to Pakistan. Can someone imagine the disastrous fallout for Pakistan?

Musharraf’s Achilles Heel was his encounter with the Chief Justice of Pakistan and to tell him audaciously that he was being removed. By that time the political climate in Pakistan was showing a downturn for Musharraf. That was the starting point for Musharraf’s decline. In order to browbeat the burgeoning public uproar against him, he started committing mistakes. From Akbar Bugti’s death to Lal Mosque’s gory siege, to the proclamation of state of emergency and finally the lawyers’ earth shaking movement all welded into an invincible bulwark against him. His political prowess was considerably eroded. The PPP which under a concealed agreement was ready to lend him political support, also drifted away from Musharraf under the combined compulsion of the anti Musharraf popular crescendo and the murder of the party’s Chairman Benazir Bhutto. Musharraf was left with no option but to beat a retreat finally. The higher you go the steeper you fall.

Musharraf’s balance sheet is not full of red or black dots. It has some laudable achievements as well. In 1988 Pakistan’s foreign debt was $18 billion, but at the end of 1999 it had accumulated to $38 billion. Public and external debt exceeded 300% of Foreign exchange earnings. But following Musharraf’s alliance with USA, Pakistan’s economy started improving. Pakistan’s poverty level dropped from 34% to 24% and the overall living standard improves considerably.

Musharraf's liberal policies propelled under his slogan of ‘enlightened moderation’ led to the liberalization of society from various abominable taboos and regulations. Freedom of media and from one state run television PTV, to the opening of above 50 channels happened in his time. Besides, the “Protection of Women Bill”, signed on 1 December 2006, did away with harsh conditions of the anti women Hudood Ordinance. The impossible condition to produce four male witnesses by the female rape victim was abolished by placing the rape laws under the penal code.

The 20 seats previously reserved for women in the national assembly, were increased to 60 seats. In provincial assemblies, these went up collectively from 23 to 128. Musharraf’s presidency, markedly, empowered the women folk and gave them a greater role and share of participation in decision and law making. In case of minorities, in an ideologically biased society, Musharraf abolished the separate electorate and reserved 10 seats for religious minorities in the National Assembly. It was a landmark bold step. He gave a tremendous boost to education by raising the number of educational universities to 47.

While I would not favor Musharraf’s stay in power because he was not the president of a totally democratic system, it is lamentable that the incumbent’s government’s conduct is not any better than that of Musharraf. It looks like an extension of his quasi democratic establishment. It is more submissively tied to the American apron strings. It has miserably failed in offering good governance with no plans to overcome the persistent power failures, rising prices and complete lawlessness. There is no accountability and there is no justice, nor any improvement in nation building and civic institutions. Pakistan is in the worst mess than it ever was during the previous administration. The sword of 58-2/B is still hanging over the parliamentary democracy.

Finally the dethronement of Pervez Musharraf was essentially not the work of the politicians but of the civil society and the lawyers. The politicians jumped into the band wagon when there was clear writing on the wall that Musharraf was on his way out. The PPP was rather his sleeping partner. The political government of PPP with Zardari as the president resisted the promised restoration of chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. It did so finally after a great social upheaval and economic loss to the country.

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