For Musharraf to Get Out of Uniform Issue
October 22: It is easy getting the future wrong. But one thing
is for sure: the soldier-president is at his weakest and most
vulnerable since seizing power five years ago.
referendum was bad but not as bad as this. It was a blunder soon
overtaken, if not rectified, by the dust and thunder of the subsequent
general elections. But it's hard to see how the president can
easily get out of the muddle created by the uniform issue.
guided by his fears and misjudging the national mood, the president
insists on wearing it, two things happen. The last shreds of his
credibility stand destroyed and the opposition parties - from
the PPP to the PML-N to the holy fathers of the MMA - come together
on a one-point platform against a government now obviously adrift
and in distress.
at the eleventh hour, belated wisdom dawning, he decides to shed
his uniform, it will be seen and perhaps denounced as a sign of
weakness, something done under pressure. It requires genius of
a high order to paint oneself into such a corner.
Powell helped decide our foreign policy after September 11. Since
this government takes American views so seriously, his advice
could be sought on this issue as well. There is a whole bunch
of assistant secretaries of state in the state department. When
one of them visits Islamabad, the foreign minister should be good
enough for him/her. But believing in going overboard with our
American friends, we lay out the red carpet: an assistant secretary
of state getting to meet the president and the prime minister,
with the foreign minister coming a poor third. When photos of
these encounters are flashed on our front pages, there is little
realization of what a poor image of Pakistan is conveyed by this
to return to our main story, when a Pakistan government is in
trouble, and I say this on the basis of past experience, some
whiz kid always gets it into his head to shepherd docile members
of the legal community for an audience with the embattled president
or prime minister. Why lawyers, I cannot say. But a section of
lawyers readily lend themselves to such endeavors.
happened with President Musharraf on Wednesday evening when a
group of faceless lawyers, headed by the law minister and the
attorney-general, met the president in Army House, there to be
treated to a lecture on why political stability is so essential
for the country.
isn't it? You remain in the saddle for five years, master of everything
(except your foreign policy, of course), all power concentrated
in your person, and yet after all this exercise of authoritarianism
and untrammeled power, you decry the absence of political stability.
Can there be a more telling indictment of your rule? If political
stability still eludes the country, what have you been up to all
it's not as if this is happening for the first time. Field Marshal
(self-appointed and for victories unknown to history) Ayub Khan,
General Yahya Khan, the real founding father of Bangladesh, General
Zia, unrivalled master of the false statement, all rose and fell
the same way, embodiments of power in their prime, forlorn souls
when they stumbled and lost their way.
those annals of military rule could have been scripted by the
same author, the plots resembling each other so much. What sin
have the people of Pakistan committed to endure endless cycles
of the same history?
the fourth in this line of distinguished soldier-presidents finds
himself in much the same boat: adrift on choppy waters with little
idea of how to make it to the shore.
Q or King's League should have been guarding the presidential
gates, defending the president and foiling the opposition parties.
Instead it looks more demoralized and closer to meltdown than
ever. If its members can't bring themselves to maintaining the
National Assembly's quorum, what other act of heroism can they
perform? As for Shaukat Aziz, the new prime minister, my heart
goes out to him for he looks more helpless than his predecessor,
Zafarullah Jamali, which is saying a lot.
the moment of its misbegotten birth, this was a ramshackle system,
a nightmare of conflicting architectural motifs and designs. But
it has never looked shakier than now. Why? Because of a hard-to-understand
insistence on staying in uniform despite the public pledge, solemnly
given last year, that by end 2004, the anomaly of one man as both
president and army chief will come to an end.
within the presidential camp there are voices (naturally muted)
saying that the president is making a mistake. I can't imagine
the formation and div commanders enamored of the uniform idea
because (1) it reveals a great sense of insecurity on the president's
part and (2) it amounts to a vote of no-confidence against the
entire top hierarchy of the army. For, in effect, what the president
is saying is that he trusts no one except himself as army chief.
president is from the 29th PMA Long Course. The new Vice-Chief
of the Army Staff, General Ahsan Saleem Hayat, is at least 10
courses junior to him, most of the corps commanders even more
junior than that, cubs in uniform compared to the president's
elderly tiger stripes. So what accounts for this huge insecurity?
used to be said, and rightly so, that Pakistani
prime ministers were afraid of their army chiefs. Now army chiefs
are afraid of the dark and the unknown. Where will all this insecurity
end? And one of the aims of the Musharraf takeover (soft
name for coup) was to equip the country with stability. If this
is stability, what would instability look like?
comes from legitimacy, competence and force of personality. It
scarcely casts you in a very flattering light if derived merely
from an office, especially one to which you are not entitled -
that is, if you go by an honest reading of the Constitution.
the president's discomfiture is an opportunity for the opposition
parties. But can they make the most of it? The 17th constitutional
amendment last year was an issue with which to beat the government.
The MMA mullahs, by voting for that amendment, bailed the president
out of that one. What will they do this time?
real opposition to Musharraf, lest we need any reminding, comes
from the PPP and the PML-N. The mullahs have been betwixt and
between, running with the hare, hunting with the hounds, all things
to all sides. With the president going back on his promise, they
are faced with their moment of truth. Which side will they choose?
course of action is likely to be dictated by the president's final
decision. If he takes off his uniform, never mind the charges
of weakness and bowing to pressure, the wind goes out of opposition
sails and the MMA can claim vindication for its policy. But if
the president decides that salvation and safety lie in his uniform,
the MMA, much against its wishes no doubt, will be pushed into
taking a tough stand.
the supreme paradox: democracy's cause will be served if Musharraf
remains in uniform. For that, under the circumstances, is the
only thing likely to galvanize the opposition parties and shake
them out of their torpor. Conversely, if he redeems his uniform
pledge, the neither-here-nor-there political system foisted upon
the country gets another lease of life.
the last favor that Pakistanis could ask of their president: please
keep wearing your uniform. - Courtesy Daily Dawn