Uniform Against Pakistan's National Interest and Survival
BOSTON, Sept 19: The Constitution (17th amendment) requires General
Musharraf to give up his army post by December 31, 2004. At the
time this amendment was adopted, he gave the nation his word that
he would "shed" his uniform by the appointed day.
loyalists have, of late, been urging him to abandon all thought
of doing so. As of September 15, they have begun to advance the
curious view that the Constitution does not stop him from being
president and the army chief at the same time. They claim that
his retention of his uniform is a vital national interest.
The general said the other day that
he would make his decision at the appropriate time, keeping in
view the national interest, wishes of the people, and requirements
of the Constitution. He professes to know what the people want:
he has recently made the astounding, and also the incredibly disingenuous,
claim that 96 per cent of them want him to keep his military uniform.
Whoever suggested this figure (96 per cent) is clearly no friend
The reason for the general's apparent
intention to stay on as the army chief is clear. He wishes to
be the country's effective ruler, which he cannot be if he takes
off his uniform, for then he will have no support base. The politicians
as well as the generals will feel free to go their own way; they
will have no compelling reason to listen to him.
must ask how he can keep his uniform when the Constitution, as
it now stands, says he must take it off by December 31. If he
does not comply with this requirement, the issue will most likely
reach the Supreme Court. His spokesmen may ask the court to invoke
its favorite"doctrine of necessity" and find ways of
suppressing the troublesome clauses in the Constitution. That
would not be too heavy a burden for the court to bear: at several
critical junctures in our history, it has seen fit to go with
the shifting gales of power politics.
possibility may be to hold, and win, still another "referendum,"
and declare that the voice of the people, being the voice of God
("vox populi vox dei"/ or "sada-i-khalq ko
naqqara-i-khuda samjho"), overrides the Constitution.
general has told us all along that in making his decisions he
places the national interest above all else. Let us then see how
this matter of his uniform relates to the national interest. It
should be understood that his retention of his army post will,
in essence, mean continuance of military rule in Pakistan.
if it allows a democratic facade to remain in place, the nation's
aspiration for democratic governance, and its quest for political
maturity, will remain defeated for many long years. The key question
would then seem to be whether democracy is a national interest
and, if it is, how highly it is to be valued.
wanted independence, and attained it, because we wanted to be
self-governing. That did not mean that thenceforth dictators who
placed us under their rule would have Muslim names and brown skin.
It meant that dictators would rule no longer, that we would be
governed by our consent, and that we would be subject not to anyone's
whim but to the rule of law. Seen in this context, military rule
is a negation of our raison d'etre. Fulfillment of the reason
for our existence as an independent state is thus a national interest
of the highest order.
is alleged in certain quarters, including the military, that our
aspiration for democracy is extravagant and frivolous, for we
are not capable of governing ourselves - at least not now or in
the foreseeable future. The proponents of this view tell us also
that military rule suits us better, and in support of their claim
they point to the longer strides in economic development made
during Ayub Khan's rule and the larger amounts of spending money
some of us (particularly traffickers in drugs and weapons) had
during Ziaul Haq's regime.
do concede, however, that the prosperity they speak of did not
filter down to the ordinary folks. It follows then that military
rule was no better than any other so far as the masses were concerned.
It is alleged also that the masses
are not all that worked up about the availability or absence of
democratic rights and freedoms, and that burdened as they are
with the toil of earning a living, they have no time for politics.
This is, at best, a half-truth. They are unconcerned with an existing
system of government so long as the politicians to whom they listen
do not denounce it. But our experience shows that when the same
politicians tell them that military rule is responsible for their
deprivations, they will come out on the streets to demand its
termination and the restoration of democracy.
Let us now ask where our politicians
stand. Of the 342 members of the National Assembly 191 voted to
support General Pervez Musharraf's nominee (Mr Shaukat Aziz) for
the post of prime minister on August 27. In other words, 151 members
did not support him. This is a substantial number. It is possible
that some of the 191 who did vote for Mr Aziz will withdraw their
support of the general if he keeps his uniform beyond December
will the disaffected politicians do? It goes without saying that
their opposition to the general's regime will intensify. It may
simmer for a time as they test the waters, so to speak, but it
may turn into a general uprising if they find the time to be right
this connection, it should be noted that the present government
is not popular to any significant degree. Claims of its popularity
advanced by General Musharraf and Mr Shaukat Aziz are either poetic
exaggeration or delusions; the latter being the more likely since
neither of them is known to be poetic.
Musharraf's spokesmen caution that political destabilization and
chaos will ensue if he takes off his uniform. Instability does
not signify only frequent changes in the prime minister's office
and the resulting uncertainty in the realm of public policy. Destabilization
and chaos have other manifestations as well: masses of people
coming out on the streets, day after day, shouting anti-establishment
slogans, blocking traffic, burning buses and private vehicles,
forcing stores to close, breaking shop windows and plundering
the merchandize, organizing and enforcing strikes, turning investors
and tourists away, bringing the national economy to a standstill,
clashing with the security forces, killing and getting killed,
and paralyzing the government.
Who, in his right mind, will deny
that all of this is chaos, and that it constitutes the gravest
of threats to the national interest? While we hope that this kind
of an upheaval will not occur, it would be foolish to dismiss
the possibility that it may, if the general does not "shed"
The general may be aware that these
developments can ensue. But it may be that he thinks he will ride
the storm and come out unscathed, even beaming. That is possible,
but not probable. He would do well to take a look at the books
of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Ayub Khan. Even Ziaul Haq's experience
will make an instructive study.
Musharraf's walk through the "storm"
will be made ever more hazardous by the fact that parts of the
country (especially Sindh and Balochistan) are already in turmoil.
Many of the politically aware people in these provinces, and others
whom they can carry along, keep reminding us of the tragic events
of 1971. They refer to the possibility of secession and civil
They speak in this mode not because
they are disloyal to Pakistan but because they despise General
Musharraf's rule and the political system they think he wants
to impose on us. If he continues to insist that his personal interest
in retaining supremacy in our government is of vital interest
to Pakistan, the opposition to him may become deeply alienated.
That is what happened in East Pakistan.
The general has other opponents whose
grievances may not be precisely the same but they are just as
strong as those of the Sindhi and Baloch "nationalists."
Gathered in the MMA, ARD (especially PPP and PML-N), ANP and a
few other organizations, they are likely to join hands with the
"nationalists" in the smaller provinces in a general
uprising in case he decides to keep his uniform.
If the above interpretations are
valid, it should be clear that a decision on General Musharraf's
part to keep his uniform beyond the appointed day will be a menace
to the national interest inasmuch as it will not only threaten
the country's good order but its very survival. We must all hope
that God will guide him to moderate his ambition and, in addition,
save him from the self-seeking opportunists who pose as his friends.
His decision is bound to have some
impact abroad. Mr Bush may not care one way or the other so long
as Musharraf is going after, and killing, the anti-American extremists,
real and presumed. But many in the United States Congress, media,
and academia will think less of Pakistan if they see that it continues
to be ruled by a general in uniform.
So will the governments and opinion-makers
in the Commonwealth, Europe, and Japan. Our international standing,
and our bargaining position (all around but more specifically
in negotiations with India) will weaken. Thus General Musharraf's
decision to keep his uniform beyond December 31 will be prejudicial
to our national interest not only at home but also in the outside
writer is professor emeritus of political science at the University
of Massachusetts at Amherst, USA. This article was published in
Daily Dawn on Sept 19, 2004. E-mail: email@example.com