WASHINGTON DC, April 11, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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An Exit Strategy for General Musharraf, Pakistan Army, Political Parties

By Shaheen Sehbai

WASHINGTON, April 11: The biggest and the most complex issue confronting Pakistan today is how in the current convoluted and untenable political cum constitutional situation should the Pakistan Army and General Pervez Musharraf be provided with a face-saving “Exit Strategy” in which no party feels defeated and no party feels threatened, and Pakistan transitions from a dictatorship to a genuine democracy.

The issue is discussed threadbare in almost all political meetings but hardly anyone has come up with a “practical and workable innovative idea” because any solution which does not provide the Army, General Musharraf and his colleagues, a safe and dependable exit will not be acceptable to the Army and the deadlock will continue.

Most of the mainstream political parties demand a free and fair general election to solve the problem. That is the ultimate solution but that does not provide General Musharraf and the Army enough confidence to take the risk as they believe, and rightly so, that their hand-crafted house of cards will just collapse leaving them vulnerable to all kinds of threats and retributions.

The political parties feel that free and fair elections will give them their rightful share in power but they also know that it is not easy to force the corrupt ruling clique to let go their hold on power, just because some parties are demanding that. Pakistan’s history proves that no autocrat or dictator ever left power on his own and had to be either booted out by street pressure or his own Army colleagues stabbed him in the back or he just vanished into thin air like General Zia ul Haq.

Either of these eventualities is possible, but not probable in the current scenario. The street is divided and politicians are unable to muster enough strength to force their demands. Army colleagues of General Musharraf are behind him, at least until they see a real challenge to his authority from outside the institution. Musharraf is taking extra-ordinary measures to avoid a Bahawalpur type exit.

Yet he knows that his political structure is crumbling from within and as the next promised general election draws closer, unless a quick resolution of the crisis is achieved, pressures to manipulate the whole process will mount and correspondingly manipulation will become more difficult by the day. If Musharraf feels that things have become unmanageable, he may think of imposing direct Martial Law but that would be hard to market in the US and the West and domestically it would further alienate him, even from his present collaborators. The facade of democracy will also be washed out.

So what could be a possible and practical way for a smooth transfer of power in which Musharraf himself does not feel threatened, even though he may have to take off his military uniform and appoint a new Chief of Army Staff while remaining the President and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces?

First the ground realities and the bottom line positions of each party from which it may be hard to deviate. All parties obviously have fundamental objections to these positions of the others:

- General Musharraf is the all-powerful President and Army Chief and wants to remain so even after the next General Elections.

- Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif think they enjoy a much wider support base and hence in a free and fair election they will re-emerge as the contenders to power. Hence they are reluctant to concede anything to General Musharraf in the long term.

- Musharraf is unwilling to quit his Army post because he fears, and has said so many a times, that by doing so he would be weakened and the threat of a new military coup would emerge with a new power player coming into the equation.

- The religious parties led by MMA believe that the status quo is helping them gain quick ground among the embittered, disillusioned and hard pressed masses and so they would like to prolong it.

- The collaborators of Musharraf know that until he was around and powerful, they would be able to keep their house together but the moment he is weakened, their house of cards will collapse.

- The Corps Commanders and members of the Musharraf junta believe they are helpless unless outside forces make a real dent in his authority providing them with some opening to put pressure. Otherwise they have to go along with anything and everything the General says and does.

- All these parties understand that since 2007 is approaching fast something has to be done quickly to consolidate their own position, outwit the others and play their cards to their best advantage.

Given these conflicting and opposing interests and strategies, the national political scene looks like a fish market with everybody scrambling behind closed doors but nothing understandable and logical happening publicly except confusing moves, contradictory statements, empty threats, meaningless fights on non-issues and reiteration of stated positions to keep the lid from blowing.

In this scenario a few innovative thinkers in Washington, London and Pakistan have come up with a solution which I have been asked to articulate as a proposal and present as a “trial balloon” for everyone to consider, discuss and refine as the Exit Strategy for Pakistan Army (ESPA) from this messy situation.

The salient features of ESPA are as follows:

- It provides a safe passage to General Musharraf to quit his Army Post, appoint a new Army Chief but without facing the threat of a coup.

- It provides the political parties a chance to get a free and fair election under a “civilian” or an ex-army President.

- It enables Musharraf to stay on as the country’s President after the next General Elections for another term, but under legitimate constitutional authority and mandate.

- It provides for basic judicial and administrative reforms which would enable creating a credible and transparent system for smooth transfer of power to duly elected representatives of the people.

- It brings genuine democracy and distances the Army from politics of power.

ESPA’s key component is to resolve the first issue of how to enable Musharraf to take off his uniform without facing the threat of a coup by his new COAS. The proposed solution is as follows:

- The threat of a coup comes from the 111 Brigade and the Rawalpindi Corps of the Pakistan Army which controls the Islamabad-Rawalpindi zone with men and guns. This Brigade has been used again and again by the Army Chief to topple dictators and elected governments. When the 111 Brigade moves, Pakistan faces a new challenge.

- ESPA proposes that the Rawalpindi Corps including the 111 Brigade should be separated from the rest of the Army, through an amendment in the Army Act or whatever law is applicable, to be placed under the direct control of the President and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.

- Thus the new Army Chief will control 8 out of the present 9 Army Corps. He will be able to focus on the professional capabilities and defence preparedness of the Army on the borders and elsewhere but not in Islamabad where there is no border security involved.

- Since the President and Supreme Commander of the Army would directly control the Rawalpindi Corps, no other outside troops could come to stage a coup, and if they do so, it would be almost impossible with the Rawalpindi Corps defending Islamabad and the President.

- In return for this crucial concession to General Musharraf, the political parties should be given the guarantee of free and fair elections.

- Since words of either side are not to be trusted in this high-stake game, the President has to demonstrate that elections would be free by holding the Local Bodies Elections on a completely free and fair basis, allowing all parties to participate and without the Establishment, the Army and the Agencies taking sides. This trial run for elections would form the basis for the General Elections.

- Once trust is established between the two sides, an independent Election Commission be set up and intense discussions be held to revamp the Supreme Court of Pakistan by appointing persons of impeccable and undisputed integrity to the Bench for the next 5 years.

- Current Judges on which all parties have confidence may be retained but others told to go home. The new Supreme Court should revisit all the controversial constitutional judgments of the past which were believed to have been taken under any pressure or under duress. The Doctrine of Necessity, thus, needs to be revisited and thrown out of the system and whatever judicial wrong was done in the past, including hanging of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, should be corrected, at least for the record.

- If General Musharraf agrees to these terms, he should be promised a fresh Presidential Term as a civilian President, duly elected by the Parliament, with the powers to control the Rawalpindi Corps. Every new President thereon should have the same power, whether he be a civilian or an ex-army man.

- The General Headquarters of the Army should be moved away from Islamabad to Kharian or anywhere else.

- The President and the newly elected Parliament should revisit the Constitution and further balance the powers between the President and the Prime Minister, specially making it difficult for the President to use Article 58(2)(B) powers wrongfully or with malicious intent. If the Supreme Court restores any dismissed Government or Parliament, the President should under the Constitution be made to resign.

The main objection to ESPA, during our discussions, was that the proposals split the Pakistan Army and would not be acceptable to the Generals. It may be so, but some of us believe that since this solution is Musharraf-specific and since in this situation Musharraf himself is the big issue, he is the one who has to decide whether this plan will work for him and provide him the "Safe Passage" that he is looking for.

If Musharraf thinks it can work and he would be comfortable, other Generals and members of his junta do not matter.

This is in very brief words the gist of ESPA and how the Army, the politicians and the country can break this logjam and move on to a respectable future.

These are raw thoughts as of now. They have to be discussed and refined and if finally on this pattern some solution is worked out, ESPA would have succeeded.

Else, until another alternative is suggested, Pakistan will keep on drifting under the weight of its messy polity of self interest and deceit and no one knows where the cord may snap and for whom.

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