WASHINGTON DC, Oct 12, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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Musharraf Completes Six Years of Flip Flops, Impetuous Actions

By M. Ziauddin

ISLAMABAD, October 12: Today, General Musharraf completed six years of his rule. It has been a period of flip-flops, tall promises, low delivery, and impetuous actions. To many eyes, the tenure represents a period in which the President has emerged as the State unto himself.

By entering his 7th year Musharraf has become the third longest serving military ruler of Pakistan. The first two places belong to Field Marshal Ayub Khan (1958-69) and General Ziaul Haq (1977-88). Z. A. Bhutto was the only civilian who could get a tenure of five years (1971-77).

Six years is a long time for a ruler to make his mark, either way. In civilized societies, governments go to polls every three, four or five years and contest them on the basis of their own performance rather than on the record of their predecessors. So, it is time for Musharraf and his government functionaries to stop talking about the State of Pakistan on October 12, 1999 and start counting their own chickens, if they have hatched any.

The last six years have been a period tall on promises and short on delivery. Of flip-flops. Of abrasive decision-making and impetuous actions. All these six years, one felt like being on a roller coaster ride.

What else could one feel, if one were a citizen of a country whose president is in the habit of taking long-term decisions like ‘engaging’ Israel on the basis of fleeting TV images. President Musharraf was quoted in newspapers last month saying that when he saw on his TV screen the pictures of Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, he thought of catching the fleeting moment and turning it into an advantage for Pakistan. So he called his Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri and asked him to contact Israel. Then the two decided to use Turkey for the purpose. Tel Aviv responded quickly with five dates and Musharraf decided on the very first date for the meeting in Istanbul. Can there be a more undergraduate reason than this for engaging Israel?

Over the last six years President Musharraf has emerged as the state unto himself. At least he himself seems to have already stopped making a distinction between his person and Pakistan. Last month, at a women’s convention in New York he declared emphatically that those who opposed him were the enemies of Pakistan.

Musharraf’s uniform and American crutches seemingly guarantee the viability of this state. And he seems to draw the ideological inspiration for the state from Washington’s post-9/11 war against “Islamic terrorism”.

Just the other day while addressing the passing-out parade of 112 PMA Long Course and Integrated Course-31, the president claimed that Pakistan was a victim of both terrorism and extremism which, he said, has “opened a new dimension of responsibility on the Armed Forces of Pakistan — and while confronting these elements you have to guard against their vicious propaganda of making this battle look like one against Islam. The conflict involved is not one of religion. It simply is one of progress, emancipation versus backwardness and dogmatism.”

With nearly 99 per cent of Pakistan’s population being Muslim, this new ideological underpinning of the state has brought it, that is the person of Musharraf, into direct confrontation with Pakistanis at large. The on-going Waziristan campaign is one highly relevant manifestation of this confrontation between the people and the state. And this antagonistic schism between the two is also the reason perhaps why the king’s party, instead of risking a contest on its performance, thought it safer to steal the just concluded three-phased local government elections in full public glare.

That is perhaps why, despite having claimed that he is the most popular person in Pakistan, Musharraf does not dare rule the country without his uniform nor does he fancy contesting a fair and free elections with or without the uniform. That is also why he has not been able to decide which big dam to construct despite having said time and again that it’s a matter of life and death for Pakistan. And despite his claims of taking the right decision at the right time he has not even been able to resolve in the two long years the lingering problem of distribution of resources among the provinces, and between the provinces and the federation.

Musharraf has given a fetching name to the new ideology of the state of Pakistan. Enlightened Moderation, he calls it. While preaching Enlightened Moderation, in practice he continues to court those very elements inside the country, which represent the forces of obscurantism. And ironically it is these very forces which he blames for the rise of extremism and terrorism in Pakistan.

In Balochistan, the king’s party is a coalition partner of the MMA which is an alliance of all of Pakistan’s forces of obscurantism. In the NWFP, he has helped them emerge as the leading force and given them the provincial government. In parliament he has used the carrot and stick approach to help the MMA capture the slot of the leader of the opposition at the expense of moderate political parties.

In fact he has divided the federation between the forces of obscurantism and his king’s party with Punjab and Sindh going to the latter and the NWFP and Balochistan in the hands of the former. And if you take a closer look at those who lead the king’s party, you will find them more of a watered-down version of the MMA leadership than champions of Musharraf’s Enlightened Moderation.

Before the advent of Musharraf’s military rule, these forces of obscurantism while being promoted and pampered by his institution (to be used when needed as its political arm on the streets of Pakistan or as a militant extensions in Afghanistan and Indian Kashmir) had, however, found it almost impossible to acquire any political significance inside elected parliaments. But since his coming into power he has used these forces to deny moderate forces their genuine political space in these elected houses.

Today he is the uniformed president of Pakistan because these very forces of obscurantism had helped him to become one by voting for the 17th amendment. Ironically, these forces of obscurantism are today shouting loud against his uniform claiming that he has gone back on his promise to take it off by December 31, 2004. The rhetoric of the two against each other has become so vicious and loud that one is easily misled into believing that Musharraf’s real opponents are not the moderate parties which are demanding immediate return of the armed forces to the barracks followed by fair and free elections under an independent and permanent election commission, but the MMA which is sharing power with him and which would lose all if such elections are held any time soon.

Last month, while talking to journalists in New York, he told a reporter who thought the Indo-Pak peace process was making no headway on the Kashmir issue, that he would not like to divulge at ‘this juncture’ the details of what has already been achieved on this score.

Now that is alright if he had shared these details with the elected parliament and taken the opposition into confidence on the issue. But going by the way he treats parliament and genuine opposition, one can say with a reasonable degree of confidence that he has not done this. In fact, it is he who has been calling the shots all these years on all the important and unimportant matters concerning Pakistan without consulting parliament or the cabinet.

Even on the issue of Pakistan’s image, he is the one who seems more worried and is seen making visible efforts to give the image a favorable spin. It is this single-minded image-making mission of his which landed him in trouble in New York. And instead of winning over the not-so-friendly US media he has, with one faux pas, turned it into a vicious foe. One of the official justifications for engaging Israel, shaking hands with Ariel Sharon (even European leaders do not like to be seen publicly in his company or shaking hands with him because of his bloody record) and opening one’s heart to the World Jewish Congress is that it would help divert the Israeli lobby-controlled US media’s attention from Pakistan — and the negative stories coming out of it. This has not happened. And well after the rape flap, that is, on October 1, the Washington Post wrote a hard-hitting editorial against Musharraf in which he was called a liar and stupid.

The other official reason given for engaging Israel is to neutralize the advantage India had achieved by recognizing Israel long way back in 1992. This is nothing but self-delusion. And the claim that Pakistan would now be in a position to contribute to the Middle East peace process is all a flight of Islamabad’s imagination. As a rich country’s diplomat put it recently, Pakistan is not even a bit player in the Middle East theatre. Israel has no intention of leaving the West Bank. It is resettling those removed from Gaza in the West Bank to change the demography of the West Bank in favor of Israelis so that it can create one more ‘new reality’ there.

The peace process in South Asia is proceeding in the right direction and at the right pace. But it would save the nation a lot of future embarrassment if Musharraf and his foreign office stopped reiterating the impossible, that is, ‘we would never accept the LoC as the final solution’. We have already done it by agreeing to make the LoC softer for the Kashmiris, but as hard as a permanent border for Pakistanis and the Indians. And they should also now stop insisting publicly that the progress on two-way trade, investment and transit facility should be made in tandem with progress on Kashmir because the two countries are today trading more actively than ever, the Indians have started investing in Pakistan through the UAE and the proposed open skies agreement between the two countries would render our objections to transit obsolete to a large extent.

Musharraf in the last six years has changed the meanings of democracy, parliamentary system of government, press freedom and the rule of law. For him a democratic government means a government of the uniform, by the uniform and for the uniform.

In his dictionary the parliamentary system of government means a government in which the president takes all the decisions while parliament debates irrelevancies.

Press freedom in the absence of an independent judiciary and a strong parliament is meaningless. The freedom of information law is a misnomer. It is so restrictive that it should be named the denial of information law. The press is certainly free to express all kinds of opinion and harshest of criticism, but is not free to publish facts and true information.

The Dubai-based independent TV channels, which are totally dependent on local cable operators, are being reined in through PEMRA laws, which empower police to switch off the cable on any flimsy reason. The press with the exception of a couple of newspapers has been so manipulated that its independence and freedom have become a farce. A couple of months back the SHO of an Islamabad Police Station issued notices to all the newspapers of the capital that if they published hate material they would be proceeded against under some obscure law.

When the newspapers protested to the Information Ministry, the notice was withdrawn. But along with it the newspapers were ordered not to publish the story of the incident. Every one, with one exception, complied.

The rule of law for Musharraf means strict enforcement of laws that he promulgates from time to time. When he wanted a five-year term for the chief and members of the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) he gave it to them through an ordinance. But when they started objecting to out-of-turn promotions with no regard to merit and to unwarranted extensions in the service of contractual officers, Musharraf changed the law itself to curtail their tenure to three years.

The president has been using his powers to make laws to create new realities like Israel does in the occupied territories. And all these new realities favor him while undermining the interests of those who oppose him. He has changed Article 63 of the Constitution in such a way that it makes it illegal for Benazir Bhutto to contest elections or lead her party.

Then he issued an ordinance, which barred a third term for prime ministers. This was Benazir and Nawaz specific law as both have held the post twice. This is when he himself has been occupying a three-year-tenure constitutional post of the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) for the last seven years and is likely to keep the slot as long as he remains the all powerful president of the country, an office with which he seems to have entered into a Catholic marriage.

Under the LFO, which has become part of the Constitution after the 17th amendment, he has institutionalized the military’s political dominance and snatched the powers of the prime minister and reposed them in the office of the president. Then the law barring undergraduates to contest elections while curtailing the right of many experienced, popular and moderate parliamentarians to hold representative offices, qualified through some court ruling, the holders of madrassa certificates to fight elections and enter parliament with all their obscurantic mentality.

NAB laws were liberally used to coerce and tempt moderates into joining the king’s party and those who refused to be coerced or tempted were sent to jail. To reduce the PPP from the single largest party in parliament after the 2002 elections and enable the king’s party to become the majority party, Musharraf kept suspended the law against crossing the floor until he had won over the required number of PPP MNAs to get a PML-Q man elected as prime minister.

The law was revived as soon as prime minister Jamali’s government was installed at the center. The same tactics were used in Sindh where too the PPP had emerged as the single largest party. To get MMA’s cooperation to form the king’s party-led government in Balochistan, two former JUI ministers of the MMA who had been convicted of corruption and forgery were released. PPP turncoats which styled themselves as Patriots and PML-N turncoats who joined the PML-Q were allowed, again through some legal razzle dazzle, to register their parties under the names of PPP and PML respectively.

The President to Hold Another Office Bill 2004 providing President Musharraf the legal cover to continue as Army Chief was passed by majority vote. And the acting President Mohammad Mian Soomro, a king’s party man, signed the bill citing national interest in the face of domestic and international security threats. And before the just concluded local government elections, the government created new districts to erode the PPP’s popular base in Sindh and that of the PML-N’s in the Punjab to increase the PML-Q’s chances.

Like all other rulers of the past, Musharraf too seemingly has a short fuse for the opposition. So, while he keeps on terrorizing his friends in Washington and other European capitals with the idea that if he goes or even takes off the uniform, the forces of obscurantism (who he claims are the government-in-waiting today) would take over, he has by and large decimated completely all the genuine opposition through the laws he has framed himself, with the use of a subservient judiciary and by rigging elections.

One bright spot of Musharraf’s six-year rule has been the economy. But then one must never forget as against the last four years when the 9/11 related manna kept flowing in from all directions, in the 10 years preceding Musharraf’s take-over Pakistan had become perhaps one of the most sanctioned countries in the world after Libya. It all started with the nuclear related Pressler amendment sanctions, imposed by the US in September 1990. The other bilateral and multilateral donors followed up in quick succession and by the end of 1999 the tap had completely dried up. While this was happening the IMF kept forcing successive governments to slash development budgets to reduce the burgeoning budgetary deficits which kept going up because of resort to heavy and expensive borrowing in the absence of any concessional or other assistance.

Despite all the manna he has been getting from all over the world and the resultant high growth rates, Musharraf has failed to control the widening gap between the rich and the poor. His government is practicing one of the crassest economic systems which makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. The sea of poverty has been expanding while the ruling elite is basking in the sunshine of prosperity on the island of vulgar wealth.

This is a sure recipe for social upheaval, which brings us to the frequently asked question: If all is that bad, why don’t the people agitate against the government?

Well, the people of Pakistan did agitate in 1969, in 1971 and 1977. But at the end of the first agitation, a new general took over. At the end of the second one, a general kicked the majority out of Pakistan. And at the end of third one, another general took over.

The people don’t seem any more interested in sending one general home to bring in a new one or let a general kick out the residual majority. Today, if they are called to vote, no matter how blatantly rigged the elections are, they go to the polling stations, cast their votes and go home in silence. However, after the just concluded local government elections, most of these voters are likely to stay home in the elections of 2007.

The writer is a senior Islamabad based journalist and Resident Editor of Daily Dawn, Islamabad. This article first appeared in the Magazine Section of Daily Dawn, Karachi

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