Battles for Political Survival
General Pervez Musharraf appeared totally confused, directionless
and under intense political (Opposition) and military (his own
commanders) pressure last week as he desperately tried to wriggle
out of the deep hole he has dug for himself by his ill considered
utterances and arrogant acts of political immaturity.
the panic situation that he finds himself in, he has launched
several political initiatives simultaneously, most of them at
odds with each other and sending totally confusing messages. He
pretended to be confident and tough when he spoke to the Editors
of the leading newspapers. He abused the politicians but asked
his Prime Minister to start a political dialogue with the Opposition.
He is thinking of calling these Opposition leaders for a meeting
himself sometime in the week beginning April 28.
President’s House looks like a rudderless boat,” a
seasoned analyst remarked. "The President is clueless and
directionless. His main political advisers and players are not
helping either." Head honcho of the King’s Party, Choudhry
Shujaat Hussain, started making direct attacks on the role of
the army in politics and in several interviews criticized Musharraf
indirectly. Shujaat was said to have been dumped by Musharraf
after major political failures to contain the Opposition protests
inside the Parliament.
General, who has been humiliated by his own Parliament of “University
Graduates” first called it “uncivilized” and
then confirmed that he was not going to risk entering the Assembly
Hall where he would face slogans of “Go Musharraf Go”,
some eggs, tomatoes or even shoes and slippers of Maulanas. His
remarks let loose a storm and hardened Opposition ranks. Now there
is no way he can go back to address the Parliament in a decent,
means he is not going to inaugurate the formal session of Parliament,
a constitutional requirement for every president. In a couple
of weeks his Finance Minister must present his annual budget before
the National Assembly and there is no escape clause unless the
Assembly is dissolved. Without a formal Joint Session, the Budget
Session cannot be convened. The hole is getting deeper.
real pressure, however, is coming from his army commanders and
Musharraf himself gave enough indications that all was not well
inside his own house. His strategy to get out of this mess so
far has been to talk tough and bulldoze his way out.
first step he took was to call all national editors and leading
journalists and speak to them. He told them he first wanted to
address the nation on TV but then decided this meeting could double
as his talk to the nation. It was a confirmation that he felt
compelled to “address the nation” on the matter, as
pressure was unrelenting.
told SA Tribune the Editors meeting was a virtual disaster
and Musharraf rushed out of the meeting after two senior Editors,
both from an influential newspaper locked horns with him on the
crux of the whole issue, tearing apart his arguments and justifications
for keeping his uniform and wearing the hats of the Supreme Commander
of the Armed Forces (as president) and his own subordinate Chief
of Army Staff.
participant of the Editors meeting gave his impressions in these
words: “He always carries a chip on his shoulder. Gives
the impression that he is rather impatient with the way he is
perceived by his detractors. When he opens his mouth he does it
only to answer his critics. He did not say anything new during
the press conference. More than half of the time he repeated his
achievements on the economic front. He wants his critics to judge
him by these so-called achievements and also tries to draw legitimacy
for his illegitimate actions from these achievement alone.”
is still trying to hijack the PPP from Benazir Bhutto and continues
to try to use Asif Ali Zardari as a handle to blackmail her. He
recognizes the MMA as the genuine opposition party but cannot
bring it on board because of fear of international reaction.”
well respected Editor of ‘Dawn’, Mr. Ahmed Ali Khan,
who has recently returned to the newspaper after a period of retirement
for almost two years, asked a lengthy question going into the
philosophy of military dictatorships and their history inside
and outside the country. He observed that Musharraf was creating
a confrontation between the people and the army. Mr. Khan's question
was so lethal Musharraf had no answer.
Musharraf simply disagreed with Mr.Khan and called this a “doom's
day scenario”. But he had no arguments to counter Mr. Khan’s
well laid out case. The impression he left was that if he loses
power, it would be “Doom’s day” for the country.
In other words, he thinks he himself is Pakistan. When the PTV
played the video of the meeting later, Mr. Khan’s question
was neatly censored. Obviously the Press could not be shown to
be that free, exposing the Emperor as naked.
senior Editor, M. Ziauddin of ‘Dawn’ Islamabad entered
into a bitter argument with Musharraf over the way he (one man)
had tried to change the constitution, getting the authority to
do so from courts whose own integrity was dubious. This irritated
the General but his reply was simplistic and self-serving: “I
have consulted thousands of people.”
retorted by saying the representatives of these thousands of people
in the parliament did not agree with what he had done. Musharraf
said the courts had given him the authority. Ziauddin said the
courts suffered from dubious integrity. These arguments continued
for some time and left the General non-plussed, and irritated.
After one or two other easy questions he rushed out of the room.
noted columnist of leading Daily “The News”, Kamran
Shafi described Musharraf’s meeting with Editors in these
words: “I was one of those who came out of the General's
briefing-cum-address to the nation dazed, confused and, like Mr.
Jamali's government, completely at sea. I mean it was unbelievable,
our General's performance: for the harshness of his words; for
the indelicacy of his remarks about the leading political personalities
of the country; for the sheer rancor he exhibited.”
wrote in his column the next day: “This was not the extremely
courteous and very dignified man I admired and had the great pleasure
of hearing twice in the past; a man in complete command of his
feelings, who would refer to Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif as
'they' or 'them' in the politest sense (in Urdu meaning 'theirs'
or 'unhon nay' meaning 'they'). This was a rough and ready street-fighter
ready to mix it up, so to say. A man at the end of his tether
you might say, too. Which not only made me very sad. It frightened
the living daylights out of me.”
himself is an ex-army man and his observations that Musharraf
was “a man at the end of tether” was echoed by another
senior journalist and analyst Mr. M.A. Niazi of the Daily “Nation”.
Niazi found that after giving some ordinary arguments for keeping
his uniform, Musharraf suddenly said things which seemed odd.
wrote: “But then he said something rather odd: “At
this time, national solidarity is needed. Between the military
and the civil.. We have to take along the nation, including the
military. I’ve been touring the garrisons, addressing gatherings
of 500 officers in the garrisons, just as frankly, and even more
frankly, as I’m addressing you. I’ve been to the Navy
and Air force. We had a four-day formation commanders’ meeting,
where we meet for three hours a day. If I’m not in uniform,
I can’t talk to them.”
confused by these remarks, Niazi asked in his column: “Is
there some problem in the armed forces? In the Army itself? Is
there some fear in the President’s mind? Does he see some
threat of some kind? While conceding that the posts need separating,
does his refusal to set even a timeframe indicate that there are
certain developments, some kind of situation, which he needs to
bring under control, but about which he does not know how long
he will take? Are there undercurrents the rest of the nation knows
questions arise from reports, including some which have appeared
in SA Tribune, that the Army commanders were not happy
with the situation and wanted Musharraf to resolve it sooner than
it is obvious that Musharraf cannot disclose the details of what
his commanders have been telling him in three-hour sessions, each
day for four days, or a total of 12 hours of discussions. Naturally
unless there are different points of view and unless commanders
express them freely, no discussion can continue for 12 hours.
The reality then is that Musharraf has been forced by his commanders
to correct the situation, or else….
Tribune has learnt that General Musharraf wants to take off
his uniform anytime in next five years, as he told the Editors,
but not before October 2004 when all the present senior Generals
and commanders, who at one time or another helped Musharraf come
into power, retire from the
date has been given by Musharraf to several people in private
sessions. October 2004 is when the last of these Generals, including
present Vice Chief of Army Staff, General Yousuf will retire.
Then there would be no senior General to challenge him and he
can pick his own most trusted boy as new Army Chief.
the problem is that all the Generals know who is retiring when
and they also know that if they wait until Oct 2004, they will
go home with the wish to be Army Chief buried in their hearts.
They also know that through a game of power play, using them,
Musharraf who should have retired in 2001, had extended his tenure
as Army Chief and then as President indefinitely. How will they
react is the big question.
say no one will directly challenge Musharraf but they will do
what their predecessors have been doing: Push the Opposition into
a direct bitter confrontation with Musharraf until he was totally
exhausted or committed a blunder which could not be justified
or tolerated. Then they may ask the Chief to ease out.
insiders say this game of using the Opposition has already begun.
A recently elected senator said the MMA leaders were acting as
if they already have the script of what is going to come in their
hands. They cannot be so methodical unless secret messages are
being received and word was being passed that Musharraf was getting
jittery and nervous and more pressure was needed.
argue against this pressure, Musharraf has started to convince
Parliamentarians in separate meetings. In one such meeting with
Senators of supportive parties he said the Opposition parties
should not insist on the removal of his uniform as it would "harm
democratic institutions in the country". “If I relinquish
the office of the COAS, as was being demanded by the opposition
parties, the present political system could come under pressure
from various quarters,” he said.
say this is a direct threat that he would wind up the entire system
if this demand was pressed. But by talking about “various
quarters” he was also warning that some other army people
may be involved. The Generals are probably waiting for him to
declare his three-year experiment as a failure. Then they may
find the courage and the justification to ask him to step aside.