WASHINGTON DC, October 22, 2004 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

The First Book based on Articles and Forum Discussions of South Asia Tribune has been published in Pakistan. It is a compilation of articles written for the SAT by Dr. Zafar Altaf, former Federal Secretary and Ex-Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board. It includes most of the Messages and Comments posted on these articles on SAT Forums. The Book will soon be available through the Internet Book outlets. It is already on sale in Pakistan.


Its Hard For Musharraf to Get Out of Uniform Issue

By Ayaz Amir

ISLAMABAD, 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.

The 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.

If, 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.

If, 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.

Colin 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 too-eager-to-please mentality.

But 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.

This 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.

Amazing, 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 this time?

And 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.

All 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?

Now 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.

The 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.

From 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.

Even 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.

The 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?

It 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?

Authority 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.

Anyhow, 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?

The 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?

Their 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.

Hence 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.

So the last favor that Pakistanis could ask of their president: please keep wearing your uniform. - Courtesy Daily Dawn

Email story  Email Story | Discuss story Discuss Story

Back to top


Copyright 2002-04 South Asia Tribune Publications, L.L.C. All rights reserved.