WASHINGTON DC, Sept. 19, 2004 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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Musharraf's Uniform Against Pakistan's National Interest and Survival

By Anwar Syed

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.

His 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 of his.

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.

One 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.

Another 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.

The 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.

Even 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.

We 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.

It 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.

They 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 31.

What 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 for it.

In 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.

General 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" his uniform.

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 war.

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 world.

The 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: anwarsyed@cox.net

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