Time for regime change?
Dr Farooq Hassan
The Nation, May 28, 2007
This government's abrupt and seemingly ruthless behaviour towards the Chief Justice of Pakistan has triggered such a velocity of political agitation against the military rule as never seen in the past in Pakistan. Indeed nowhere in recent history has third world country seen such massive uprising by essentially educated middle classes against the those in authority as witnessed in this country.
As far as the evolving story of the attempted ouster of the Chief Justice of Pakistan is concerned it continues to grip the minds and thoughts of most in Pakistan. Abroad as well there is an enormity of interest in this entire developing story since epitomises the inherent struggle between representative values and anti-democratic thinking which is usually backed by the country's armed forces.
Since my last major writing on this topic the Supreme Court admitted for hearing my petition moved on behalf of several human rights' activists and an NGO dedicated to safeguarding the judiciary. In the hearings thus far two important legal consequences have emerged.
First, the Supreme Court has stayed and then confirmed the stay of proceedings against the CJP. Secondly, the Court has started upon hearing of arguments, which are likely to take several months before completion. Secondly, the question those most want answers to are (1) the future of Musharraf and (2) indeed of Pakistan as a result of the widespread disgruntlement witnessed on the streets of Pakistan.
Initially, on the May 5, the CJP came to Lahore from Islamabad, a five-hour journey but completed in 26 hours to a welcome never given to anyone in this country's entire political history. Then on May 12 nearly 40 people died in the streets in armed fights between the pro-government ethnic political party that is dominant in Karachi and those belonging to other walks of life that had come to greet the Chief justice at the local airport. The party has been sarcastically labelled as Musharraf Qumai Movement depicting the strong mistrust that this ethnic party had generated. The most disturbing aspect of this tragedy is that this party was given a free hand by the government for 48 hours prior to the arrival of the CJP in which they took over the entire control and command structure of the city to use to its preconceived plans.
In this state of unprecedented affairs two relevant events need specific mention, as their reference will assist in answering the two fundamental questions raised above. The first is a nine page report by the influential US-based National Democratic Institute (NDI) dealing with judiciary, coming elections and other matters dealing with Pakistan's future constitutional evolution later this year. It has recommended that General Musharraf should separate within the shortest possible time the two top slots, the president's office and the military chief post, he is holding simultaneously. Holding both posts, the NDI said, blurs the distinction between military and civilian authority that is fundamental to a democratic system. "A neutral caretaker cabinet in consultation with political parties and civil society should be installed and the law preventing anyone from serving as prime minister for more than two terms should be repealed." These recommendations were made by an international delegation, organised by the NDI, which visited Pakistan from May 13 to May 17, and held meetings with leaders of all mainstream political parties and representatives of civil society. The NDI delegation assessed the political environment and the framework for the general elections in late 2007 or early next year and issued a statement on May 18.
However, commenting on Pakistan's current political scenario, the delegation expressed serious concerns. It rightly pointed out that Pakistan stood at a critical juncture and the stakes were very high. Only, if the people consider the coming elections credible, they could return the nation to the path towards democracy. The Report criticised the role of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and expressed its dissatisfaction over the voters' registration process by the ECP. The delegation included David Collenette (Canada), Former Minister of National Defence, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Minister of Transport; Peter Manikas (US), NDI Senior Associate and Director of Asia Programs; Tioulong Saumura (Cambodia), Member of the National Assembly and member of the Steering Committee of the Sam Rainsy Party; Teresita Schaffer (US), Director of South Asia Programs at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies and Former Ambassador to Sri Lanka; and Tony Worthington (UK), former member of parliament from the Labour Party.
Amongst other major matters, the mayhem and chaos that this government pertains to the creation of harassment and intimidation of the pro-democracy elements in the country. The May 12 carnage in Karachi was created by this regime's coalition partners, now publicly admitted by General Musharraf himself in a TV interview aired on March 18. It is most unwelcome if the State machinery assumes such terrifying prospects of its public postures. Then on May 15 an Additional Registrar of the Supreme Court itself was murdered by "unknown assailants" in his house in Islamabad. The slain court official was an important witness in the Supreme Court proceedings against the government. Many believe that he was silenced before he could testify.
However, the most sinister aspect of this mayhem strategy is the fear of creating large-scale bloodshed in Islamabad itself. Astonishing patience has been shown by the Pakistani state, which has been known to use air and artillery power to combat such challenges as Lal Masjid controversy seems to be creating with apparent impunity. Its electricity, gas, phone or website - even its FM radio station is intact. The chief negotiator appointed by Musharraf, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, described the burqa brigade kidnappers as "our daughters", with whom negotiations would continue and against whom "no operation could be contemplated". The fear is that the government can use this matter to its advantage to create a terrific law and order problem and then have a crack down right in the middle of the capital. The ensuing turmoil can be used to impose emergency and to make foreign helpers of this regime nervous that without General Musharraf Pakistan may well fall to the mullahs!
Foreign intellectual and specialists' circles maintain Musharraf's own constituency, the military, is beginning to show signs of concern There also are indications that the US has begun to gradually move away from the embattled Pakistani leader. Nawaz Sharif, the former Premier is not exaggerating when he says with each passing day Musharraf appears to be losing his hold on power. The developing shift in Washington's attitude is notable, considering that the Bush administration has heavily depended on Musharraf being at the helm in Islamabad during the war on terrorism.
According to The New York Times, the US has been preparing for a post-Musharrafian Pakistan for at least a little over a year. In the beginning, however, the US move stemmed from a desire to move beyond reliance on a single individual leader, not because of any threat to Musharraf's hold on power. The US now moves from planning to actually preparing for the time when Musharraf will no longer be Pakistan's main political personality that has to be reckoned with.
But the military establishment dominates Pakistan, and Musharraf being both president and military chief raises the question of who will replace him? It is unlikely that his military successor will hold both positions because the domestic and international situation precludes the possibility of a military takeover of the country. It should be noted that this assumes that Musharraf continues to try and tough it out, in which case the growing unrest and violence in the country could prompt the powers that be to ask him to step down as has happened in Pakistan in the past.
In such a situation, Chairman of the Senate Muhammad Mian Soomro would become acting president and an interim prime minister would be appointed to lead a caretaker government. Such a government would then be tasked with holding new parliamentary elections. The interim administration would be based more or less on a consensus between the political forces and the military. Such elections would lead to a coalition federal government likely to be composed of at least the two main parties, the PML-N and the Pakistan People's Party, with the latter being the senior coalition partner. The new parliament and provincial legislatures, which together constitute the electoral college that elects the president, would install a new head of state who likely would be a consensus candidate of the parties in the coalition government.
Regarding the position of the chief of the army staff, it is likely that the current VCOAS General Ahsan Saleem Hayat, would succeed Musharraf. This is assuming that, if current trends persist, Musharraf will be unable to hold on to power until October, when Hayat is expected to retire. The current circumstances are such that a political metamorphosis on these lines is already going on according to the CIA-leaked information to the influential NY Times. Musharraf's exit certainly will represent a major shift in the Pakistani political scene, but it is one for which the US has been evidently preparing. In this context one matter is very troublesome. The Washington Post has reported recently that since 9/11 US has given over 20 billion dollars to Pakistan for the work apparently undertaken by the Pakistani armed forces which is apart from its regular aid to Islamabad.
How and who will give an accounting for such funds when regime changes occur.