Assault on Institutions

Assault on Institutions By Husain Haqqani
The Nation ( Pakistan ) June 6, 2007

Facing massive popular disapproval at home and abroad, General Pervez Musharraf’s military regime is trying to find comfort in support from the Bush administration and Pakistan ’s top military commanders. But Musharraf’s current problems do not stem from lack of U.S. government support or the absence of backing from the Pakistani military. They are the result of disenchantment of the Pakistani people with the authoritarian order. Just to prove that they were unlikely to be swayed by assurances of loyalty by senior military commanders, tens of thousands of demonstrators continued with their protests in support of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry even after the imposition of new restrictions on the media and the much publicized statement issued after the 101 st Corps Commanders Conference.

As several Pakistani commentators have pointed out, it is expected that military commanders express loyalty to their chief. The military is a disciplined force and its discipline requires that the brass fall in line when commanded to do so. If the army Chief asks them to tell the press that they stand for the “security of their country under the leadership and guidance of the president and the Chief of Army Staff,” they will. How does a statement showing support for the army chief by officers under his command resolve the issue of Musharraf’s political legitimacy and lack of public support?

The generals’ statement had one other dimension that is significant. It took “serious note of the malicious campaign against institutions of the state launched by vested interests…”This is a clear reference to the increasing questioning by Pakistani civilians of the military’s dominance over Pakistani public life and its alleged privileges. Musharraf’s civilian minions, such as Citibanker and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz have been saying for a while that statements against the armed forces would “not be allowed or tolerated,” with ruling party president, Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain going so far as to demand that those criticizing the army be shot to death.

There is no doubt that civilized, modern governance requires deference to and respect for institutions of state. But it is wrong, as is common in Pakistan , to think of the armed forces and the security services as the only institutions worth protecting. A state comprises an executive, a legislature and a judiciary. Political Parties and the media are other institutions that support the contemporary state. The armed forces and security services are one part of the executive branch of government, the others being the elected officials and the permanent bureaucracy of state. A cursory glance at Pakistan ’s history would reveal that Pakistan ’s judicial and legislative institutions of state have been under relentless attack since 1951 –when General Ayub Khan became the country’s first indigenous army chief. In the early years of this attack, a segment of the permanent civil service was the generals’ ally.

History was significantly rewritten by Ayub Khan and the various new offshoots of the executive branch he created to make it seem that he was gradually sucked in into politics by the incompetence of civilian politicians. The fact remains, however, that as early as 1953 he had written a note on restructuring the Pakistani state and the erosion of the country’s legislative branch, and the political parties that supported it, began at his behest.

The first frontal attack on a state institution came in 1954 when Governor General Ghulam Mohammed dissolved the Constituent Assembly just because it would not give him viceregal powers. In 1958 Major General Iskander Mirza and Ayub Khan abrogated the constitution drawn up in 1956 and dismissed the second constituent assembly just before scheduled general elections. Since then, no elected assembly in Pakistan ’s history has been allowed to function normally. The assemblies elected in Pakistan ’s first general election, held in 1970, were not allowed to meet until 1972. Some of the legislatures in West Pakistan lasted five years, until 1977, but that was made possible only because the country lost East Pakistan in the aftermath of the 1970 elections.

Over the years, Pakistan has become a state that stands only on one pillar –that of one part of the executive branch of government represented by the military and the intelligence services. The judiciary’s standing was diminished by making it repeatedly endorse extra-constitutional interventions and pledging oaths to military coup-makers. Only now, with Justice Chaudhry’s stance against General Musharraf, is the judiciary recovering some of its prestige. But shenanigans continue to put members of the judicial institution under pressure, for example, by using their relatives as instruments of blackmail to secure favorable verdicts.

The military sub-branch of the executive also constantly circumscribes the legislature in its functions, if and when the legislature is allowed to exist at all. Political parties operate in the shadow of larger than life figures, slandered, jailed or exiled with alarming frequency. And then there are the ubiquitous intelligence agencies, hidden from public view but frequently seen pulling the strings in Pakistan ’s complex political drama.

Much of what General Musharraf has said since assuming power reads like a rehashed version of statements of Pakistan ’s previous military rulers. His claims of creating a new political system and establishing a system of checks and balances seem straight out of Ayub Khan’s book ‘ Friends, Not Masters ’. Consider these lines, and compare them with General Musharraf’s utterances.

· “To my knowledge there has never been so much freedom in this country as there is today”.

· “I feel that if the man at the top commands respect, he does not have to be a dictator. The people will follow him in their own interest, because human nature demands and, indeed, cannot live without leadership”.

· “All these reforms were devised and oriented to prepare the country and the people for a representative government in the shortest possible time. The object was not to impose any particular system from above, but to cause a system to grow from below in relation to the social, economic, educational, and moral realities of the situation. All changes and reforms that were introduced had only one purpose: to prepare the base on which the upward pyramid of a sound political system could be developed.”

· “(Before I assumed power) The sense of demoralization had seeped down to the masses and they started saying openly, ‘let someone save this country.’ The implication was obvious: it was the army alone that could step into the breach. That was the only disciplined organization that could give the country the necessary covering fire, in order to enable it to steady itself and extricate itself from the evils which had surrounded it. Things did not look like improving. But I had hoped that someone might rise to the occasion. I would have been the first person to welcome him and to give him all support. I kept hoping and praying.”

The assault on Pakistan ’s institutions of state started with Ayub Khan’s intervention in politics. It will come to an end only if all institutions –the judiciary, the legislature, political parties and the media – are allowed to function independently under the constitution. Military commanders would do Pakistan a major service by recognizing that some of their institution’s former chiefs are the ones who started undermining Pakistan ’s institutions. They could persuade the current chief to restore institutional balance and bring the antagonism towards institutions of state to an end. Self righteous claims about criticism of one sub-branch of the state as a malicious campaign against state institutions, without recognizing the constant battering of other institutions will not resolve Pakistan ’s crisis.

(Husain Haqqani is Director of Boston University's Center for International Relations, and Co-Chair of the Islam and Democracy Project at Hudson Institute, Washington D.C. He is author of the book ' Pakistan between Mosque and Military'.)

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