Transition to Functional Democracy in Pakistan: Some Debatable Assumptions

Transition to Functional Democracy
Najam Sethi's E d i t o r i a l
The Friday Times, August 3-9, 2007

By all accounts, the "Mother of All Deals" has been concluded. We were not among the Doubting Thomases who said that General Pervez Musharraf and the rightist military establishment could never sup with the liberal and moderate Ms Bhutto. We were not among the liberals who insisted that Maulana Fazal ur Rehman would inevitably camp with Nawaz Sharif and Qazi Hussain Ahmad. We were not among those who predicted one month ago that "Musharraf is a goner". In fact, we have constantly chastised General Musharraf for his mistakes and highlighted his increasing problems. But we have always pointed out new opportunities for advancing the national interest.

So what is the deal? Based on some concrete information and some relentless logic, we can lay down the salient points of the agenda of the next six months.

One, General Musharraf will be seeking the approval of Ms Bhutto and Maulana Fazal in August about the contours of the interim governments at the centre and in the provinces which will oversee the next general elections. The candidates for interim prime minister and Sindh/Punjab Chief Minister will have to seek a nod from Ms Bhutto while ensuring that there is no strong opposition to them in Punjab from the PMLQ and in Sindh from the MQM. Candidates for NWFP-CM will have to pay homage to Maulana Fazal. President Musharraf will have a relatively free hand in Balochistan.

Two, he will seek presidential re-election in uniform from the current assemblies in September, with the implicit support of Ms Bhutto and Maulana Fazal who will not vote for him but will not try to derail him either. In fact, if the supreme court is envisaged as a hurdle in this regard, they will positively help him overcome it by means of a constitutional amendment.

Third, such a constitutional amendment will be passed by the current assemblies with the support of Ms Bhutto and Maulana Fazal which will (a) exempt any government servant (read General Musharraf) from the two year restraint on standing for election to the presidency. (b) remove the bar on twice-elected prime ministers (read Ms Bhutto) from becoming prime minister for a third time (c) compel General Musharraf to remove his uniform sooner rather than later. Ms Bhutto would like him to take it off by December 2007 or June 2008 at the latest, but General Musharraf is still insisting on end-2009, which means a compromise is possible. (d) remove the graduation condition on members of parliament (so that the controversy pending resolution in the supreme court over whether a madrassa degree is equivalent to a BA degree for election purposes is buried).

This deal makes a lot of sense. In fact it makes much better sense from the point of view of Pakistan's national interest in moving towards greater democracy and moderation than the deal that General Musharraf did with the MMA in 2002. The old deal gave him five years as army chief and president. The new deal allows him to retain the presidency but compels him to doff his uniform quickly. The old deal sandwiched him between two conservative allies – the Muslim League and the MMA – and stopped him from practicing his enlightened moderation agenda. The new deal relegates the PML and JUI to junior partners, splits the JUI from the hardline Jamaat I Islami, and elevates the secular and moderate PPP as a senior player, thereby enabling the state to enlarge the national consensus against religious extremism and terror. The old deal put primacy on military power and supremacy. The new deal will send the military back to barracks when General Musharraf doffs his uniform and also stop it from pulling strings from behind the scenes to destabilize civilian government because President Musharraf will retain greater control over it than any other purely civilian president in history.

Finally, the old deal was at odds with the post-9/11 international and regional community. The US was fighting the war against the Taleban and Al-Qaeda even as its ally in Pakistan was bent on protecting its Pashtun assets in the battle for Afghanistan. Equally, India was deeply apprehensive about the prospects of peace with Pakistan as long as the Military Mullah Alliance in Islamabad was bent on fomenting jihad in Kashmir. But the new deal will help bury those ghosts and promote a settlement with Afghanistan and India in time to come. That is why it has evoked support from both the US and India – the former has played a significant role in nudging all parties in this direction while the latter's national security advisor has announced that "the worst is over for Musharraf".

To be sure, "there's many a slip between the cup and lip". But why should we accept the proposition that the situation one or two years hence will be worse than if the "deal" hadn't taken place today? Most people forget that, in their second stints, Ms Bhutto had a better working arrangement with the military than Mr Sharif. On their own, neither the military generals nor the politicians have served Pakistan well. This deal should be supported because it represents a realistic last ditch compromise to establish a stable transition to a more functional liberal democracy.

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