"IJI De Ja Vu?" By Husain Haqqani - Critical Insights

IJI De Ja Vu? By Husain Haqqani
Gulf News, The Nation ( Pakistan ) September 5, 2007

The last three decades have seen the ouster from power of several entrenched authoritarian rulers around the world. The process of political change at the end of dictatorship in most cases falls into two broad categories: the blood-in-the-streets outcome or the negotiated transition scenario. In the first case, disillusionment with the autocrat leads to civil disturbance or mass protests. Either the arrogant ruler or the opposition refuses to engage in talks and the regime collapses after excessive violence. The successor regime is not guaranteed to be more democratic or inclusive than the outgoing one. In the second situation, a weakened regime negotiates a transition that protects some of the interests of its leading members but allows a new, usually more representative, government to emerge.

As General Pervez Musharraf’s grip on power slips, Pakistanis are contemplating the most effective way for the restoration of democracy. Given the pervasiveness of the military in Pakistan ’s politics there is a widely expressed desire to ensure that Musharraf’s relinquishing of power should not be under circumstances that allow the military to continue to dabble in politics. There is a widespread desire for systemic change. Hardly anyone wants a rerun of Pakistan ’s troubled past, manifested in changes of faces at the helm without a weakening of the army’s overall control.

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his many supporters, especially in the media, believe that a hardline stance towards Musharraf is in order. The coup making general is on a slippery slope since his ill-fated decision to dismiss the Supreme Court Chief Justice on March 9. The lawyers’ campaign on behalf of Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry mobilized civil society sufficiently to expose Musharraf’s lack of popular support. The Supreme Court asserted its independence and restored justice Chaudhry to office, raising hopes that the legitimacy of Musharraf’s arbitrary rule can now be brought into question before the courts. Musharraf’s desire to rule with the dual offices of president and army chief seems less and less likely to be fulfilled.

Mr. Sharif has been allowed by the Supreme Court to return from exile and he seems to believe that upon returning home he can bring the masses into the streets and force Musharraf’s resignation. The “let nobody talk to Musharraf and thereby oust the dictator” crowd is ecstatic. Mr. Sharif’s “courage’ in deciding to return home, face the threat of arrest and challenge military rule is being praised on TV talk shows and in newspaper columns. Negative comparisons are being made with the decision by the other exiled former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, to negotiate with Musharraf the terms of her return to the country.

Suddenly, Mr. Sharif is the paragon of democracy and Ms Bhutto “the sell out.” No matter that Ms Bhutto and her husband have spent more years in prison and exile while resisting military rule than the period of hardship under Musharraf of the entire Sharif clan added together. Those praising Mr. Sharif’s principled stance forget that he launched his national political career with the help of the military and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), on the shoulders of Pakistan ’s Islamists. Without necessarily casting doubt on his current commitment to democracy, is it not relevant to at least wonder whether his enthusiasm in returning home to topple Musharraf could mark a repetition of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) of 1988? Then, the ISI had encouraged Mr. Sharif to join forces with the Jamaat-e-Islami to contain Ms Bhutto and her Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Even now, it is clear that the might and wrath of Pakistan ’s establishment is reserved for the PPP and not for Mr. Sharif’s faction.

Notwithstanding her recent negotiations with Musharraf, Bhutto is not known for being a protégé of Pakistan ’s military or intelligence services. On the other hand, Mr. Sharif may have fallen afoul of General Musharraf but he is clearly acceptable to other rightwing generals who still regard him as their former ally.

Ms Bhutto is being targeted with a hatchet job comparable to that undertaken covertly in 1988. See the proliferation of stories in some newspapers about her party’s lobbying efforts in the United States . Pakistani-Americans affiliated with the PPP have apparently retained the services of a lobbying firm to advance their party’s cause just as the firm of Robinson, Lake , Lehrer and Montgomery (RLLM) was asked to lobby for the IJI United States in 1988-90 to establish that Mr. Sharif’s ascendancy to power would not run contrary to US interests. The Washington-based lobbying firm organized Mr. Sharif's 1989 trip to Washington and neither that nor the current actions of Ms Bhutto’s followers in America are sinister or unethical. Strangely, those hyping up the PPP’s lobbying effort in the US have remained unusually quiet for the last several years over Musharraf’s own marketing initiatives paid for by government money rather than by contributions from Pakistani doctors and IT professionals (as seems to be the case with PPP’s lobbying).

Ms Bhutto is also being denigrated for trying to achieve a deal with Musharraf without mention of the fact that negotiations are an integral part of politics. Ms Bhutto would have been at fault if her negotiating points had excluded key democratic demands such as removal of Musharraf’s uniform and the abrogation of the notorious eighth amendment to the constitution. Now that the talks between Ms Bhutto and Musharraf’s emissaries have stalled over these key issues, it is clear that Ms Bhutto has been trying to work out a negotiated transition rather than just cutting a personal deal with Musharraf. The general, on the other hand, has been trying to “create the illusion of a deal without actually pursuing one” (as I wrote in these columns on April 11). Part of the purpose, especially of the government’s covert operatives has been to undermine Ms Bhutto’s credentials as a democrat and to pave the way for a new IJI that challenges Musharraf but not the military-ISI paradigm of state.

Mr. Sharif’s entire political career has comprised of deals with the military-intelligence establishment. One cannot grudge his decision to get out of jail in 2000 as a result of a deal with the Musharraf regime, facilitated by foreign albeit friendly-to-Pakistan emissaries. But surely that should disqualify him from being painted by some as an unbending champion of civilian-democratic rule. New York based banker, Shaheryar Azhar, who moderates one of the best online forums of discussion on alternatives for Pakistan recently summed up the argument against jumping on the Nawaz Sharif bandwagon. He observed, “Any talk by the Sharif-Jamaat Islami alliance to 'sweep away' Musharraf' may come out to be true. But will this be transformation? Or ticket to chaos?”

The better bet for Pakistan right now is a negotiated settlement that enables both Mr. Sharif and Ms Bhutto to return to Pakistani politics while at the same time addressing the systemic and institutional problems that have blocked Pakistan ’s path to democracy. It appears that supporters of the ‘overthrow Musharraf at all costs’ line are as much an obstruction to a grand national bargain as those asking Musharraf to rule without changing anything for as long as possible.

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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