Musharraf's Potential Legacy?
General Can Win By Being Willing to Lose By Husain Haqqani
The Nation(Pakistan),September 19, 2007
Pakistan is going through many convulsions to ensure that General Pervez Musharraf remains in office. The general believes he is indispensable for Pakistan . His sycophants encourage him in that belief. As a result, the Supreme Court is hearing several petitions challenging the constitutionality of Musharraf’s election bid while the supremely docile Election Commission is busily amending and reinterpreting rules to approve a Musharraf candidacy. The opposition says it would not accept Musharraf’s election by an electoral college that has already accepted him as president once before. Why, one wonders, can’t Pakistan go through leadership changes like mature nations, with a clearly defined election process that is periodically implemented by an undisputed mechanism?
The difference, of course, lies in Pakistan ’s failure to ensure constitutional governance and rule of law that is, in turn, the result of frequent military interventions in the country’s politics. As a result of the military’s culture of unified command flowing over into the political realm, Pakistan ’s governance revolves around the man in power and is not based on a political system. Non-politicians who have spent their entire life in an environment where they are either boss or subordinate simply cannot understand the concept of being alternately elected and voted out by the people.
Military officers and bureaucrats join a service, get promoted at fixed intervals and stay in their jobs until retirement. If they are extraordinary, their services are retained beyond retirement especially if they are making the decision to re-employ themselves. For politicians, elections are part of normal life; they win some and lose others. For coup-making generals and over-reaching bankers, it seems, an election is either war or a lucrative contract that must be won at all costs. Historically, Pakistan ’s coup-makers have tried to avoid contesting an election for as long as possible. Whenever they have found it necessary to secure a vote from the nation, whose interest they claim they defend, several legal and constitutional juggling acts have preceded the actual poll. Of course, the juggling has little to do with national interest and everything to do with the self-interest of the self-appointed bosses.
Pakistan ’s misfortune has been that almost every Pakistani ruler thinks himself to be indispensable. Nations with evolved political systems do not always have great and charismatic leaders. But their constitutions and the commitment of everyone to follow pre-determined rules provides stability and continuity in their governance. The first President of the United States , George Washington, served two four-year terms as head of state and went into retirement. His successors have been elected at four-year intervals, with several being turned out of office after only one term. The founder of France ’s fifth republic, Charles de Gaulle, resigned office and preserved the constitutional order instead of seeking to prolong his rule at the expense of the constitution.
India ’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, laid the foundations of Indian democracy by being prepared to risk losing power in open elections held periodically. The decisions of Washington, de Gaulle and Nehru have enabled their nations to evolve impressive political systems even though not all their successors have been impressive personalities.
For almost eight years, apologists for the Pakistani establishment tried to project General Pervez Musharraf’s ad-hoc measures to consolidate his position in power as an elaborate plan to create a viable and self-sustaining political system in the country. Under the Musharraf-Aziz “system”, they claimed, Pakistan would move away from a “failed” parliamentary form of governance to a constitutional structure similar to that of France , with an executive President and a Prime Minister emerging from the legislature. These efforts at ascribing long-term value to an immediate power grab were not new. From Field Marshal Ayub Khan down to General Musharraf every Pakistani military leader proclaimed his desire to change the system. The problem is , constitutional arrangements need national consensus and a willingness to submit one’s self to their scheme. The political consensus in Pakistan remains in favor of the parliamentary system. And the Pakistani establishment has repeatedly conjured new constitutional arrangements with the specific objective of staying in charge, not to submit to rule of law.
All humans are mortal and even the indispensable ones falter, die or fall seriously ill. Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah died within one year of Pakistan ’s creation. The first Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, fell victim to an assassin’s bullet three years later. If the country had depended on laws rather than on individuals, these tragic deaths would not have derailed the process of government. Succession would have been settled democratically, through a popular vote, and the successors, too, would have governed and moved on in accordance with pre-determined procedures.
Beginning with Pakistan ’s first nationwide election under General Yahya Khan’s military regime, every Pakistani election has been held under the shadow of behind-the-scenes manipulation. In 1970, the ruling generals were “attempting to insure that the Constituent Assembly (CA) is so fragmented as to render impossible the drafting of a constitution”. The military wanted the populace “to realize that the politicians cannot act unitedly ”, providing justification for continued military rule. For evidence of this plan see the Memorandum of Conversation from the U.S. Consulate Karachi to the State Department, based on the American official’s meeting with Mr. Yusuf Haroon. It can be found on page 373 of Roedad Khan’s “The American Papers –Indian, Pakistan, Bangladesh Documents 1965-1973” (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1999).
Instead of continuing to believe in his indispensability, General Musharraf still has the option of setting a new precedent for Pakistan ’s. He could restore and abide by the constitution, respect the newly asserted independence of the judiciary, and revert to parliament its legislative authority after free and fair elections. He could start abiding by the notion of fixed tenures, without extension, of army generals (including himself ). He could also mandate special training programs for military officers so that the current military culture of contempt for civilians, politics and constitutional governance is replaced by respect for democracy. As a result of these reforms, Pakistan would gain the good fortune of a self-sustaining democratic system that has become an absolute pre-requisite for the viability of nation-states in the present age.
General Pervez Musharraf’s tinkering with the constitution and the political parties are only marginally different from the efforts of Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan and Ziaul Haq to tailor a political system that suited them. Those who deluded themselves into considering previous Pakistani military leaders as reformers can continue to think the same about General Musharraf. But his is an artificial political system crafted with the help of intelligence agencies, as opposed to one that includes genuine competition between real political forces. Only if Musharraf accepts the risk of political competition, and like France ’s General de Gaulle is ready to compete for (and be prepared to lose) power, could he secure positive mention in Pakistan ’s chequered history.
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'