Portrait of Musharraf
Portrait: reclining Musharraf with 'troika' in hand
Khaled Ahmed: The Friday Times: October 15-22, 2007
The only good thing about a civilianised Musharraf reclining on his couch with a troika held like a trident in his lap is that he will be a 'liberal' general with a realistic bent of mind in a country where chief ministers can go 'tablighi' and their sons can go 'jihadi'
In his long interview with a TV channel this month, President Pervez Musharraf has mused about the governance of Pakistan in the next five years. He said his re-election would revive the 'troika' that didn't work in the 1990s but would work under him to take the country on the path of uninterrupted democracy. If the past is any guide, the 'troika' that everyone in Pakistan liked in theory, did not save democracy but showed it up as an organism that rejected 'troika' as a grafted body-part.
He also spoke of the National Security Council as the institution that will save democracy from being derailed simply by making the three poles of the troika system communicate with one another on a regular basis. One is made to see the failure of the troika of the 1990s as emanating from the prime minister's refusal to sit inside a National Security Council. He assumes that the new PM after the 2008 general election will accept the National Security Council even though he may feel disadvantaged by its composition and the fact that it will also formalise the 'president-COAS duo versus the PM' polarity in the system.
Article 58(2)(b) and National Security Council: Who will get the prime minister to accept the National Security Council after the accurately made observation that prime ministers in general prefer 'consensus in parliament', which they lead, to 'consensus in Council', where they are outnumbered? Clearly, it will be President Musharraf who will get the prime minister to agree? What will he use as his instrument of persuasion? The answer is that he will use Article 58(2)(b) of the Constitution which he revived in his 17th Amendment and which he will certainly not let go as part of his 'deal' with the Pakistan People's Party (PPP).
The Article was put inside the Constitution by General Zia-ul Haq through his 8th Amendment with the assent of a powerful anti-PPP rightwing-plus-religious lobby in the country after the controversial authoritarian government of the founder of the PPP, Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. That the Article did not work in favour of democracy and failed as a 'balancing clause' against the authoritarianism of the elected prime minister was proved when the pro-Zia prime minister Nawaz Sharif did away with it after suffering a dismissal under it.
Troika as a sacrificial platform for prime ministers: Troika turned out to be a primitive Aztec ritual of beheading the weak party. In his series of long interviews published recently – Ghaddar Kaun (Second Revised Edition) – Nawaz Sharif says he fell foul of the army chiefs because the presidents he ruled under destroyed the troika by ganging up with the army chiefs. If the army had permanent interests to guard against interference from the prime minister, it was the president who acted as the political weathervane, drawing his leverage from a single article of the Constitution, which otherwise treats him as a bit of a puppet of the party in power, and from his hobnobbing with the army chief. As the commander in chief of the armed forces empowered by Article 58(2)(b), he can actually be more powerful than the prime minister. Because of his power to dismiss an elected government, he can usurp some of the powers of the man he can dismiss.
As Nawaz Sharif tells it, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan may not have liked army chief Mirza Aslam Beg but he enjoyed the defiance he showed to the prime minister. He says Beg began making pro-Saddam Hussein speeches after agreeing in a meeting with Sharif's policy to deploy Pakistani troops in Saudi Arabia during Saddam's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Aslam Beg was an especially troublesome character, a kind of intellectual outlaw who can bring shame to any army, whom even Ghulam Ishaq Khan found too dangerous later on and got rid of by appointing his successor three months in advance. There is no way anyone can avoid the appointment of a dangerous adventurer as a head of the army.
The prime minister disembowels too: This last point was proved by prime minister Nawaz Sharif himself when he told President Ghulam Ishaq Khan that he should appoint a replica of Aslam Beg as army chief: General Hamid Gul. This, of course, was a death wish that prime ministers in Pakistan often suffer from. It was Pakistan's lucky moment that Ghulam Ishaq Khan got scared of Gul's anti-US fulminations and passed him over to appoint General Asif Nawaz. Although Sharif says he tried to get along with General Nawaz, the fact is that he was encouraged by his own army and ex-army hangers-on to make things tough for the new incumbent at the GHQ. When General Nawaz suddenly died of a heart attack, his family at first thought it could be Nawaz Sharif's doing. Conclusion: if the prime minister is strong and willing to assert himself he can turn the troika upside-down.
General Musharraf says in his book he is not 'weak' like former army chief General Jahangir Karamat, who was fired by Nawaz Sharif next, but the fact that an army chief can be fired if the president is not eating out of his hand can be very unsettling. Nawaz Sharif also did not get along with the next army chief General Waheed because President Ghulam Ishaq Khan appointed him without consulting him. Waheed helped Ghulam Ishaq Khan dismiss Nawaz Sharif by mobilising his troops in Islamabad and then defying orders of the prime minister by disallowing the Rangers from preventing the hijacking of the Punjab Assembly. The 58(2)(b) part of troika reached its absurd heights when President Farooq Leghari dismissed the government of Benazir Bhutto and then was forced to resign by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who had removed the dreaded Article and sent the troika floundering.
Generals with personality disorders: The troika-ruled decade of the 1990s were the worst ten years for Pakistan any way you look at it. The parade of generals – especially chiefs of the Inter-Services Intelligence - that one saw in this period revealed the dangers radiating from intellectual deficiency in the military system. There is absolutely no guarantee that a sane general would be promoted all the time to the top job at the GHQ. When occupied by individuals suffering from personality disorders, it can spread unrealistic doctrines of defiance that the country can't cope with. Personality disorder can be expected more often than not because of the 'tactical' nature of the Pakistan army.
The only good thing about a civilianised Musharraf reclining on his couch with a troika held like a trident in his lap is that he will be a 'liberal' general with a realistic bent of mind in a country where chief ministers can go 'tablighi' and their sons can go 'jihadi'. Prime ministers grapple with the realities of a curtailed third-world sovereignty at their back and an economic challenge in front, while an honour-based society is baying for a just war against impossible-to-defeat enemy states. He will be fine because he will encourage pragmatism, but he is subject to random bouts of wrong judgement, starting from Kargil in 1999 and ending with the dismissal of the Chief Justice of Pakistan in 2007.
Even if his lessons are well learned and he makes no further mistakes, is troika a good system for governance in Pakistan? On all evidence, it is not. Unless of course Pakistan's fortunes soar under him as a civilian president; and the Pakistan army stops producing 'adventurer' generals like Hamid Gul and Aslam Beg and numberless golems in the system who admire them.