The Divine Right of Army Chiefs in Pakistan

Gulf News, The Nation ( Pakistan ), Indian Express November 14, 2007
Divine Right or Constitutional Rule
By Husain Haqqani

Between them, Pakistan ’s four military rulers since 1958 have virtually created a new concept in political science that can best be termed “the divine right of army chiefs.” It is patterned on the “divine right of kings,” the absolutist doctrine that asserted that a monarch derived his right to rule from the will of God. According to the doctrine of divine right, a king’s authority could not be restricted by the will of his subjects, the aristocracy, the judiciary or a constitution. Any attempt to depose the king or to restrict his powers was deemed in medieval Europe as rebellion against the will of God. A similar philosophy appears to be at work in the political thinking of Pakistan ’s military rulers.

Only a belief in the divine right of army chiefs can explain some of the assertions made by General Pervez Musharraf in his Press conference over the weekend. He claimed that “I did not violate the Constitution and law of this land,” even after suspending the constitution. Quite clearly, he sees his decisions as the law of the land. Similarly his statement that the Supreme Court judges who refused to accept his Provisional Constitution Order (PCO) were not “above the Law” indicates the belief that the army chiefs, and not judges, have the ultimate authority to interpret the law. In normal jurisprudence and political science the law is what the judges say it is.

Musharraf is not the first Pakistani military chief to consider himself above the law and constitution and yet insist that he was not violating the law. Field Marshal Ayub Khan abrogated the 1956 constitution and then introduced a constitution in 1962, which began with words to the effect, “I, Field Marshal Ayub Khan, do hereby give the Islamic Republic of Pakistan the following constitution.” That language was unusually similar to the one used by King John of England in the preface of the Magna Carta in 1215 wherein he said he had “granted, for us and our heirs for ever, all the liberties written out below” to the people. In 1969, Ayub Khan abrogated even the 1962 constitution and handed power over to the next army chief in a move akin to abdication in a monarchy.

Yahya Khan held elections in the hope of securing a fragmented and pliant parliament and was surprised by the mergence of two strong civilian leaders, one in each wing of a Pakistan which then included today’s Bangladesh . Personal weaknesses relating to wine and women notwithstanding, Yahya Khan is reputed to have been an able soldier and a financially honest man. But his inability to understand political issues and to deal with them led to military defeat as well as the division of Pakistan in 1971. Even after elections had determined whom the people supported, Yahya Khan believed that he had been assigned a mission by the Almighty to save Pakistan from politicians he believed to be corrupt and unsuited to lead the nation.

Yahya Khan did not waver for one minute from the strategy that he and his fellow generals evolved, ignoring public opinion and the voices of the intelligentsia. He declared the leader of the majority party in erstwhile East Pakistan a “traitor” and refused even to share power with the politician chosen by West Pakistanis because he disapproved of him. International condemnation of use of brute force against Bengalis was dismissed as an international conspiracy instead of being considered sane advice. But Yahya Khan’s militarized strategy turned out to be a recipe for national disaster.

Even after military defeat in East Pakistan , Yahya Khan insisted on announcing a new constitution for the country and was stopped only by fellow army officers who ensured a transfer of power to the elected leadership in West Pakistan . But Yahya Khan never understood what he had done wrong. His security officer at the time, Chaudhry Sardar later narrated that as he drove through Rawalpindi after the 1971 military debacle, the police advised the military ruler to avoid driving through crowds of people in case they vents anger upon sighting him. Yahya Khan retorted, “I have not stolen their donkey that they should be angry with me.” He did not grasp the outrage of the populace over loss of half of Pakistan ’s territory as a result of an ill-fated civil war that invited Indian intervention.

The lesson, if there was one should have been to acknowledge that the complex problems of a nation such as Pakistan cannot be solved by the simple though straightforward approach of a soldier with a sense of God-given mission. But that not prevent General Ziaul Haq from assuming power in 1977 and ruling with an iron hand. Ziaul Haq added enforcement of Islam and promotion of violent Jihadism to the list of his God-given tasks, creating many of the problems Pakistan is today trying to tackle.

General Musharraf, too, has repeatedly demonstrated that his status as army chief somehow places him above the rest of the citizenry in understanding and solving Pakistan ’s problems. Musharraf has, however, never shown much awareness of matters political and constitutional. His ignorance of history was revealed when, while visiting the Gandhi memorial during the course of the Agra summit in 2001, he asked his Indian hosts, “So how did Gandhi die?” Even now he has expelled t hree reporters from Britain 's Daily Telegraph because of an editorial in the paper that used “foul and abusive language” to allude to General Musharraf. The Telegraph editorial referred to language reportedly used by former US president Franklin D.Roosevelt in expressing Washington's grudging support for Nicaragua's then dictator Anastasio Somoza. Anyone well versed in political history and debates over US support for strongmen would have known the reference and taken it in its political context.

In 1999, General Musharraf explained his military takeover by blaming Pakistan ’s politicians and insisted that he needed to correct the country’s course by changing its politics. Now he maintains that he alone knows how to correct the course of Pakistan ’s judiciary. He does not realize that Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry has become a symbol of the Pakistani people’s resistance to arbitrary rule. Justice Chaudhry is seen as the judge who refused to roll over and disappear, unlike earlier judges who cooperated with military rulers or simply went home when their conscience dictated otherwise. Chaudhry’s call upon the legal fraternity to “ Go to every corner of Pakistan and give the message that this is the time to sacrifice ” for the supremacy of Pakistan’s constitution has drawn elements disillusioned with existing political leaders to anti-Musharraf protests. The people are also rallying behind the politicians hated by the military because the major divide in Pakistan is now between believers in the notion of the divine right of army chiefs and the globally accepted concept of constitutional supremacy.

According to Brigadier A.R. Siddiqui, who served as head of Inter-Services Public Relations, Pakistan ’s military has built an unrealistic image of itself as being above everyone else in Pakistan . This image has produced “self love”, “self-righteousness” and “self complacency” among Pakistani generals, which is “suicidal for the military profession”. This may be the reason that Pakistan has done less on the battlefield according to independent analysts than the nation has ever been allowed to believe and continues to fare terribly in the arena of politics and constitutional governance. Musharraf must recognize sooner rather than later that he and the rulers of Myanmar are the only ones left in the world who believes that a coup-making general can successfully lead a country forever. The rest of the world left behind ideas about the divine right of rulers, whether Kings or generals, a long time ago.

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'


Dear Sir/Madam,

Where are we going ….?

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, The FATHER OF NATION, in his 11 August 1947 Speech to the Constituent Assembly made it adequately clear that it would be a comprehensive and pluralistic democracy promising equal rights for all citizens regardless of religion, caste or creed, Pakistan was born as democratic state. In fact it has been failure of Pakistan socio-political system ,where in, Pakistani people are left at distant from the corridor of power so that the ruling elite, can do what they wanted to do in favors of their interest, leaving the Pakistani people at the mercy of circumstances. As this policy is denial of right of Pakistani people to rule their country according to their aspiration and desire to build this country, which can provide equal opportunity to all without any discrimination for the establishment of welfare society the dream never, come true till today.

Because of corrupt politician of Pakistan the army was tempted again and again to place for one after another military rule. It would be wrong to blame Pakistan army wholly for having usurped power for more than half of its life. It was in fact feudal corrupt politician that facilitated first martial law in Pakistan.

There can be no denying that Chief of CIA and his brother John Foster Dulles who was then Secretary of State who played key role in bringing Pakistan under martial law the feudal politician were responsible for the army rule. As unfolding the situation that brought Pakistan under martial law. Altaf Gauhar, biographer of Ayub Khan writes, Americans convinced their friend Iskander Mirza to handover power to Ayub Khan on 7 October 1958. Had there been shrewd political leadership in Pakistan in 1958, perhaps democracy would have taken firm roots in our country. Again, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto shown eagerness and patience during 7 March 1977 elections not to speak of Pakistan coming under martial law, perhaps, would have been alive and ruling at present. He would have most likely won a majority, even if not two thirds of majority. Apparently it was again weak handling of the post-Kargil war situation by political leadership that catapulted General Musharraf to power.
However, it is not for the first time that people of Pakistan have spoken in favors of democracy, but whenever they got a break, they manifested their faith in democracy, so they did it on 18February 2008, but did it work, no, therefore in order to get rid of socio-economic grievances we need to change the system at large. We did not have any outcome during change of faces since last 60 years. Is this not enough for a nation or do we need more humiliation or loss to the nation before we learn the lesson ?

The Political leadership in Pakistan needs to understand that it was people’s anger against the establishment that went into the ballot-boxes, and not one but all the political parties that have benefited from the popular rise, be obliged it to the voting public to work in combination, because no single party is in a position to go it alone. It seems that the wisdom from past mistakes has distilled upon Pakistan leadership and there is all likelihood of emergence of a national consensus for running of the country.

It will be difficult to expect any thing positive at this stage because, return of political leadership of PPP and PML(N) to Pakistan was subject to condition, political coalition cannot take creative action or dare to change policy of the national interest till general Musharaf is as president, current government need to take patriotic political decision in the interest of Pakistan without fear of American anger or their commitment and support during mediation process with USA.

Presidents and Prime Minister have come and gone in the past but it did not make a difference, regarding President Musharaf role about Country , there can be no two opinions as to whose, approach was proper or in the interest of people of Pakistan. No political party that was in the election arena raised a finger against the centralized power in the hands of one person or few of them Nobody talk about to empower the Pakistani at grass route level, why? Because they to, want to grab, total power in their own hand so how politician differ from musharaf mean all eggs are one and the same in the basket.

We have already lost the major part of Pakistan in 1971 simply to save the centralized sole power in the hands of ruling elite to exploit this country by the ruling leaders they let the country break in part then allowing the masses to rule this country democratically. In the present circumstances we are again dragging our sovereignty at stack for the external interest in the name of national interest, instead of our interest i.e. the interest of Pakistani people at large.

That mean only the society base on tolerance, equality and justice can be the real guarantee for the prosperous and strong Pakistan there for your intent is invited to the crucial movement which could be the point of distraction or disaster.

The only way -out of these crucial circumstances is to empower the common Pakistani at grass route level i.e. the change of system. This change is inevitable for the prosperous Pakistan .As a citizen of this country I have try to provide an alternate socio-political system to empower the masses at grass route level for rapid industrial and agriculture development with transparency and accountability in the system. Along with basic guarantees for the creation of welfare state, where in public representative and institution shall be answerable and accountable to the masses. I alone cannot make the change but together we can turn the table, and make the dream come true.


Ilyas khan Baloch
Organizer, Islamic Democratic Party

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