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Viewpoints: Musharraf's Vision for Pakistan: L'‚tat c'est Moi

As a Pakistani student, I was intrigued to read the recent article in The Harbus covering Musharraf’s address at the KSG Forum. The authors [Ed Note: also Pakastani] provided a neat summary of Musharraf’s vision for Pakistan in the 21st century and concluded that many of the students who attended the talk walked away with “an imbued optimism and hope surrounding Pakistan’s role in the 21st entury.”

I walked away with sense of despair and fear over Pakistan’s future. And while my instinct is to support the President’s reform agenda and hope that the future will be better than the past, there is no reason, other than blind optimism, to believe that Pakistan in the 21st century will perform any better than it has in the past (put it this way: we peaked in 1947, when we became independent). The chances are that Musharraf will do more damage to Pakistan than good.

Chief of Army Staff Musharraf took power in a bloodless coup in October 1999, under the reasonable pretext that the elected prime minister had been abusing power and undermining national institutions which were designed to provide checks and balances.

In his first major policy address to the nation, Musharraf stated, “It is unbelievable and indeed unfortunate that the few at the helm of affairs in the last government were intriguing to destroy the last institution of stability left in Pakistan by creating dissension in the ranks of the armed forces of Pakistan.” Musharraf’s role, he argued, would be to rebuild Pakistan’s shattered institutions, and embark on a general turnaround of the country’s economy, political system, and administration. To effect the changes, he appointed himself “Chief Executive” in October 1999, the only head of government in the world with such a “corporate” title.

What followed is a story of self-aggrandizement, power consolidation, and systematic destruction of the very institutions Musharraf claimed he would rebuild. First, all elected assemblies were suspended. Next, the constitution was suspended and replaced by a “Provisional Constitutional Order” (PCO) whereby the Chief Executive would enjoy vast powers. The PCO reads, in part:

(1) The President shall act on, and in accordance with the advice of the Chief Executive;
(2) The Governor of the Province shall act on, and in accordance with the instructions of the Chief Executive.
(1) No Court, Tribunal or other authority shall call or permit to be called in question the proclamation of Emergency of 14th day of October, 1999 or any Order made in pursuance thereof.
(2) No judgment, decree, writ, order or process whatsoever shall be made or issued by any court or tribunal against the Chief Executive or any authority designated by the Chief Executive.

Next, the Supreme Court was asked to take a new oath of office by swearing allegiance to the PCO, instead of the Constitution. Some judges refused, and resigned. The others took the oath, and the empty seats on the bench were filled by new judges appointed by Musharraf. Once the judiciary was co-opted into Musharraf’s new setup, the general turned to the civil administration.

The Civil Service of Pakistan (CSP) was placed under Army “monitoring,” whereby soldiers would sit next to the bureaucrats and make sure they were doing their jobs properly, a job they were undoubtedly ill-trained to do. Needless to say, the CSP’s morale took a nosedive. In any case, the monitoring scheme eventually became unnecessary, since the CSP was revamped beyond recognition, and many of its powers were transferred to local politicians in Musharraf’s new political setup emphasizing local government.

In 2001, Musharraf grabbed the Presidency, in order to ensure his political future beyond his three year term mandated by the Supreme Court for a return to parliamentary democracy. In May 2002, his elevation was “confirmed” through a national referendum in which, it is claimed, 65% of eligible voters turned out and 97% affirmed their support for Musharraf’s presidency for a further five-year term (curious, given that the turnout in the last elections was 8 percent).

Interestingly, non-resident Pakistanis were able to vote in Musharraf’s referendum by filling out an online PDF document and returning the form to the local embassy – easy! For the upcoming parliamentary elections, however, no such facility will be offered. The Election Commission claims that the logistical challenges presented by absentee voting are simply “too difficult” to overcome.

Emboldened by his new sense of popular legitimacy, Musharraf last month decreed a few dozen constitutional amendments which guarantee his power over the soon-to-be-elected Prime Minister and assemblies, which he will be able to dismiss at will. No matter that the Constitution stipulates that amendments can only be passed with a two-thirds majority in parliament (details, details). I started counting the number of amendments so decreed, but got tired after 50 – there was a long way to go. The three that stood out in my mind read as follows:
(1) The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973, referred to in this Order as the Constitution, is hereby amended…
(2) If there is any necessity for any further amendment of the Constitution or any difficulty arises in giving effect to any of the provisions of this Order, the Chief Executive may make such provisions and pass or promulgate such orders for amending the Constitution or for removing any difficulty as he may deem fit.
(3) The validity of any provision made, or orders passed, under clauses (1) and (2) shall not be called in question in any court on any ground whatsoever.

So when elections finally do take place next month (and they will almost certainly be rigged to install the “king’s party” anyway), the President will remain firmly in control. All this constitutional maneuvering comes from the man who, upon seizing power, claimed that, “I shall not allow the people to be taken back to the era of sham democracy but to a true one.

And I promise you I will, God Willing” (October 1999). If the supreme law of the land can simply be butchered in this way, what are foreign investors to think of Pakistan as a country where the rule of law prevails?

All of Musharraf’s schemes have been executed by an administration in which all governors, ministers, and important decision-makers are appointed by Musharraf. Although Musharraf claimed that all executive appointments “shall be made purely on the basis of professional competence, merit and repute” (October 1999), many key positions are occupied by generals who are personally loyal to their army chief. These include the governors of two of the four provinces, six of the eight members of the National Security Council (a group that supervises the cabinet), the Interior Minister, the Minister of Communications, the Chairman of the National Accountability Bureau, the Chairman of the National Reconstruction Bureau, the CEO of the state-owned power and water monopoly, the Chairman of the state-owned airline, and, perhaps most importantly, even the Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (heaven forbid that the PCB fall into the wrong hands!), among others.

I always find it reassuring when the guys trained to run wars can also decide whether I will have running water, an aisle or window seat, or Inzamam ul-Haq batting third down when Pakistan plays Australia. You see, these decisions are simply too important to be left in the hands of ill-qualified civilians.

This is obviously a very crude summary of Musharraf’s domestic political schemes so far. Musharraf wasn’t kidding when he said he would change Pakistan’s political system. And THAT makes me nervous. It is simply dangerous and downright stupid for so much power to be concentrated into one person’s hands. With so much power concentrated at the top, and no institutions capable of checking that power, we must all rely on the whims of Musharraf, Chief of Army Staff, Chief Executive, President, Chief Lawmaker, Ch
ief Architect of Pakistan’s new political system, and Chief Strategist in our quest for global cricket domination.

If Musharraf were assassinated, or heaven forbid choke on a chicken bone, what would Pakistan do next? Who would fill the power vacuum? Nobody really knows, but it would probably be another general who would take power “temporarily” and declare a state of emergency. What if this new general did not share Musharraf’s vision for “a moderate, modern, progressive, democratic, and Islamic” Pakistan, and instead had a different vision, say, to transform Pakistan into a medieval Islamic state and retain the consulting services of Mullah Omar & Company to develop a new national strategy? The point is, we simply don’t know what might happen under such circumstances.

Pakistan is a large, complicated country that is difficult to govern, let alone turn around. It has a bankrupt economy, the lowest literacy in Asia, a crumbling infrastructure, major problems of drugs, weapons, sectarianism, and terrorism, and a host of foreign policy challenges. No single person, no matter how intelligent, visionary, energetic, or powerful can get the job done. If there’s one “take away” from Pakistan’s 55 years of history, surely that must be it.

When Musharraf took power, he concluded his first address to the nation with a prayer: “O Allah, I promise my nation sincerity, honesty, integrity and unflinching loyalty. Give me the vision to see and perceive the truth from the false, the wisdom to comprehend a problem and find its solution, the courage to do justice and the strength to do the right.”
Until Musharraf learns that the future must be entrusted to well-functioning institutions, not to a well-intentioned individual with unlimited power, Pakistan’s future remains uncertain, if not bleak. God help Musharraf indeed.

September 23, 2002
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