Coup- Seven Years Later
By Pervez Hoodbhoy
14 October, 2006
Some had feared - while others
had hoped - that General Pervez Musharraf's coup of October 12, 1999,
would bring the revolution of Kemal Ataturk to a Pakistan and wrest
the country from the iron grip of mullahs. But years later a definitive
truth has emerged. Like the other insecure governments before it, both
military and civilian, the present regime also has a single point agenda
- to stay in power at all costs. It therefore does whatever it must
and Pakistan falls further from any prospect of acquiring modern values,
and of building and strengthening democratic institutions.
The requirements for survival
of the present regime are clear: on the one hand the Army leadership
knows that its critical dependence upon the West requires that it be
perceived abroad as a liberal regime pitted against radical Islamists.
But, on the other hand, in actual fact, to preserve and extend its grip
on power, it must preserve the status quo.
The staged conflicts between General Musharraf and the mullahs are therefore
a regular part of Pakistani politics. This September, nearly seven years
later, the religious parties needed no demonstration of muscle power
for winning two major victories in less than a fortnight; just a few
noisy threats sufficed. From experience they knew that the Pakistan
Army and its sagacious leader - of "enlightened moderation"
fame - would stick to their predictable pattern of dealing with Islamists.
In a nutshell: provoke a fight, get the excitement going, let diplomatic
missions in Islamabad prepare their briefs and CNN and BBC get their
clips - and then beat a retreat. At the end of it all the mullahs would
get what they want, but so would the General.
Examples abound. On 21st
April 2000, General Musharraf announced a new administrative procedure
for registration of cases under the Blasphemy Law. This law, under which
the minimum penalty is death, has frequently been used to harass personal
and political opponents. To reduce such occurrences, Musharraf's modified
procedure would have required the local district magistrate's approval
for registration of a blasphemy case. It would have been an improvement,
albeit a modest one. But 25 days later - on the 16th of May 2000 - under
the watchful glare of the mullahs, Musharraf hastily climbed down: "As
it was the unanimous demand of the ulema, mashaikh and the people, therefore,
I have decided to do away with the procedural change in the registration
of FIR under the Blasphemy Law".
Another example. In October
2004, as a new system for issuing machine readable passports was being
installed, Musharraf's government declared that henceforth it would
not be necessary for passport holders to specify their religion. Expectedly
this was denounced by the Islamic parties as a grand conspiracy aimed
at secularizing Pakistan and destroying its Islamic character. But even
before the mullahs actually took to the streets, the government lost
nerve and the volte-face was announced on 24 March, 2005. Information
Minister Sheikh Rashid said the decision to revive the religion column
was made else, "Qadianis and apostates would be able to pose as
Muslims and perform pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia". But
even these climb downs - significant as they are - are less dramatic
than the astonishing recent retreat over reforming the Hudood Ordinance,
a grotesque imposition of General Zia-ul-Haq's government unparalleled
both for its cruelty and irrationality. Enacted into the law in 1979,
it was conceived as part of a more comprehensive process for converting
Pakistan into a theocracy governed by Sharia laws. These laws prescribe
death by stoning for married Muslims who are found guilty of extra-marital
sex (for unmarried couples or non-Muslims, the penalty is 100 lashes).
The law is exact in stating how the death penalty is to be administered:
"Such of the witnesses who deposed against the convict as may be
available shall start stoning him and, while stoning is being carried
on, he may be shot dead, whereupon stoning and shooting shall be stopped".
Rape is still more problematic. A woman who fails to prove that she
has been raped is automatically charged with fornication and adultery.
Under the Hudood Law, she is considered guilty unless she can prove
her innocence. Proof of innocence requires that the rape victim must
produce "at least four Muslim adult male witnesses, about whom
the Court is satisfied" who saw the actual act of penetration.
Inability to do so may result in her being jailed, or perhaps even sentenced
to death for adultery.
President and Chief of Army
Staff General Musharraf, and his Citibank Prime Minister, Shaukat Aziz,
proposed amending the Hudood Ordinance. They sent a draft for parliamentary
discussion in early September, 2006. As expected, it outraged the fundamentalists
of the MMA, the main Islamic parliamentary opposition. MMA members tore
up copies of the proposed amendments on the floor of the National Assembly
and threatened to resign en masse. The government cowered abjectly and
Musharraf's government has
proved no more enlightened, or more moderate or more resolute and behaved
no differently from the more than half a dozen civilian administrations,
including two terms of Benazir Bhutto as Prime Minister and several
"technocrat" regimes. None made a serious effort to confront
or reform these laws.
But the pattern is broader
then deference to the mullahs. General Musharraf has been willing to
use the iron fist in other circumstances. Two examples stand out: Waziristan
and Balochistan. Each offers instruction.
In 2002, presumably on Washington's
instructions, the Pakistan Army established military bases in South
Waziristan which had become a refuge for Taliban and Al Qaeda fleeing
Afghanistan. It unleashed artillery and US-supplied Cobra gunships.
By 2005 heavy fighting had spread to North Waziristan and the army was
The generals, safely removed
from combat areas, and busy in building their personal financial empires,
ascribed the resistance to "a few hundred foreign militants and
terrorists". But the Army was taking losses (how serious is suggested
by the fact that casualty figures were not revealed), soldiers rarely
ventured out from their forts, morale collapsed as junior officers wondered
why they were being asked to attack their ideological comrades - the
Taliban - at American instructions. Reportedly, local clerics refused
to conduct funeral prayers for soldiers killed in action.
In 2004, the army made peace
with the militants in South Waziristan. It conceded the territory to
them, which had made the militants immensely stronger. A similar "peace
treaty" had been signed on 1 September 2006 in the town of Miramshah,
in North Waziristan, now firmly in the grip of the
The Miramshah treaty met
all demands made by the militants: the release of all jailed militants;
dismantling of army checkpoints; return of seized weapons and vehicles;
the right of the Taliban to display weapons (except heavy weapons);
and residence rights for fellow fighters from other Islamic countries.
As for "foreign militants" who Musharraf had blamed exclusively
for the resistance, the militants were nonchalant: we will let you know
if we find any! The financial compensation demanded by the Taliban for
loss of property and life has not been revealed, but some officials
have remarked that it is "astronomical". In turn they promised
to cease their attacks on civil and military installations, and give
the army a safe passage out.
While the army has extricated
itself, the locals have been left to pay the price. The militants have
closed girl's schools and are enforcing harsh Sharia laws in all of
Waziristan, both North and South. Barbers have been told "you shave,
you die". Taliban vigilante groups patrol the streets of Miramshah.
They check such things as the length of beards, whether the "shalwars"
are worn at an appropriate height above the ankles, and attendance of
individuals in the mosques.
And then there is Balochistan.
Eight years ago when the army seized power, there was no visible separatist
movement in Balochistan, which makes nearly 44% of Pakistan's land mass
and is the repository of its gas and oil. Now there is a full blown
insurgency built upon Baloch grievances, most of which arise from a
perception of being ruled from Islamabad and of being denied a fair
share of the benefits of the natural resources extracted from their
The army has spurned negotiations.
Force is the only answer: "They won't know what hit them",
boasted Musharraf, after threatening to crush the insurgency. The Army
has used everything it can, including its American supplied F-16 jet
fighters. The crisis worsened when the charismatic 80-year old Baloch
chieftain and former governor of Balochistan, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti,
was killed by army bombs. Musharraf outraged the Baloch by calling it
"a great victory". Reconciliation in Balochistan now seems,
at best, a distant dream.
Musharraf and his generals
are determined to stay in power. They will protect the source of their
power - the army. They will accommodate those they must - the Americans.
They will pander to the mullahs. They will crush those who threaten
their power and privilege, and ignore the rest. No price is too high
for them. They are the reason Pakistan fails.
Pervez Hoodbhoy teaches at Quaid-e-Azam University
in Islamabad. This article was published on the anniversary of the coup.
This article was first published in the pakistan news paper Dawn.
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