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Musharraf: Beginning Of The End

By Brig (R) Usman Khalid

19 March, 2007

The end of Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s 11 years of rule started with celebrations - of a ‘decade of development’. Amid all the eloquent speeches and fine write ups in the press in praise of the glorious decade of Ayub Khan Rule, the price of sugar shot up suddenly. The country had indeed made more progress during that decade that any previous decade or since. But no one had realised that ‘Ayub fatigue’ had set in and the people did not want to hear his name or believe the government publicity; they focussed on ‘sugar price’. Why? According to the 1962 Constitution, which Ayub had divined and introduced, the tenure of the President was fixed at two terms of five years.

His ten years in power had come to an end but there was no sign of a successor or preparations for a smooth hand over of power. The ‘celebrations’ were taken to mean that he wanted another term as President. Sugar price was the excuse for the people, awestruck that he really wanted another five years, to show their horror and anger.

General Musharraf was given three years in power and a mandate to‘re-organise’ to bring an end corruption in politics. He had no idea how to go about the task. He took bad advice from NGO advisors given to him by the USA and strayed hugely from his mandate. His wish list of ‘seven points’ was highly forgettable ‘motherhood and apple pie’. Increasing the number of seats in the national and provincial assemblies, giving one third of those to women; making a degree pre-requisite for candidates to contest election; and introducing a controversial system of local government; were not on the agenda of any political party. But there was no opposition or resistance because these measures increased the opportunities for corruption and for much larger number. At the end of the three years, the politicians hoped to rule the country. But he only increased the pay and perks of the members of assemblies but kept all the decision making to himself. He had found (or been advised) that puppets are better than real persons to run a ‘modern’ democracy. That is indeed true in every ‘stable’ democracy. But the audience get bored with the same puppets singing the same tired song.

I considered myself a friend of General Musharraf when I asked him a question three years ago during centenary celebrations of the Staff College, Quetta, “ What would you do different to Ayub Khan or Zia ul Haq that your legacy would outlast your period in power”? I did not expect him to give a considered answer but I did expect him consider the question later. Quite clearly, he hasn’t. A time comes during the tenure in office of every leader when a change is needed. Ayub Khan did not realise when the people had become tired of him; Zia ul Haq did know but could not divine an exit strategy. General Musharraf also does not seem to realise that the people are tired of him. He should be thinking of protecting his legacy (and there is indeed a great deal that needs protecting) and prepare for succession rather than ‘another five years’. But he isn’t. He is more blatant than any of his military predecessors in power. Chief Minister Pervaiz Ilahi seriously thinks that he could become the next prime minister riding on the shoulders of General Musharraf. Ambitious men of little calibre often become the steps of a ladder for other ambitious men with little calibre to climb to high office of the state quite undeservedly. Where this ladder of the Chaudhries leading, no one knows?

Musharraf should be thankful that he would not exit on a sugar pallet. He has placed himself in a ‘no win’ situation. If he does succeed in removing the Chief Justice, the successor would be less able to submit to pressure to endorse his election for five years by the present assemblies. If the Chief Justice is reinstated, Musharraf would not expect any favours from him any way. If he wants to continue in uniform after the end of his current tenure as President in November, it would be challenged in Supreme Court. He knows what the court verdict would be. After a verdict on his uniform, his tenure will end in November. I hope no one would propose or endorse his being the President at the time of the next elections. The credibility of the elections MUST not be jeopardised by his being the President at that time. This is truly the beginning of his end.

As has been seen in Bangladesh, interim governments inducted for three months can last longer. These unelected governments are much more amenable to foreign pressures. General Musharraf could save himself if he declared now that he would NOT seek another term as President. If he left such an announcement till it is too late, (like Ayub Khan) he will neither be able to protect his legacy nor his reputation. Even today, his prime legacy, the Pakistan Muslim League, can win the elections fairly if it is not encumbered with his political designs. It has been obvious for some time that he wants to widen the base for his ‘enlightened moderation’ by embracing Benazir and the PPP. That is as ‘unnatural’ an alliance as there can ever be. She will accept the endorsement by the military but refuse to endorse Musharraf as President. The PML tied to Musharraf’s apron strings and as an ally of the MQM has no hope of winning. The PPP, however, with ‘seat adjustment’ with the opposition parties, could emerge as the largest party in the parliament.

Musharraf talks a lot about strategy but he is a person with myopic vision who has never needed to make sense when he talks. So, he talks, and talks but never reflects or listens. The people are tired of him and desperately want to see the back of him. But he talks and talks and cannot see the writing on the wall. I remember the last days of Ayub Khan. I was posted at Ankara at the time as Staff Officer to Pakistan’s Military Representative in CENTO. Mr Sharafuddin Pirzada had just been appointed the new Foreign Minister. He was visiting Turkey and was the Chief Guest at a reception given by the Ambassador. We were all very eager to hear what he had to say about the ‘critical’ situation in Pakistan. Ambassador Iftikhar Ali goaded and goaded but could not get a word out of him. Eventually he spoke. He said, “You know, Qazi Issa has joined the Muslim League?” The same Pirzada is advising Musharraf in the reference filed against the Chief Justice. May Allah (swt) help Musharraf and Pakistan!

The writer is the Director of London Institute of South Asia.


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