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Mainstream, Vol XLV No 47

Musharraf’s Gamble


Wednesday 14 November 2007, by SC


It was not an unexpected development. For several weeks now there were reports in the press that President Pervez Musharraf was planning to proclaim Emergency or Martial Law in Pakistan. In fact the news of Benazir Bhutto travelling to Dubai from Karachi to meet her family members there was accompanied by the apprehension of Musharraf staging the military coup while she was away (which is what happened).

Finally on Saturday, November 3 Musharraf shed all his masks and came out in his true colours to proclaim naked military rule—the civilian administration of Shaukat Aziz was always a facade, it has now suffered complete erosion. As Hussain Haqqani explained cogently the other day in an article:

General Pervez Musharraf may not call it so but his proclamation to suspend Pakistan’s Constitution in his capacity as Chief of Army Staff on Saturday amounted to a declaration of Martial Law. Pakistanis are used to their Army taking over running the country. In the past, however, Generals have suspended the Constitution to remove from power unpopular rulers, usually weakened civilians. This is the first time an unpopular military ruler has suspended the Constitution to save his position. In doing so, Musharraf may have overplayed his hand.

There is not a shadow of doubt that Musharraf was impelled to act in the manner in which he did on account of his paramount need for self-preservation threatened as he was by the impending adverse Supreme Court verdict on his re-election to the office of the President in uniform; that verdict was to come in all probability on November 6, the Apex Court having decided to take up the petitions challenging the President’s re-election on November 5 and promised to pass the ruling on those at the earliest—hence the timing of the imposition of Emergency. And in his address to the nation he gave enough indication of the fact that while fighting the jehadi elements was just an alibi for his drastic step (in order to reassure his Western benefactors, especially those in the White House and the US State Department) the real reason was the danger to his very survival as the head of state (protecting his dual status) that the judiciary posed. This too has been well elucidated by Haqqani:

It is clear that Musharraf’s action was motivated by his desire to keep himself and his civilian cronies in power and had little to do with saving Pakistan from terrorism or internal chaos. If Musharraf’s position was not threatened by the prospect of an adverse Supreme Court judgment against him holding the dual offices of President and Chief of Army Staff, he would most likely not have acted.

That is precisely why he launched the totally uncalled for diatribe against ‘judicial activism’ which in this specific instance did definitely play a highly positive role in terms of nourishing democracy.

There is an air of deception in the US reaction to the developments in Pakistan. Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, dwelt at length on the need to hold elections on schedule in the country etc. etc. to finally decree that the latest events in Islamabad were “highly regrettable”. Not a word of condemnation from the world’s most powerful democratic state. But then was it anticipated? Whatever the gullibles might say, the fact is: Musharraf could not have taken such a bold step without the Pentagon’s wholehearted backing. So Condy Rice’s crocodile tears have no meaning. Despite the US Administration’s active involvement in brokering the Musharraf-Benazir power-sharing deal so that a civilian government propped up by the military can take shape, Washington has always been comfortable with military dictators—from Ayub to Yahya to Zia-ul Haq in Pakistan.

It is in this context that Benazir Bhutto’s role comes under scrutiny. She has openly denounced Musharraf’s proclamation of Emergency. That is a positive step no doubt. But then how can she be a part of Musharraf’s gamble? She still wants to strike a deal with Musharraf in order to become a caretaker PM which S. Akbar Zaidi has sarcastically described as the “greatest deal of her life”. However, if she spurns this deal, brokered by the US, and wages a principled struggle for democracy with all other democratic forces against Musharraf’s hated dictatorship she will endear herself to the people at large and her popularity would soar. But would she? Several Pakistani analysts think she won’t (in her own interest that is linked to the interest of the US). They know her better.

As for India, it has been measured in its reaction. Thankfully it has spoken of transition to democracy in Pakistan, something it had deliberately forgotten to mention in its muted statements on the events in Myanmar. Nevertheless, one does not fail to miss a wavering stance in India’s policy on the issue of democratisation of Pakistan—a far cry from the firm positions taken during the days of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi on similar occasions. Is this also a reflection of the infirmities in our democratic set-up? Such infirmities are seen in the spectacle of unabashed communalism practised in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat as well as the strong-arm authoritarian methods employed by the Marxists in power in West Bengal (as in the ongoing violence in Nandigram) to detriment of the democratic aspirations of the public at large. And in the external sphere the intentional silence over the massacre of democracy in Burma illustrates the same phenomenon, a clear sign of the gradual weakening of our robust democratic structure brought about by the all-pervasive corruption and criminality in our public life as well. Undoubtedly a cause for worry.

More than 19 years ago the founder of this journal (whose 94th birth anniversary fell on November 3, the very day Musharraf carried out his second coup) had after Zia-ul-Haq’s departure from the scene written in these columns under the caption “Pentagon’s Loss”:

There is no question that the removal from the scene of this hatchet-man of democracy will open up new possibilities which no military junta will find it easy to muzzle. The coming weeks and months will be the testing time for the Generals as well as the democratic forces in Pakistan.

These words assume significance in today’s scenario when it is becoming increasingly transparent, especially after his latest gamble, that Musharraf’s days too are numbered.

November 7 S.C.

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