Mr Ijaz ul Haq, MNA, has recently offered General Pervez Musharraf a rather self-serving “formula” for the “restoration of democracy”. In effect, Mr Haq suggests that the assemblies should be restored; someone (Mr Haq?) from the PML should be given a perceptible nod by General Musharraf to lead a vote of no-confidence against Nawaz Sharif and get himself nominated as prime minister; then the national assembly and senate should indemnify the military’s various interventions (including locking up the Sharifs, Bhuttos and countless others), as well as authorise the establishment of a National Security Council which includes representatives of the armed forces and is headed by a president (General Musharraf?) with powers to sack governments (not assemblies) if they stray from the straight and narrow.
Despite Mr Haq’s vaulting ambition and non-entity status, the formula provides a road-map for the laudable objective of reviving constitutional democracy as quickly as possible. But there are many problems with this strategy. One, the current parliaments are thoroughly discredited, being chock a bloc with people who should have been disqualified from contesting the elections in the first place if we had had an independent and vigourous election commission. Two, these parliaments owe their existence to a trumped-up electoral-roll system gerrymandered by powerful vested interests in the past and a highly outdated system of constituency delimitation based on a population census taken twenty years ago. Three, such parliaments cannot be trusted because, more than other parliaments in Pakistani history, these have acted as immoral accomplices of Nawaz Sharif and Co by providing a “legal and constitutional” cover to their criminality. Finally, General Musharraf’s association with the ancien regime is likely to be a kiss of death since it will be interpreted by the people of Pakistan as a measure of status-quo weakness rather than as an act of bold wisdom, thereby militating against the popular sentiment that has afforded a degree of legitimacy to the new regime. No, far better to start afresh than to tie oneself to the dirty apron-strings of the past.
That said, it is still worth debating whether General Musharraf’s ambitious “agenda without a time-table” is based on realistic assumptions. And if it isn’t, what should be the contours of a preferred course of action?
General Musharraf has admitted that accountability of the corrupt could last “forever”. Apart from suggesting a definite criteria, the CE’s remarks imply a cut-off point beyond which accountability cannot be an excuse for delaying elections. But no one knows NAB’s criteria of corruption and accountability and its cut-off point. General Musharraf has also admitted that the economy is “much worse” than he feared. But he does not explain how long it will take him to “fix it”? He has now referred to “politicians” as “brothers”. But “brothers” Qazi Hussain Ahmad, Nawabzada Nasrullah, Ajmal Khattak and Ataullah Mengal, and “sister” Benazir Bhutto, are now all demanding an early election. Before long, “brothers” Imran Khan and Farooq Leghari may also become critical of the new regime and demand elections. How long can the “brotherhood” be put off?
General Musharraf seems to think that his personal “sincerity” and “courage” will suffice to “motivate” all manner of Pakistanis to give him the benefit of the doubt and make sacrifices for the good of the country, in the bargain propping up his regime for a few years at least. This may be wishful thinking. By and large, Pakistanis tend to be a cynical, suspicious, conspiratorial lot. Most people look at the NSC and various cabinets and conclude that the new regime is mired in a bureaucratic status quo. Others wonder aloud why there is a preponderance of “Urdu-speakers” in all the critical slots of government. Many scan the think-tanks to argue that the civilians are merely rubber-stamps for a government in which all the important decisions are being taken by the men in khaki, whether at the corps commanders level or in GHQ or in the ISI. Meanwhile, an uncomfortable number of people are saying that the regime is practising double-standards by targeting allegedly corrupt or errant businessmen, politicians and landlords while protecting allegedly corrupt or deviant civil-servants and generals. Meanwhile, hardly anyone thinks that Nawaz Sharif should be convicted in the hijacking case when so many better and more credible alternatives are available. And a few are even betting that this regime will be overtaken by another in due course.
On their own, these apprehensions may not amount to much. But taken in a clutch, such fears could eventually erode General Musharraf’s credibility. The critical point here is that if domestic legitimacy evaporates, the international community is likely to come down like a ton of bricks on Rawalpindi. In the event, the unsustainable contradictions in the regime’s “foreign policy-domestic economy paradigm” will come home to roost and lead to an implosion in Pakistan.
General Pervez Musharraf and his military colleagues must plan their strategic medium-term exit point even as they rush to develop their tactical short-term entry points into civil polity. This regime is abundantly sincere and fiercely motivated. But its limitations are becoming obvious and its shortcomings cannot be ignored.