General Pervez Musharraf’s regime is four years old. In the political history of any long-established and secure nation, that should not amount to more than a footnote. But because Pakistan is at the “crossroads” once again in its brief life, it should mean a great deal. An assessment is also needed in view of the lofty and wonderful objectives that General Musharraf set himself in his inaugural speech to the nation shortly after he seized power in 1999 and then again after he half-transferred it to hand-picked civilians in 2002. For what it’s worth, here’s a mark-sheet.
General Musharraf’s pet theme remains the economy. And rightly so. If the economy is hemorrhaging, it’s cause for alarm. If it’s not growing fast enough to swallow population growth, alleviate poverty and fulfill rising middle-class expectations, it’s a source of alienation, frustration and disgruntlement. On the first count, General Musharraf deserves good marks. Restructuring and pruning was long overdue. It is already yielding dividends in the form of significantly increased tax revenues and diminished costs of public sector enterprises. Today’s belt tightening can theoretically be translated into tomorrow’s spending spree. That is good. On the second score, he’s made a dent – GDP growth is finally up to 4% and the forecast is better still. This is not bad compared to an average of 3% growth per annum for the last decade or so. But there are no assurances that growth of over 6% pa — which is what we need — will, or can, be institutionalized on the basis of these policies. And, as everyone knows, much of the “stimulus” so far, like rising forex reserves, reduced foreign debt interest payments, high property prices, buoyant stocks and shares, has come from extraneous factors like foreign debt write-offs, economic grants and an international crackdown on hundi traders. Unfortunately, however, these factors are not strong enough to trigger a discernable trend of rising domestic investment to initiate take-off into self-sustained growth. And there’s the rub. Private domestic investors are still reluctant to repose any trust and confidence in General Musharraf’s agenda. And until they do, he cannot claim any distinction on this front.
The lack of sustainable economic success is a direct result of General Musharraf’s bad political policies. The local government scheme is not working. The referendum was a farce. The elections were flawed and yielded troubling results. Parliament remains deadlocked. The provincial government in Sindh is the laughing stock of the country; the reunited Muslim League is hopeless; the federal government is bogged down in Balochistan and the NWFP; and the poor prime minister is slowly drowning in his own humility. If, on the face of it, everything seems stable because the general’s corps commanders are not muttering, because his DGs ISI and MI are all in line, because the masses are not revolting on the streets, because the international community is behind him, so what? What did it take for the world of General Zia ul Haq to come crashing down in the blinking of an eye when he was no more useful? More critically, what is the weight and substance of General Zia’s legacies today? How is history treating him?
General Musharraf lays claim to successful foreign policy management. But this is certainly not true for the first two years of his rule. In fact, that was the time when General Musharraf’s Pakistan was not acceptable as a member of the Commonwealth, when he was largely viewed as the “pariah leader of a pariah state”, when an American president was not even prepared to shake hands with him in public and India was ready to wage war on Pakistan. But 9/11 changed all that by giving him an opportunity that he was swift to exploit. For that decisive act in the true national interest, he deserves kudos. It restored Pakistan’s standing in the international community and eventually got India off its back; it also gave a desperately needed fillip to the failing economy. That said, however, a dialogue with India has failed to materialize and tensions remain problematic. At the same time, suspicion is mounting in Washington that General Musharraf’s Afghan and Al-Qaeda policies are not totally upfront. And the Commonwealth is still not persuaded that democracy has adequately returned to Pakistan to warrant its re-entry into the club.
Yet it is precisely in the lack of sufficient and positive connections between these half-successful economic and foreign policies and the failed domestic political policy that General Musharraf’s, and by association, Pakistan’s, lingering problems are situated. Domestic and foreign investment will not return to Pakistan’s economy and boost its prospects, and Pakistan will not be accepted as a bonafide member of the international community, until all sources of political instability, domestic and foreign, especially those related to radical Islam and jihad, are removed conclusively and definitely from the Pakistani landscape and its foreign policy reflects the needs of the future instead of the obsessions of the past.
Until he mends his policies sufficiently, we cannot give General Pervez Musharraf more than six marks out of ten. The consolation prize is that few, if any, of his predecessors since independence have scored as high.