Sohail Mahmood discusses the achievements and failures of the Musharraf regime in Pakistan over the last seven years. Although the government claims to be democratic, Pakistan lacks many of the principal institutions, processes, and structures necessary for the democratic rule of law. In Mahmood‘s opinion, while the Musharraf regime has instituted some very positive, liberal policies to promote constructive change in Pakistan, the Pakistani people are still disappointed with his government. Musharraf is an authoritarian leader governing a people that yearn for true democracy. Many challenges lie ahead for the Musharraf regime in the coming years.
Sohail Mahmood is the Associate Dean of the Department of International Relations at Preston University in Islamabad. With a Ph.D. in Political Science from Northern Arizona University, he is one of the leading experts in the world on Musharraf and Pakistan and has published dozens of books and articles on the issue.
DESPITE THE ONGOING RHETORIC OF PROGRESS AND QUALITATIVE, POSITIVE CHANGE IN PAKISTANI DEMOCRACY, after seven years in power, it is becoming clear that the Musharraf regime is here to stay. Democracy is just a façade in Pakistan, a piece of propaganda to hide the fact that the country continues to be ruled by an authoritarian regime.
But Musharraf’s rule is different from other military regimes of its kind. It has avoided the same repressive tactics familiar to government throughout the Middle East, and has often adopted genuinely liberal policies. This is not to condone military, authoritarian rule, but in all frankness, the government in Pakistan could be a whole lot worse.
Musharraf has accomplished many positive goals in his time as leader of Pakistan. He has succeeded in successfully subduing Al-Qaeda and its affiliates in the country; he has completed several large physical infrastructure projects; he has helped to empower women through increased female presence in federal and provincial legislatures, local councils, and other government agencies; and he has supported an increasing amount of freedom in the press, allowing for some strong criticism of government policies and actions.
The economy in Pakistan is also showing signs of significant growth. The GDP and per capita income are on the rise, along with record increases of revenue nation-wide. And foreign investment has begun to pour into the economy as certain sectors, telecommunications, banking, manufacturing, and private health and education services, improve and adapt. Despite the fact that he is an authoritarian leader, Musharraf has also stimulated some successful decentralization and devolution of power and authority down to more regional levels.
Yet, there is still a lot of room for improvement. On a more negative side, Pakistan still lacks a constitutional government and rule of law to provide for the creation of genuine democratic institutions, processes, and structures. Corruption and political instability, as well as the deterioration of all respect for human rights, continue to plague the nation. And as officials spend more and more money on defense (whose spending has now reached an all time high) they are continuing to misallocate resources away from the social sectors of society that need funding the most.
The fight against terrorism, sectarian strife, and the crisis in Baluchistan also continue to cause many problems for the growth and progress of democracy in the nation. Rather than address the problems in a well thought out manner, military force continues to be the means, further fueling the cycle of violence. And in addition to all of these problems, the Pakistani economy still faces GOP budget deficit, inflation, and weak regulation of private enterprise.
DISAPPOINTMENT AND DESIRE FOR CHANGE
Many challenges lie ahead for the Musharraf regime. The promises made by the GOP remain unfulfilled. National discord, political disunity, and poor provincial relations in Sindh, the North West Frontier Province, and Baluchistan continue to be some of the biggest problems in need of solutions.
And after so many years of authoritarian rule, the people of Pakistan are growing restless. There is much disappointment over the performance of the Musharraf government, as well as agitation over the negative impact of continued military rule. The desire for democratic leadership, and improvement in the quality of life in Pakistan is on everybody’s mind.