Nine Years of Failure
Now that Pervez Musharraf has finally resigned as Pakistan’s president, the author analyzes his legacy, and attempts to pick apart the unstable coalition currently ruling Pakistan. Read on to discover why the Pakistani people gradually turned against a man they initially trusted, and why a poor civilian government is always better than a poor military one.
(From London) PERVEZ MUSHARRAF RESIGNED as president of Pakistan this past August 18. Really, he had no choice in the matter, as he was about to be humiliated by a historic impeachment.
The Pakistani people had gotten sick of him –and even sicker of the fact that he did not acknowledge this– and rejected him and his policies in the general elections on February 18. Even American President George W. Bush abandoned him during his last days.
2007: THE BEGINNING OF THE END
Frankly, Musharraf had it coming to him. The year of 2007 was the worst of his nine-year reign; he committed many serious blunders, and his downfall began in March of said year when he removed and arrested a sitting chief justice, prompting lawyers and members of civil society to vehemently protest the illegal maneuver. “On December, Bhutto was assassinated. This dealt a great blow to Musharraf and his popularity” Eventually, Musharraf lost a legal battle in the Supreme Court of Pakistan on July 20, and Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was subsequently reinstated-only to be arrested in November. Musharraf was never able to overcome the humiliation of the legal defeat, and with the help of the United States and the United Kingdom, he brokered a deal with then-exiled opposition leader Benazir Bhutto. Musharraf agreed to hang up his Army uniform and hold elections, and Bhutto returned to Pakistan in October and agreed to support the war against terrorism in exchange for free and fair elections.
However, Benazir and Musharraf did not trust each other, and Musharraf soon imposed emergency rule in Pakistan on November 3rd. The move was mainly directed at the Supreme Court, but the media was also restricted. Then, on December 27th, Bhutto was assassinated in Rawalpindi. This dealt a great blow to Musharraf and his popularity, as the event was followed by an outpouring of grief and public riots. Meanwhile, the government stood by idly; it did not attempt to curb the violence, and Musharraf even delayed elections for a month, with the intention of rigging them yet again. However, Musharraf’s plot went nowhere because the army decided to steer clear of the elections and keep a safe distance from Musharraf in order to save its own credibility. “The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, and Musharraf and his overly corrupt political allies remain indifferent” As such, the new Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani ordered the ISI, the country’s premier intelligence agency, to not support any political party in the general election; this neutrality was a big setback for Musharraf, and he lost the election by a huge margin. Yet somehow Musharraf still did not view this as the people’s rejection of him; by this time he had lost touch with reality.
The popularity of Musharraf’s regime deteriorated tremendously because the people of Pakistan wanted the government to protect their country from disorder and chaos, and it did not deliver on this front. Worse still, Pakistan’s economic growth has not trickled down to the poor, who now comprise nearly 40 percent of the population. Musharraf’s claims notwithstanding, Pakistan is not on the road to sustainable and balanced economic growth. Rather, the upper class is doing well at the cost of millions of hapless Pakistanis: the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, and Musharraf and his overly corrupt political allies remain indifferent. It is an astonishing fact, but only about 2 percent of its citizens pay income taxes in Pakistan.
THERE IS NO NEW THING UNDER THE SUN
Musharraf was in power for nearly nine years, but he failed to come through, and did not understand when his time was up. Many a dictator before him has fallen into the same trap: they came into power with high hopes, and incidentally, great public support, only to lose touch with reality due to the trappings of power. “The citizens supported Musharraf during the early years of his rule because he promised to clean up the mess left by the two civilian governments that preceded him” Indeed, General Musharraf had tremendous support in his early years, as he was perceived as an honest person. At the time, the public was tired of the misrule of civilian rulers, namely Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, who were also unable to meet the Pakistani people’s great expectations. In their defense, it has long been argued that they never got a chance because their hands were tied by the Army’s leadership, which was always breathing hot air down their necks. There is certainly some merit in this argument. For instance, the civilian rulers of this period (1988-1999) had no say in matters of defense and foreign affairs, much to their discomfort and obvious embarrassment. Such was the army’s clout back then.
Nonetheless, it is also argued that these rulers failed to do what they could, and there is some truth to this viewpoint too. These governments could have done many significant things for Pakistan, since the military did actually leave them to do as they wished in the social sector, local government affairs, and the like. Unfortunately, Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto failed to make even small strides in these areas, and this is thus a testament to their own ineptitude rather than any manipulation by the military.
“The country’s development indices are shamefully low. There is an energy crisis. The police force is corrupt. Poverty is on the rise, and unemployment is high. In short, a terrible state of affairs” The point is that the citizens of Pakistan supported Musharraf during the early years of his rule because he promised to clean up the mess left by the two civilian governments that preceded him. Nonetheless, he squandered that goodwill and support because he was unable to deliver, as per the aspirations of the people. Musharraf was prone to lofty rhetoric, and his tall promises were largely not kept. He was unimaginably selfish and gradually turned into a megalomaniac: he brought all political institutions under his own control and it is now known that he amassed a great amount of wealth through his office. Under his rule, Pakistan suffered from corruption and bad governance, just like before. The country’s development indices are shamefully low. The social sector is backward. Infrastructure is generally poor or non-existent. There is an energy crisis. Inflation is higher than ever. There are unprecedented food shortages. The urban areas are in pitiable shape: service delivery there is very poor or even non-existent. The countryside is even worse. Schools, hospitals and the bureaucracy are malfunctioning. The police force is corrupt. Poverty is on the rise, and unemployment is high. In short, a terrible state of affairs.
LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE
Unsurprisingly, the people have lost faith in Musharraf. As such, the new political dispensation must be allowed to continue. Let the politicians govern; whether they are successful or not, let the people decide. “If the present civilian rulers do not take advantage of this historic opportunity, the people of Pakistan will surely remove them in the next general elections” We cannot allow army generals to rule the country, as per their own majestic dreams and ideas of what is important to Pakistan. Given the myopic view of the military leadership, they are bound to fail. They do not understand politics or the nature of Pakistani society: the sheer complexity of Pakistan is simply beyond their grasp. Politics is the art of compromise, something to which the military is not suited, neither by temperament nor training.
Musharraf prided himself on fully understanding Pakistan’s intricacies, but he was misguided, and the country suffered as a result. Hopefully things will take a turn for the better. Let the civilian order continue, and if their rulers fail, so be it. Success or failure is to be decided by the people, and only the people. If the present civilian rulers do not take advantage of this historic opportunity, the people of Pakistan will surely remove them in the next general elections. This, after all, is the heart and soul of democracy.
Musharraf was a symbol of Pakistan’s past military rule, and he therefore had to be vanquished for the sake of the country’s national interest. The country’s Western friends, especially the United States, must intervene immediately to cast their tremendous influence and throw support to the ruling coalition government’s move to restore governance in Pakistan, which is currently in the midst of a grave crisis. Given the global war on terrorism, Pakistan cannot be allowed to fail yet again: the transition to civilian rule must be completed.
A DOUBLE-SIDED LEGACY
What, then, is Musharraf’s legacy? After seizing power through a bloodless coup, he ruled Pakistan for roughly nine years. Since he was not elected to his position, he was never able to overcome the basic problem of legitimacy, and the federation has weakened considerably due to these long spells of military rule. The foundations of Pakistan’s institutions have been deteriorated considerably; the corrupt and inefficient parliament and judiciary were never truly given independence, with the former serving as a rubber stamp at best and the latter being plagued by its pliancy. The executive –read: the military– ruled the roost, and no one was able to challenge its supremacy. The nascent political system was destroyed yet again by Musharraf: elections were rigged and the king’s party took over in 2002, and it was only due to great public pressure that general elections were finally held in February 2008.
“Musharraf empowered women in Pakistan, and more and more of them (and minorities as well) have entered mainstream society” However, there is also a positive side to Musharraf’s legacy. For example, the country’s economy improved impressively during the Musharraf era, in stark contrast to the sluggish growth witnessed during the 1990s. There has been decent economic growth and dramatic expansion in certain sectors like IT, banking, media, automobile manufacturing, etc. There was also a spectacular increase in taxation revenue from Rs (Rupees) 350 billion in 1999 to Rs 1 trillion in 2007. The media was given more freedom than ever before, and a formidable nuclear establishment was built during the last few years. The education sector –at least higher education– also witnessed dramatic development, although quality education remains a pipe dream for most Pakistanis. What’s more, Musharraf empowered women in Pakistan, and more and more of them (and minorities as well) have entered mainstream society. Still, Musharraf destroyed Pakistan’s major institutions, and at the end of the day his rule will be remembered for his relentless attacks on the constitution, democracy and the rule of law. Thus, Musharraf’s overall legacy is one of failure. A tragic failure of historic proportions indeed.
Although he currently remains in Pakistan, Musharraf will eventually realize that he is no longer welcome in his homeland, and he will leave, most likely for Saudi Arabia.
AN UNSTABLE COALITION, BUT A SMARTER ARMY
So, with Musharraf out of the picture, what lies ahead?
The first order of business should be the restoration of the deposed higher judiciary, followed by the election of a new president by the electoral college, which is composed of the parliament and the four provincial assemblies. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Nawaz Sharif are going to play a very crucial part in these actions. “Although he certainly deserves it, Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry might not be restored to his position because the PPP is not very fond of him” As expected, the provincial assemblies called for Musharraf to resign or face impeachment, and the push for impeachment gained steam with the aid of the joint efforts of the PPP and Sharif’s PMLN. Although the resolutions were non-binding, they held great political value. The PPP –the leading party in the ruling coalition– insisted that Musharraf be impeached before the restoration of the judiciary, as demanded by the PMLN, the coalition’s junior partner. The impeachment would have certainly been a long, drawn-out process, and a great historic development in Pakistan’s beleaguered history, but it never occurred because Musharraf stepped down by himself on August 18.
Now that Musharraf is out, the judiciary should be restored. However, said action will create problems in the coalition. Although he certainly deserves it, Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry might not be restored to his position because the PPP is not very fond of him. “Musharraf had long been an ally of the United States, which sent Pakistan at least $10 billion in aid during his rule, primarily to fight Islamic terrorism” For the time being, the lawyers are giving the coalition time to deliver, but they will most likely become agitated when said restoration does not occur. Meanwhile, the army is expected to support both the election of the new president and possible restoration of the judiciary. To his credit, General Kayani has ordered the army to stay out of politics, period.
Pakistan was created by a political movement in which the military played no role, but East Pakistan was lost and incorporated into Bangladesh during the military dictatorships of Generals Ayub (1958-1969) and Yahya (1969-1971). In other words, Pakistan was dismembered because of military misrule. Furthermore, the Pakistani military has fought three wars against India, all of which it has lost. It should be clear that the military has no business ruling Pakistan and diverting precious resources meant for the people, and in the process depriving them of a decent standard of living.
ROLES AND RELATIONSHIPS REDEFINED
The new civilian leadership in Pakistan must now reevaluate its role in the Global War on Terror. Musharraf had long been an ally of the United States, which sent Pakistan at least $10 billion in aid during his rule, primarily to fight Islamic terrorism. The USA insisted that Musharraf take strong military action in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) to deprive Islamic militants of the sanctuary that they have been able to establish along Pakistan’s long and rugged border with Afghanistan, but the war in Afghanistan went –and continues to go– very poorly. Consequently, Musharraf came under tremendous pressure to do more in the Global War on Terror, but military action inside Pakistan has left hundreds of civilians dead and led to a public outcry against the use of force inside the country. Meanwhile, terrorist attacks in the country have spread fear and insecurity amongst the populace. The military relied too much on the use of force as opposed to non-military options to restore security to Pakistan itself, and thus it became increasingly unpopular. The people of Pakistan wanted their government to prevent the country from succumbing to disorder and chaos, and the Musharraf regime did not come through.
Musharraf’s departure will certainly affect Pakistan’s relationship with the United States: it will never be as warm as before, as the civilian leadership is expected to disagree more with Washington on its conduct of the Global War on Terror. On the other hand, India will continue to improve relations with Pakistan in the post-Musharraf world. What is important is that Pakistan’s fledgling civilian government not falter, and international support can certainly go a long ways towards fulfilling this goal. Both Pakistan’s civilian rulers and the international community need to step up to the plate. History does not need to repeat itself.