Less to Musharraf than meets the eye

He is playing with the constitution like Ayub, he held a referendum like Zia, and he is as powerhungry as Nawaz Sharif and Benazir — ladies and gentlemen, Gen Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan.

When Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government was dismissed by Chief of the Army Staff Gen Pervez Musharraf on 12 October 1999, most Pakistanis were overjoyed. As Gen Musharraf disembarked from his 'hijacked' PIA airliner to issue the necessary orders, it hardly mattered to most whether the replacement wore khaki or a sherwani. Sharif's three-and-a-half years had become an affront to democracy: the prime minister was blatantly maximising his power through constitutional amendments, stifling freedom of expression, and suppressing judicial independence.

Those expecting a change for the better soon realised that a democratically-elected government is better than a military dictatorship for the long term stability it represents. With Gen Musharraf's record before us, the obvious conclusion is that despite their much hyped propensity for corruption, it is politicians who must run the country — and long enough to be able to make a difference. This they have never been allowed to do. Pakistan has never experienced true democracy, and at best, has had 'controlled democracy'.

Analysing Pakistan's political history, it is difficult not to conclude that the army as an institution has been the major hurdle to resolving problems of governance and development. With defence gobbling up a major portion of the budget, key sectors like health and education bear the burden. Those who suffer are the ordinary people — more and more continue to fall below the poverty line in the trade-offs made to support the military

The buck does not stop at what is allocated to defence in the annual budget. The system of 'legalised corruption' eats up a major share of the country's limited resources. Officers are allocated plots in posh localities for throw-away prices, and their children get the best education for free. Their families receive excellent health services without paying a penny, besides furnished accommodations, domestic help and rations all at no charge. To ensure these luxuries, resources are often diverted from the social sector to the military through covert avenue

The argument that the military deserves all this for patriotic service rendered to the country's defence has long worn thin. It is received wisdom that the Pakistani military's discipline and professional capability is of "world standard", but then it would be difficult to locate a country on the map which did not consider its military to be the best in the world. All the self-propagated myths associated with the military point toward the generals' desire to remain unaccountable before other institutions and the public at large. Stories are legion of large-scale corruption within the military establishment; most organs of the military empire are running at a loss because of graft and inefficiency (see box). The bogey of 'patriotism' is trotted out whenever the army feels the need to make its case forcefully.

The military's 'holier-than-thou' attitude towards other institutions is reflected in an extreme form in the government of Gen Musharraf. To give just one example, almost all the major government and semi-government departments are today headed by retired or serving army personnel (see box 2). This more than anything else demonstrates the regime's lack of confidence in the ability of "bloody civilians" (as officers are known to refer to the general populace) to efficiently run national affairs. By thus sidelining the civilians, Gen Musharraf is merely slipping into the shoes of his predecessors, generals Ayub Khan and Zia-ul-Haq.

Gen Musharraf knows how to charm with his apparent earnestness, winning over development activists and donor agencies by speaking their language. Meanwhile, careful use of the state media at home has created the image of a 'true soldier' fighting the just fight against 'corrupt' politicians. In fact, he has had something to offer everyone. He impresses the West and the moderates at home with his secular stance even while allowing state agencies to covertly work with the religious parties and sectarian organisations to advance the military's agenda abroad and domestically.

But not everyone has bought into the General's image. There are those who from the very beginning saw through his veneer, and found a rehashed version of Gen Zia. Those who still reposed some faith in Gen Musharraf found their hopes dashed after he subordinated the judiciary through the Provisional Constitutional Order, which granted him extensive powers and made him unaccountable before any court of law. Similarly, while apparently there is more freedom of expression and of the media than ever, there is also a corresponding amount of self-censorship; a few journalists who stepped out of line were quickly taught a lesson — if not officially, then unofficially. A few concrete steps taken by the regime, about which the president-general brags at every forum, come with enough qualifications to make them more of a disappointment than harbingers of real change. These include raising the number of women's reserved seats in the national and provincial assemblies — an overall increase in number, but no increase in proportion. Another step is the restoration of the joint electorate system, which enables the country's religious minorities to vote for candidates of other faiths, which had been barred under the separate electorates introduced by Gen Zia. However, the last couple of decades of religious intolerance and discrimination have sapped the confidence of the religious minorities; they and the country's human rights groups have been demanding dual voting rights, which would allow the religious minorities to vote for candidates from their own faith as well as from the majority community, in order to ensure a representation in the assemblies of various religious communities.

Rigged mandate

Any lingering hopes that Gen Musharraf was good for Pakistan's future were dashed once and for all with the rigged referendum of 30 April, rightly termed "the biggest scam in the history of the country" by the outspoken economist S Akbar Zaidi. The shameful insistence by the general that the referendum was transparent proves just how far he has moved from reality and how much he disregards public and media opinion. His promise that the general election in October will be no different, is in the circumstances, not very promising.

Consider two of the clauses of the Referendum Order, 2002:

  • Notwithstanding anything contained in the Constitution or any law for the time being in force, if the majority of the votes cast in the referendum are in affirmative, the people of Pakistan shall be deemed to have given the democratic mandate to general Pervez Musharraf to serve the nation as president of Pakistan for a period of five years to enable him, inert alia, to consolidate the reforms and the reconstruction of institutions of State for the establishment of genuine and sustainable democracy, including the entrenchment of local government system, to ensure continued good governance for the welfare of the people, and to combat extremism and sectarianism for the security of the State and the tranquility of society.
  • The period of five years referred in clause (1) shall be computed from the first meeting of the Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament) to be elected as a result of the forthcoming general election.

The phrasing of the Order itself reflects contempt for democracy, even though the stated intention is the "establishment of genuine and sustainable democracy". A mandate is being sought to "ensure continued good governance" while destroying the very institutions of state which can deliver such governance. It is all too clear that the officials at the National Reconstruction Bureau who suggest such flavour-of-the-month terms to Gen Musharraf are also losing touch with reality. The best part is that the president's tenure will start from the first meeting of parliament, thus extending his current rule if the next general election is postponed indefinitely.

Before the referendum, Gen Musharraf had sought to make a distinction between those serious people who supported the referendum and the irresponsible ones who opposed it. Ironically, this distinction has helped civil society more than the general, by enabling one to distinguish between genuine activists and political opportunists. Meanwhile, the ordinary Pakistani has begun to see in the general the same craving for absolute power and position that he so vociferously decries in civilian politicians.

The local government elections held in four phases from December 2000 to July 2001 that the general was so proud of, were exposed threadbare when the 'elected representatives' thrown up by that exercise participated in vote-rigging during the recent referendum. Their support for the general spoke loudly of their own aspirations in a future setup.

These opportunists used the referendum to meet their personal ends — they supported the ill-conceived idea with a target in mind. Even someone as senior as the Governor of Punjab, himself a general, saw in it a chance to prove his loyalty (in this case, his own suitability as a candidate for heading the country as prime minister). This sychophantic trend trickled right down to the grassroots, with even local councilors supporting Musharraf under the impression that there will be rewards for loyalty.

The trend of co-option continues at all levels. Gen. Musharraf has made possible the creation of an alliance of six parties, a 'king's party' made up of groups with no support at the mass level. The alliance is led by corrupt, turn-coat politicians of the kind, it is now clear, Gen. Musharraf would like to have in the next Parliament. He clearly fears that genuine politicians will not let him have his way.

Constitutional amendments aimed at increasing the role of the military in national affairs are also on the cards, peddled as necessary for checks-and-balances in the future dispensation. It is expected that a National Security Council (comprising the president, the prime minister, the chiefs of the three armed forces and the four governors as permanent members) will be formed to monitor the performance of the government. With the power to appoint governors and the service chiefs remaining with the president, the probable scenario is that, except for the prime minister, all the members of the NSC will be Musharraf appointees. This is the general who speaks so glibly of "genuine democracy", "good governance", "accountability" and "transparency".

The present warlike scenario has given the Musharraf regime an excuse for delaying the general election and, most importantly, increases in defence expenditures. With India's stance becoming ever-more aggressive, it has become difficult for media, civil society and opposition politicians to campaign against the latter. According to reports, the defence budget for the next year is being increased from PKR 131 billion to PKR 150 billion.

Trouble on the horizon

One can safely predict that there will be limited provisions for the social sector in the forthcoming national budget. According to economists, there will be no development budget for education and health, and the government might not even have enough resources to pay the salaries of existing staff. Large lay-offs are on the cards for government departments, with the figure predicted to be as high as 20 percent. This blow to an impoverished population already facing endemic unemployment, will, however, come as good news to the international financial institutions which want structural adjustments.

This also deflates all claims of improved economic performance. The increase in foreign reserves the quid pro quo for the support provided to the United States in its war in Afghanistan – has not helped Pakistan's poor in any way, and it remains to be seen who corners the benefits. All estimates hint at the increasing incidence of both human misery and economic deprivation. One also wonders from where all the money required to realise the extravagant promises Gen Musharraf made during his referendum rallies, will come from.

The general never tires of comparing his performance with his predecessors', both civilian and military, in order to prove how different he is. It is increasingly difficult to identify any noticeable difference. He is playing with the constitution like Ayub; he has held a referendum like Zia; his lust for power matches that of Nawaz Sharif and or Benazir Bhutto. Futher, Gen Musharraf seems to misled even more by his opportunist cronies than were his derided predecessors.

All of which presents a very bleak national picture in which one only discern trouble and chaos on the horizon. The country's scarce resources are the bone of contention between institutions of the state, and the military which believes in 'might is right' presently has the bone within its grip and will not give it up. It is obvious that until the limits and roles of all state institutions are clearly defined, such conflicts will continue to arise between and among them. Some of the analysts refer to the ouster of Nawaz Sharif as a classic example of this phenomenon – they believe that his removal was a result of his peace overtures towards India that would have ultimately led to a reduction in defence expenditures.

At this crucial juncture in the history of Pakistan, it is important that all sections of society collectively take action to keep politics from slipping further from the grasp of the people. Political parties need to develop a code of conduct for the future, based on respect for each other and internal democracy within each of them. Meanwhile, one hopes that media and civil society will continue to express themselves even as the going gets tough as it seems it will.

The military-commercial complex

As Chief of Staff of the Armed Staff (COAS) Musharraf presides over a vast industrial, commercial and real estate empire, with assets and investments of at least USD 5 billion. This military-commercial complex is a little-known network of four foundations that were originally created to promote the welfare of retired servicemen, but have since branched out into numerous money-making ventures manned by 18,000 serving and retired military officers. The biggest of these, the Fauji Foundation, is the single largest conglomerate in Pakistan, with assets worth USD 200 million. The Foundation operates 11 enterprises ranging from cereal, cement and fertiliser companies to sugar-mills and oil storage terminals. Three other foundations — Shaheen, Bahria and the Army Welfare Trust — run everything from banks and insurance companies to airlines, all under the control of the Defence Ministry or one of the three services.

In addition to the foundations, the armed forces also control a variety of large independent business activities, notably the National Logistics Cell, which is a trucking and transport giant; and the Frontier Works Organisation, which has a virtual monopoly in road-building and construction. Both were established to serve military needs, but grew so fat with military contracts that they moved into the civilian economy and have gradually squeezed out most private competitors. In her study, Soldiers in Business, defence analyst Dr Ayesha Siddiqi Agha demonstrates that most of these ventures have been suffering losses that are covered by financial injections from the defence budget or various public sector enterprises vulnerable to military pressure. She also points to the opportunities of corruption from the military business empire's exemption from "even a trace of public accountability".

Military men in power

Here is a partial list of retired and in-service army personnel holding key administrative and political posts in Pakistan (other posts not mentioned here, but where army men serve, include diplomats, provincial ministers, chairman of sports boards, director generals and managing directors of various authorities, vicechancellors of universities and so on): General Pervez Musharraf (Chief Executive, President and COAS), Major General (Retd) Muhammad Anwar (President, Azad Kashmir), Lt Gen (Retd) Khalid Maqbool (Governor, Punjab), Lt Gen (Retd) Syed Iftikhar Hussain Shah (Governor NWFP), Lt Gen (Retd) Moinuddin Haider (Federal Interior Minister), Lt Gen (Retd) Javed Ashraf Qazi (Federal Communications Minister), Col (Retd) SK Tressler (Federal Minorities and Culture Minister), Lt Gen Hamid Javed (Chief Executive's Chief of Staff), Major Gen Muhammad Yusuf (Chief Executive's Deputy Chief of Staff), Major Gen Rashid Qureshi (President's Information Adviser), Lt Gen Munner Hafeez (Chief of National Accountability Bureau), Major Gen Usman Shah and Major Gen Shujaat Zameer (Deputy Chiefs of NAB), Major Gen Abdul Jabbar Bhatti (Chief of RAB-Punjab), Air Vice Marshall Zakaullah (Chief of RAB-NWFP), Maj Gen Tariq Bashir (Chief of RAB-Sindh), Maj Gen Owais Mushtaq (Chief of RAB-Balochistan), Lt Gen Syed Tanvir Hussain Naqvi (Chief of National Reconstruction Bureau), Lt Gen Hamid Nawaz (Secretary, Defence), Air Marshal (Retd) Zahid Anees (Secretary, Defence Production), Lt Gen (Retd) Saeedul Zafar (Secretary, Railways), Lt Gen (Retd) Zulfiqar Ali Khan (Chairman, Water and Power Development Authority), Major Gen (Retd) Agha Masood Hassan (Director General of Postal Services), Major Gen Farrukh Javed (Chairman, National Highway Authority), Rear Admiral KB Rind (Director General, Ports and Shipping), Rear Admiral Ahmad Hayat (Chairman, Karachi Port Trust), Rear Admiral Sikandar Viqar Naqvi (Chairman, Port Qasim Authority), Vice Admiral Tauqir Hussain Naqvi (Chairman, National Shipping Corporation), Major Gen (Retd) Muhammad Hassan (Chief of the National Fertilizer Corporation), Lt Col (Retd) Afzal Khan (Chairman, Pakistan Steel Mills), Lt Col (Retd) Akbar Hussain (Chairman, Export Processing Zone Authority), Major Gen Shehzad Alam Khan (Chairman, Pakistan Telecommunications Authority), Air Vice Marshall Azhar Masood (Chairman, National Telecommunications Authority), Brig (Retd) Muhammad Saleem (Chairman, National Database and Registration Authority). Source: "The generals in power," The Friday Times (26 April — 2 May 2002).

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