The emperor’s new fatigues

Even generals have to be accountable, and should depart if they cannot perform.

It is an insufferable irony. A nation anticipates that decentralised participatory rule will be delivered by those whose professional ethos is centralised authority and the uncritical pursuit of orders from above. Rather than by taking to the streets in protest, the people of Pakistan voted with their television sets by watching Gen Pervez Musharraf deliver his first speeches.

It is a trying, debilitating time for Pakistani democrats, for democracy is too serious a business to be left to the generals. The labours of love for democracy have to commence right away, and three crucial responsibilities stand out.

Firstly, the democrat has to admit that the coup cannot be condemned as an outright outrage. The unpalatable reality is that during the past 11 years of democracy, the ballast of internal stability that democracy needs to flower had been worn perilously thin. No matter how much optimism one feigned, Pakistan's precarious democracy had little hope of blossoming into a mature system for peacefully negotiating conflicts of interest and of opinion. The 12 October coup was not necessarily a blessing in disguise, but it has to be accepted that it has brought a politically enervating period in Pakistani history to a close. Of course, most Pakistanis have already taken this view for the time being. Even so, Gen Musharraf has to be made to deserve every single moment of this suspension of the constitution.

The second item on the democrat's agenda, therefore, has to be the development of performance parameters for the general. Each item on his sweeping seven-point plan is a complicated task with multiple dependencies on other tasks. The plan involves a refurbishment of Pakistan's political and institutional structure, and the general has been consistently unwilling to give a time-frame for achieving the gargantuan tasks he has set himself. His only argument for this unwillingness has been that he wants to finish his work and would not like to go back on his word about a time-frame.

Such quasi-messianic patriarchalism is familiar to Pakistanis as elevator music on the way to politically divisive and repressive military rule. The last military regime came in promising elections in 90 days, and left only by accident after 11 years. In continually consolidating its power, it bequeathed upon the country a polity seething with sectarian and ethnic violence and a flourishing culture of guns. There is no denying that the generals have mercilessly clung on to the marionette strings of the country's politics during democratic rule too.

In Pakistan, it has been hard enough to trust rulers who have the sword of re-election hanging over them. Blindly trusting the word of a military ruler with oversized plans and without any mechanism of accountability is a folly Pakistanis can do without. The story of the good and righteous general who unwittingly develops a bloodthirsty addiction for power is nearly a folktale in Pakistan. Righteous democrats need to do Gen Musharraf a favour by saving him from being trapped into this rich lore. Notwithstanding all his persuasions that his military coup is really a democratic revolution, the emperor's new fatigues have to be given a morethan-vigilant scrutiny.

The test of Musharraf's ability to see a horizon to his rule, can be found in economic targets because they are the most conveniently quantifiable. If the general does not even announce measurable targets on the economic front, those who are interested in democracy need to formulate and announce targets for the general. To take an example, he has already announced investment as a pillar of his vision for economic revival. Let him name a target level of investment growth or else he should be given a target. Similar targets need to be set for the general in the other arenas of work he is undertaking. If these targets are not met in a reasonable period of time, his departure needs to be sought blessed with the country's deepest gratitude. If Gen Musharraf is interested in 'true democracy', he should place himself in the crucible of accountable performance.

The third crucial responsibility of the committed democrat is to contemplate the challenge of developing democracy through military means. Once short-term military management of the country has been accepted for the sake of stable democracy, the contradiction in centralised rule developing into decentralised democratic rule becomes stark. The political structure that has come into place under Gen Musharraf's military-technocratic junta is based on a benevolent monarchic framework rather than on a democratic choice of leadership.

The transformation of this structure into a demo cratic system is the greatest political challenge of the country. For example, a strengthening of the federation — one of the general's seven tasks —and its subsequent health under democratic rule cannot be guaranteed by military power alone. Pakistan's provinces cannot be taught to live with each other in harmony under duress. They have to learn this through an organic process. How a military government can requisition this process is as unclear as it is unlikely. The intellectual capacities of those interested in Pakistan have to be focused on this process. The means for reform have to be as carefully considered as the goals of reform.

The three responsibilities of the Pakistani democrat—short-term acceptance of the military regime, setting performance parameters to keep General Musharraf accountable, and understanding how democracy is pursued through military means —are difficult and multi-dimensional. With so many beneficiaries of democracy willing to support the military regime indefinitely, this era of Pakistani history is perhaps the greatest test of the inventiveness and perseverance of the true democrat.

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