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The Rediff Special/Amir Mir
October 18, 2004
As Pakistan's fourth military ruler General Pervez Musharraf completed his fifth year in office on October 12, first as chief executive and then as president, he continues to be all-powerful, conceding only a small chunk of power to his civilian cronies, with the political opponents remaining marginalised.
Five years down the road since his October 12, 1999 military takeover, General Musharraf has a compliant parliament controlled by a political non-entity, the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam), commonly perceived and described as the King's Party.
Slideshow: Five years of Musharraf
In the shape of Shaukat Aziz, the general has a technocrat prime minister, who doesn't deem it fit to differ with his boss, the president cum army chief who intends to carry on ruling the country in military uniform.
Two leading politicians, former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif, remain banished from the country, with no prospects of their staging an early comeback.
Although the information ministry released a special supplement to the national press on the fifth birthday of the Musharraf rule to highlight its achievements, most independent political observers expressed varying degrees of reservations on his regime's performance.
The sharpest criticism was mounted by the major Opposition parties like the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy (ARD), Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), who have a consistent stand that General Musharraf continues to be the major obstacle to the polity's democratization.
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The ARD issued a white paper on October 12, declaring, 'General Musharraf has failed on all fronts'. The Sharif-led PML-N described Musharraf's rule as a state of anarchy, which had pushed the country into 'a web of multiple crises.'
The Bhutto-led PPP described General Musharraf's five-year rule as a 'saga of dictatorship, deception, deceit, deprivation and disaster.' According to PPP Chairperson Benazir Bhutto, five lies marked Musharraf's five-years rule.
'Firstly, the general lied to the nation that he has no political ambitions and the armed forces would soon return to the barracks. Secondly, he lied to the nation that he would not go for a referendum to prolong his rule. Thirdly, he lied to the nation that the judges of the superior court would not be asked to take a fresh oath of allegiance. Fourthly, he lied to the nation that the unanimously adopted constitution of the country would not be amended. His fifth lie, televised live on the national hook up, was that he would shed his military uniform before 31st December 2004,' she said in a statement.
Musharraf's credibility factor
When he grabbed power in 1999, Musharraf had outlined a seven-point agenda in the 'supreme national interest' to change the fate of the masses. After five years of absolute power, it is an interesting exercise to draw a balance sheet of the imperious rule.
He had 'moved as a last resort to save the country,' he told the nation in a midnight address on the day of the coup. He is still at it -- saving the country -- even after five years of uninterrupted and absolute rule in uniform.
The general had purportedly moved in to save the country from demoralisation, national disharmony, a collapsing economy, deteriorating law and order situation, politicisation of State institutions, concentration of power in the hands of a few at the top, exploitation of the poor by the ruling elite and corruption.
This is what one had gathered from the seven-point agenda that the 'reluctant coup-maker' of 1999 had announced in his televised address to the nation on October 17, 1999.
However, when Musharraf celebrated his fifth year in power earlier this week, there seemed to be very little or no improvement on any of the seven fronts. Not one of goals and priorities he set have been achieved.
The Opposition parties castigate the Musharraf-regime's only achievement -- the economic recovery, maintaining that it was made possible due to the events of 9/11 and the subsequent rescheduling of Pakistan's foreign debt by the Paris Club and other financial institutions.
Even otherwise, they argue, the so-called success story of the government on the economic front has already been set aside by a record increase in poverty, price hike and unemployment.
As America's 'most trusted ally' in its war against terror, General Musharraf takes pride in having captured and handed over to the Bush administration 500 most wanted Al Qaeda terrorists.
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On the other hand, however, the law and order situation in the country has turned out to be the sorest points of the government, which was very much there on the General's agenda of October 17, 1999. Between January 1, 2004 to October 10, 2004 alone, over 200 innocent people have lost their lives only in sectarian acts of terrorism.
As the government side insists there has been a visible improvement on the country's socio-economic and political horizons, critics say the five years have been marked by major failures on all the three fronts, largely if not solely because of the army's overwhelming obsession with its own way of looking at national affairs.
More regretfully, the critics maintain, the military under General Musharraf's command continues to give an impression that it is not prepared to share power with civilians. The general, thus, finds himself in a trap of his own making. By attempting to ostracize the PPPP and PML-N, Musharraf now looks for support from those to whom his enlightened moderation is anathema -- the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, the six-party religious alliance.
Throughout these five years, his main concern has been to legitimise his illegitimate rule. And to achieve this, his government held a referendum in April 2002 that was thoroughly spurious. The general election that followed in October 2002 was manipulated from the word go.
The most horrendous aspect of this rigging was the mutilation of the constitution. The changes wrought through the Legal Framework Order turned the Constitution virtually into a presidential one. Some other changes were more horrendous. The LFO provided for a National Security Council and the revival of Article 58-2(b). The former has subordinated the elected civilian government to the military, while the latter has given the president the right to dissolve the assembly and dispense with an elected government even if the prime minister enjoys the confidence of the National Assembly.
Worse still, instead of letting the LFO be debated and voted upon by the parliament, General Musharraf made it a law through a decree signed by him as the president. The year 2004 has been occupied by one concern: should the general retain his uniform while remaining head of state?
Pakistan needs me, says Musharraf
Under the constitution, a man in uniform cannot contest a presidential election. But the general managed to get a vote of confidence by parliament. In a speech earlier this year, he had promised to shed his uniform by the end of the year, but now he is having second thoughts. For all one knows, the general may have his way and retain the offices of president as well as army chief.
Under these circumstances, the international community refuses to recognise Pakistan as a democracy. The hard fact remains that by its very make-up, the army is incapable of solving political problems. Its frequent intrusions into the political arena have amply demonstrated this. In fact, after every period of direct or indirect military rule, the army has left the country in a condition far worse than when it assumed power.
No major foreign or national problem has been resolved and every military ruler has tried to divide and weaken the country's political parties, thus blocking the political process and severely damaging it. And the Musharraf-led administration has proved to be no exception.
Pakistan is not ready for a democracy yet
On the other hand, the politicians, despite differences, have managed to develop a common stand on the burning issue of Musharraf's uniform, thereby polarizing the political scene.
If a compromise is to be worked out, the general(s) must start from one basic assumption: the army has no moral or political right to rule. The people pay to maintain the armed forces so as to give the country a credible defence. It would be a pity if the generals were to violate this trust by relegating their professional duty to a secondary position and perpetuating themselves in power -- directly or indirectly.
To cut a long story short, General Pervez Musharraf has in the last five years, effectively succeeded in pushing the country back to where it was in 1988, when Pakistan had a president in uniform -- General Zia-ul Haq -- holding hostage an elected parliament.
Amir Mir is Senior Assistant Editor at the Pakistani monthly, Herald, and author of the recently published book, The True Face of Jihadis
Photograph: ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images
Image: Uday Kuckian