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Musharraf: The growing siege mentality
August 10, 2007
The growing siege mentality of the civilian and intelligence advisers of Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf [Images] should account for the dramatic 24-hours which kept Pakistan on edge on August 8-9, 2007. These 24 hours started with rumours, statements -- some of them official -- and speculation about an impending declaration of a state of emergency and ended with a denial from the government of any intention to impose an emergency.
The drama came in the face of persisting challenges to Musharraf's authority and credibility from two directions -- the judiciary and the jihadi terrorists. Emboldened by the reinstatement of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhury -- suspended by Musharraf in an ill-advised action on March 9, 2007 -- by a majority judgment (10 to 3) of the Supreme Court, instances of judicial activism against Musharraf's rule and decisions have been increasing.
The decision of the Supreme Court on August 3, 2007, to order the release on bail of Javed Hashmi, a close associate of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, was a major warning sign. On October 29, 2003, he was arrested following a press conference held by him on October 20, 2003, during which he had read out a letter that he claimed to have received in mail, signed anonymously by some military officers at GHQ calling for an investigation into corruption in the armed forces and criticising Musharraf and his relationship with US President George W Bush. On April 12, 2004, he was sentenced to 23 years in jail for inciting a mutiny in the army through forged documents.
The second warning sign came with the decision of the Supreme Court to entertain a petition on behalf of Nawaz Sharif questioning the legality of the various executive orders passed by Musharraf against him since he seized power on October 12, 1999, including the order banishing him from Pakistan and disqualifying him from standing for elections. Some of the remarks made by individual judges during the course of the hearing have given cause for fear that the Supreme Court might rule against Musharraf in this case too. If the court ultimately rules that all the anti-Nawaz orders of Musharraf were unconstitutional, this could shake the very legal basis of Musharraf's rule since October 12, 1999.
How to pre-empt such a ruling? If the government is not able to do so, how to avoid the implementation of any pro-Nawaz ruling by the Supreme Court? It is in this context that the civilian and intelligence advisers of Musharraf are reported to have told him that the only way of dealing with the looming crisis is by imposing a state of emergency by taking advantage of the escalation in acts of jihadi terrorism in the tribal areas and in the North-West Frontier Province since the military commando action in the Lal Masjid from July 10 to 13 and of the reports emanating from the US of a resurgence in the activities of Al Qaeda [Images] from sanctuaries in the tribal areas.
Article 232 of the Pakistani Constitution empowers the President to declare a State of Emergency under the following condition:
Judicial activism and alleged judicial encroachment into the privileged domain of the Executive cannot be interpreted as endangering the national security of Pakistan. An emergency can be justified only on grounds of either a threat to Pakistan's external security from a foreign power (India) or to its internal security from anti-national elements. At a time when the government has been projecting the relations with India as being on the mend, it could not have used dangers from India as a pretext for declaring an emergency. There has definitely been a deterioration in the internal security situation since the commando action against Lal Masjid due to acts of suicide terrorism and conventional attacks by individuals not belonging to any organisation as well as by jihadi terrorist organisations associated with Al Qaeda in the International Islamic Front. The deterioration has been serious in the NWFP and the tribal areas.
In the latest of the incidents reported from North Waziristan on August 9, five soldiers of the Pakistani army were killed and 16 others were reported as missing following an ambush of an army convoy near the Afghan border. The anger over the large number of madrasa students (about 300), mostly girls, missing following the commando action in Lal Masjid has continued to prevent the attempts of Musharraf to re-open the masjid for prayers after having renovated it.
Musharraf has all the powers he needs to be able to deal with the jihadi terrorists if he sincerely wants to act against them. He does not need to proclaim an emergency for this purpose. His advisers feel he needs a period of emergency rule in order to break out of the present political siege, suspend the powers of the judiciary in executive matters having a bearing on national security, including his re-election by the present National Assembly, and weed out non-compliant members from the various judicial benches. Any imposition of emergency by him on the ground of preserving the national security from threats from jihadi terrorists would be seen by the public and the political parties as a facade to protect his steadily dwindling hold on power. This could give rise to a serious political agitation against him in the streets.
This dilemma has come at a time when the international community in general and the US in particular have started developing misgivings about the continued usefulness of Musharraf as a frontline ally in the so-called war against terrorism. They continue to praise him openly, but have started examining fall-back options if he has to go.
The army continues to stand by him. The around 30 Lts General owe their rise to their present rank to him. Their personal loyalty to him remains strong. At the same time, there are signs of misgivings over his inept handling of the political crisis since March and over the likely impact on the army as an institution as a result of his growing unpopularity. They have been advising him against any hasty action in imposing an emergency. For the present, he has accepted their advice.
But he has not yet found a way out of the serious dilemma confronting him. If he does not impose an emergency, the continuing judicial activism might unravel his rule. If he imposes an emergency, the jihadi terrorists and the street agitators might unravel it.
Musharraf is no longer a leader of the future. He is increasingly a leader of the past, who is desperately clinging to the present in order to avoid a fate similar to what befell Gen Ayub Khan and Gen Yahya Khan.
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com)