“Civilizing” Parliament, “Civilian-izing” Musharraf


Pervez Musharaf’s military regime has been exceedingly ill-served by legal advice as to the mode of transition to democracy, half measures cannot paper over problems, either have full democracy or military rule, nothing in-between. Trying to run the country by liberal quasi-democratic means is a non-starter, Indus culture respects only absolute power. As the only military rule in history where media has been allowed to function freely, and even flourish, given grudging respect in some quarters, what else has the military got? Pakistanis want democracy and were comfortable with the fact that the process had started with elections to the Local Bodies but the Referendum was mismanaged, comparable to the Ayubian 60s PR disaster “Decade of Reforms”, a popular President (and Musharraf remains popular even today among the masses) was made  “unpopular” in media-served perception.

Having contested the general elections under the Legal Framework Order (LFO), the Opposition has called into question the basis of these elections. Why not oblige them and scrap the results? As a major sticking point the LFO incorporates the proposal for a National Security Council (NSC) and Presidential powers to dismiss the Prime Minister (PM).  While the transition from military to civilian rule needs to be eased through a staggered exit strategy, why should the President voluntarily become a lame-duck civilian incumbent in the present internal and external environment? With the Opposition behaving as it is, would not that put us from the frying pan into the fire? The Opposition cannot swallow the fact of Pervez Musharraf’s retaining the post as COAS in a democratic set-up. As one of those who strongly believe that the military must be subservient to civilian rule and that a serving uniformed person cannot be a Head of State of a democratic country, one cannot close one’s eyes to the fact that we are passing through extraordinary geo-political and domestic circumstances, can we gamble with the sovereign integrity of the country as we did in 1971? Creating a precedent may be unwise, do we have a choice? The use of abusive language in the Upper and Lower Houses desecrates the sanctity of Parliament and stokes the military’s recurring fear, the politician will take this country down the drain. The President’s stance that he would not address the Joint Session of Parliament in the face of the “uncivilized behaviour” of the Opposition-created ruckus is justified.  Why should the President subject himself to abusive behaviour by a mob that forswears universally accepted “Parliamentary language”?

Though not quite perceptible as yet, there is a gradual geo-political re-configuring because of Iraq. Where is Pakistan’s place under the new sun? No surprise that India climbed onto the bandwagon to flex its “Superpower” ambitions by threatening pre-emptive strike against Pakistan, the verbal threat crudely delivered by Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha. This shocked the Americans into repudiating this immediately and quite firmly, the strongly worded message may have led to Mr. Vajpayee’s reversing the two-year old Indian stance and offer full-ranging “talks” with Pakistan, to focus on  all issues including Kashmir. The tough language used by the US State Department may have also led to the resignation of US Ambassador Robert Blackwell, more loyal to the Indians than the Indians themselves.

Pakistan is clearly on the mend economically thanks to 9/11. After bearing some initial economic pain, aids and grants started to flow in. The universal crackdown on money-laundering force-multiplied home remittances to climb 300% of the previous year, it is still climbing. Partly buoyant because of our financial reforms and partly because of the economic windfall of 9/11 (debt-forgiveness, debt-scheduling, etc), the aberrations in the economy remain in focus because of the Pakistan-specific widespread “client-patron” curse that we are afflicted with, that is the downside of military rule. Undeserving people like Mohammadmian Soomro and others could not get a senior banking post on the merit system but as Chairman Senate, a heartbeat away from the Presidency, he has the power on the PR System to disburse patronage to counter merit throughout the whole country.

This country has few options available, the optimum course is to settle the LFO issue amicably and let Parliament and government function. Pervez Musharraf has never in his life succumbed to pressure, he is not about to take off his uniform under any threat.  One cannot do without a National Security Council (NSC) or the power of the President to dismiss the PM but the President could agree to his transition to a civilian President at a time of his choosing but not earlier than one full Parliamentary year, provided Parliament functions during that time as a Parliament and not as a street mob.  Once that pressure is removed one can trust Pervez Musharraf to do what is right when it is right, and on Thursday last he said so. One does not agree with “soft” military rule (martial laws must be run as martial law), the fact remains that Pervez Musharaf has been an outstanding leader in most excruciating geo-political and domestic circumstances, that he did not take the easy route by taking tough measures associated normally with martial law speaks volumes for his self-confidence and maturity, a world class performance.

The second option would be to suspend the National Assembly and the Senate for a period of time on the advice of the PM so that the government can function and not waste its time listening to a daily diet of non-Parliamentary insults. There is an elected government in place, if the Assemblies are not prepared to allow the function of government within the Assemblies to take place, then the business of State cannot be held hostage to blatant and constant blackmail, the government should function without the Assemblies. The PM and his cabinet are there because they represent the majority, they should continue in place, and so will the Provincial Assemblies, but if any Provincial Assembly freezes government functioning, the concerned Governor can accept their “death-wish” and suspend or dissolve that Assembly. With Parliament in suspension, the ruling Party would be in a better position to negotiate the LFO with the Opposition.

The third and final option, and in all three options the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and the National Reconstruction Bureau (NRB) must come directly under the President, is to dissolve the Assemblies and the Senate and have fresh elections under an amended LFO which includes “run-off elections” and “Proportional Representation”, integral to any democratic set up. Those who want to participate in the election will have to accept LFO’s conditions when signing their election candidacy forms. Those who do not want to sign can stay out of the electoral process. “Proportional Representation” is a principle already accepted in our electoral system under the LFO with respect to reserved seats for women in Parliament, this could be expanded to cover at least 50% of the membership of the Assemblies.  A clear majority (more than 50% of the votes cast) in each constituency must be mandatory for winning any seat, if someone does not have an outright majority in the first round then the first two candidates take part in a “run-off” election. With respect to the Senate, there must be direct elections or at worse pro-rata selection from a Party slate on the “Proportional Representation” formula based on the percentage of direct votes obtained by any Party in the National and Provincial Assemblies. Indirect elections is asking for manipulation and vote purchasing and / or selling, this country cannot afford this corrupt practice anymore. Many anomalies have put the present democratic set-up under virtual limbo. Having heard the wildly intemperate abusive language used by a whole range of our politicians and intelligentsia during the last few days, one must note that they have fallen over themselves in giving a wrong perception not only to the masses, but to the world, far removed from reality. If push comes to shove, Pervez Musharraf is left with only one option, to save this country from itself.

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).