Musharraf’s Choice: Hosni Mubarik or the Turkish Generals?

Whether or not it was a planned statement, it was a truthful one. Pakistan’s Information Minister’s statement that General Musharraf will seek extension of his presidential term beyond 2007 and that too maybe while retaining the COAS slot should come as no surprise. General Parvez Musharraf has no intentions of stepping down in 2007. He is also not certain that he would up the position of the Army Chief. None of this is in line with the 1973 Constitution. It’s more in line with the power realities of Pakistan; as is Pakistan’s present khaki-tailored democracy. While in Pakistan there is public democracy with freedom of expression and association, the Musharraf-led Establishment controls all the levers of State power that enable it to alter democratic institutions and the political landscape.

Examples abound: the breaking up of the PPP, the creation of the PML-Q, the April 2002 referendum, the re-habilitation of the MQM, the formation of the MMA, the passage of the LFO, the devolution of administrative, financial and political power to Local Governments, the establishment of the National Security Council, enhancing the presidential authority and a parliamentary vote allowing a serving army Chief to become the country’s president.

In managing the khaki democracy the Establishment has been guided by eight specific political objectives parameters. One, the Army Chief General Parvez Musharraf will be the President and at no point will any political activity be allowed that would undermine his position. Two, the leaders of Pakistan’s two national political parties, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, will be kept out until 2007. Three, the President will not join any political party banking on the army remaining his principle power base. Four the Establishment-created PML-Q will be Musharraf’s principle civilian political base. Five, to keep his civilian political base intact the President will actively engage with the affairs of the PML-Q and remain in direct contact with the key men of the two parties that supported him –” the MQM and the anti Benazir PPP. Six, the Shaukat government must complete its tenure and elections will be held in 2007. Eight no activity will be allowed that would ‘destabilize’ the political scene. Practically this policy has translated into allowing parties with street power to demonstrate on issues which the management believed were potentially ‘explosive’ political issues. These included the issue of inclusion of religion in the national identity cards, opposing holding of mixed marathons in various, even anti-Musharraf rallies.

However Opposition parties especially the PPP has been denied permission to hold similar rallies. The only exception was going to be the Zardari arrival. The Establishment was dissuaded from allowing an arrival procession since that would have signaled Establishment’s support for Zardari thereby greatly undermining Establishment-supported Punjab Chief Minister’s hold over Punjab. Ultimately the Zardari procession was disallowed and hundreds of PPP workers were arrested, charged under the anti-terrorist Act. Weeks later most were released.

This has been general Musharraf’s political strategy thus far. What next ? He has only two options. One that the Establishment ‘engineers’ the political landscape again to ensure that the 2007 elections bring in a pro-Musharraf parliament, the electoral college for the Presidential election. Two, Musharraf decides that he wants to achieve the related objectives of guaranteeing his term as president till 2012 and also work out a time-table for the Establishment’s disengagement from politics.

Following option one would unmistakably take Musharraf on the beaten track followed by earlier military rulers s including Zia ul Haq and Ayub Khan. Option one will mean Musharraf would take Pakistan along the old ways of political manipulation. He would have abandoned the task of leading a transition from khaki democracy to genuine democracy, which he is well positioned to lead. And one that is essential to avert future military interventions.

However if Musharraf opts for the second option then it requires an agreement and reconciliation between the Musharraf and all the major political parties, the laying down of ground rules and road map for both disengagement and for the return of compete democracy in Pakistan. A key element for such an agreement must also be consensus on broad policy parameters to prevent major disruptions as the Establishment disengages.

To execute the second option Musharraf will have to remain above the political fray, opt for reconciliation with all the political players working out specific mutually acceptable arrangements with the PPP and PML-N leadership, provide a level playing field to all political players and while doing so keep his uniform on. Once elected as President in 2007, he can doff it within one year to become a civilian president. If he plays by the rules he establishes for fair and free elections, he will have emerged as a statesman that all parties will respect.

The Local Government elections due in August will be the first window on what path Musharraf opts for. Within the Muslim world he can see the results of the two options. General Hosni Mubarik in Egypt has opted to stay with khaki democracy, manipulate the political landscape and keep Egypt in perpetual political turmoil and a dangerous divisiveness. The Turkish general Kenan Evren meanwhile opted to genuinely ‘repair’ Turkish democracy and we see its results in a genuine democratic order in Turkey. Evren drew up a road map for the return of genuine democracy and then stayed the course. General Musharraf has yet to make his choice.