A Time for Decision

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The more endearing features of the Musharraf regime are its relative transparency and patience when compared to previous military and civilian regimes over the past 50 years and so. For a nation that is generally pessimistic about promises made, indeed cynical about the rhetoric that goes with it, someone actually keeping to the pledges made, is a novelty. Military regimes and a free press have never co-existed in history, the present Pakistani example of maintaining a honeymoon of sorts, is rather difficult to comprehend for most observers, friend and foe alike. As the clock winds down to October 2002, this liberalism on the part of the uniformed ones will be severely tested, particularly by the duel personalities who will have something to hide.

The President’s sincerity in unveiling a roadmap for a return to democracy has been tarnished somewhat by the conduct of the Local Bodies elections. The military regime’s detractors point to ham-handed manipulations as evidence of the military’s ill intentions, to stage-manage a controlled democracy rather than seemingly allow the unfettered type that had brought us close to apocalypse. If ever “the doctrine of necessity” needed to be applied, “ground zero” was Pakistan in October 1999. One can understand the military’s apprehensions about returning to the bad old ways, but one cannot correct the system by imitating the perpetrators of wrongdoing and misconduct.

What has the military achieved since taking over? To start with the regime’s civilian financial managers have managed financial discipline, Pakistan’s economy is looking far better than what it did two years ago. Not in shambles any more, but as the President said in his 14 August speech “we are not out of the woods”. As much as our financial managers are honest executives, innovation is alien to their personalities and thought processes, unless drastic changes are attempted, the economy will keep on struggling. While it is necessary to increase exports, prime focus should be on revitalizing the domestic economy. The booming parallel black economy that ensures not only the cost of imported items is at par with Dubai (if not less) but that the retail shelves are well é stocked and the so-called impoverished middle class somehow have seems to the buying power to go with it. Given that over 70% of the electronic items smuggled in are in transit to neighbouring countries, the balance 30% represents that there is enough money in the hands of the common man to afford such “luxuries”. We have to drastically rationalize our taxes, reducing the percentage of but broadening the tax base and the increasing the quantum, certainly not possible by persisting with the complicated structure we have in place today. We badly needed to stabilize the economy, give Shaukat Aziz kudos for that, beyond stability we needed imaginative measures that do not gel with the composition and the capabilities thereof of the present economic team. The name of the game is increased revenue collection, that is the essence of Pakistan’s financial problems. Concentrate on increasing revenues while lowering taxes and prices of utilities, and we are home!

Nothing was more surprising than the recently held indirect elections for Nazims and Naib Nazims. It is rather unbelievable that the present military hierarchy opted for the unwise decision of indirect elections as opposed to direct universal franchise and run-off elections for every elected post. They were somehow convinced by their civilian colleagues that indirect elections would be relatively “safer”. This has allowed detractors of the regime to call the elections “manipulated” and friends of the regime to reluctantly accept this as a hard fact. Certainly the invisible hand has, not seems to have succeeded everywhere, a number of politicians and their surrogates from “unlike-minded” parties like PPP, PML (N) and ANP have been swept into power in many districts, many (rather than some) in very unlikely but opportunistic alliances. The military regime will soon find that some of the supposedly “like-minded” sheep they have installed are really wolves in sheep’s clothing. Once elected by horse-trading our elected lot have shown a marked propensity to be repeatedly horse-traded with relative ease. Pakistan’s salvation in democracy depends upon a directly elected majority. Future elections at any level upto that of President should always be on a direct vote, with a run-off election subsequently if necessary. While the political demography may not change much, there will be a subtle change in the balance of political power that is at the moment hostage in a few grubby and vested hands having numbered accounts and real-estate holdings abroad.

This regime’s place in history lies in keeping on of carrying out accountability even-handedly. Notwithstanding our reservations in the selection of key personnel, Amjad did a fine job setting up the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in a very short time on war-footing and giving it a very good momentum. His successor, the more deliberate Khalid Maqbool, has quietly but progressively expanded the base of the accountability process. Nowhere in the world has there been a more intensive house-cleaning, particularly of “the untouchables”, all this while keeping to legalities and avoiding the “extreme solutions” of the French, Russian, Chinese and many other revolutions, or for that matter the more recent Iranian one in 1979 which saw many innocents suffering the extreme penalty alongwith the really guilty. NAB has been too humane in letting the guilty plea-bargain for their freedom in returning the loot, they will only remain credible and thus effective if kept out of political clutches a la Saifur Rahman who only went after “enemies”, leaving corrupt “friends” in place. The Federal Ombudsman may be relatively independent but the capacity of bureaucracy to “influence” still persists. NAB can only be made truly independent if kept autonomous and directly reporting to a President who himself should be independent of any political affiliation.

Time and again we have seen politicians trying to make over the Armed Forces hierarchy in their own political image, both Ms. Benazir and Mian Nawaz Sharif tried desperately in their respective tenures to politicize the military. Even in matters of regional policy, their initiatives were mainly self-motivated rather than upholding the country’s vital interests. Corruption becoming endemic was institutionalized by late Gen. Ziaul Haq as a means to stay in power. The President must be a (1) non-political person (2) beholden after God to nobody but the people of Pakistan, (3) have control over the Armed Forces and those Federal forces looking after internal security, (4) have an effective say in regional policy, (5) have NAB and Ombudsman reporting to him and (6) presides over a National Security Council (NSC) which will have power to sack an elected government provided there are cogent reasons for doing so. The Governors of the Provinces should be appointed by him in consultation with the PM and will be someone who will also be non-political and reporting to him directly in matters of accountability and internal security. All other matters must be the prerogative of a Prime Minister duly elected by Parliament. Freed from a number of responsibilities, the elected Chief Executive of government can then concentrate on his prime responsibility, the welfare of the citizens of Pakistan.

Continuity demands that Pervaiz Musharaf see out his full five year term as President starting from the day he leaves the office of Chairman Joint Chief of Staffs Committee and COAS. As President he still remains the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. Unlike Ziaul Haq who manipulated his subordinates appointments to remain in power, Musharraf is a self-confident product of his colleagues’ aspirations for a better Pakistan. Does he need to hang onto various jobs out of a prime motivation of his own security? If am not mistaken about the man’s character he will not allow his colleagues and so-called friends to influence him to manipulate things very much as the late Ziaul Haq did, instead he will boldly follow the full transparent route in processing the sanctity of appointments and tenures thereof in the Armed Forces. And in the appointment thereof he will chose professionalism over friendship, particularly when there is doubt with some reason about character and integrity. The country’s interests must supercede the regimental tie.

Pervaiz Musharaf and the country are both at a symbolic crossroads of sorts, the nation’s supreme interest demand some sacrifices on his part. Nevertheless his remaining at the helm of affairs will ensure the reforms enacted will stay in place. Speculation and uncertainty are being well exploited by the regime’s detractors. For the President, a man who has every reason to be confident about his own destiny, there is no choice, he has to choose the country over both friendship and self-interest. While he must continue as President, he must appoint people with merit to the posts he vacates. Country over self is what patriotism is all about.

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan). He was Chairman APSAA for the year 2000, now acting in adhoc capacity pending elections for the year 2001.

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