Dissolution of Credibility?

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Fresh from one of the greatest peacetime successes of Pakistan’s international history and basking still in Agra’s media glow, the military regime’s exercise in devolution of power is a possible future disaster in the making. While the devolution plan by itself has very big holes in it, the electoral process at the Local Bodies level has shown that “horse trading” is alive and well in Pakistan. There is always a temptation to manipulate favourable results in any competition but “match fixing” has its limits, that manipulation took place not only under the noses of the military regime but had their fingerprints all over the place, undercuts the credibility of a generally very clean military government. To put it bluntly, anytime there is an indirect election for any post, it is not the peoples’ will but the ability of the manipulators that will always emerge triumphant. For any elected post there must always be direct elections. On the other hand, devolution down to districts is more than acceptable in the urban areas, in the rural areas Local Government rule by a Nazim below that of a Division is asking for trouble. At the District level enhanced powers for the Nazims is a plus point for the citizens in cities and towns, in the rural District areas the same powers giving to the tribal Sardars absolute legal authority over the resident citizens makes them no better than bonded slaves at his will and whim.

One cannot condemn the whole electoral process leading to self-governance at the base level out of hand. One must be fair in observing that any self-rule is better than bureaucratic control. As such on a pro-rata basis, the “Naqvi model” of basic democracy that will come into effect on August 14, 2001 will certainly be better than what we have been suffering for the last 54 years under a very prejudiced and biased bureaucratic control. Whether democratic or military rule, the people of Pakistan have lived with only a semblance of freedom, bureaucracy remaining in actual power while giving lip-service to whoever were the rulers supposedly exercising power.

To add to all this confusion are the proposed police reforms. Excellent in theory, can it be successfully applied to the present police force? One has to be practical, not discounting the honesty of very few policemen, and they are a minority in the face of universal corruption in the police force, there is no way that the reforms can be implemented positively to the present complement. Endemic corruption coupled with absolute authority in their fiefdoms (Thanas) has become almost a way of life for a comfortable majority. The only way out of this quicksand is to form the nucleus of a new police force, inducting university graduates as police officers, making police service attractive by excellent salaries and perquisites, the terms and conditions commensurate with corporate executive salaries in the private sector. To compound this, the National Reconstruction Bureau (NRB) is proposing to abolish the executive magistracy and give it to the police services, in effect making them Judge, Jury and Executioner, one short step from making the country a Police State in all but name. Can you imagine what a police force that presently gives two hoots for any judge or magistrate will do to the common citizen once it gets magisterial powers? Courts with all their deficiencies represent some succour from the excesses of the police, the citizen will be going from the frying pan into the fire if he taps the police for any justice.

There is great expectation that the President will announce a roadmap for democracy on 14 August, a few days hence. This will include Provincial and National Assembly as well as Senate elections. Over the next year ie uptil October 2002, the process of democratization would be complete. In the meantime it is expected that the Constitution will have certain amendments made, enough to provide a balance of power between the President, the Prime Minister and the Defence Services as well as providing legal cover for the reforms enacted by the present regime. As yet unclear but very much on the cards is a Constitutional role for the Armed Forces so that repeated interventions in the civilian process are minimized by a structural mechanism that legalizes “advice” given by the men in uniform, maybe even a variation of the so-called “Turkish model”. Indications are that a strong National Security Council (NSC) will come into being. One believes that the easiest way to maintain a permanent balance of power is to give to the President the portfolios of Defence, Security and Accountability ie control over the Armed Forces, the ISI (with regional foreign affairs) and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in his domain. While purists may decry against unformed interference in the control of external affairs by politicians, whatever happens on Pakistan’s borders directly effects Pakistan’s security. The governance of the country would then be the prerogative of a directly elected Prime Minister, with no interference from the President and/or the Armed Forces except whenever the portfolios overlap when a mechanism must be incorporated for the fiat of the President to prevail. Accountability is at the core of this regime’s credibility, except for some very glaring cases where certainly hidden influences seems to have “protected” outright criminals and scoundrels, the accountability process has been clean and even-handed. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has responded well on a war-footing under very trying circumstances picking up quite some expertise in uncovering white-collar crime. Controlling corruption, if not eradicating it completely, is a must exercise and to its credit NAB. Rampant corruption at the national leadership level has eroded Pakistan’s sovereignty. In that sense the military regime, with maybe one or two very dishonourable exceptions, has generally maintained its extremely clean reputation. Nobody can hide corruption for long, displayed piety are seldom enough camouflage to disguise corruption and/or at least a dual, if not triple personality. It is for the military itself to carry out self-accountability at the higher levels so as to keep its credibility intact in line with its excellent market reputation.

Every military regime in history has one Achilles Heel, the public perception of the intent and sincerity of its leaders as well as their honesty and integrity. Most of the leaders of this regime have successfully faced the acid test of character when in absolute power, how not to misuse absolute authority and how to behave when one has ample opportunity to behave otherwise. Again except for the odd “Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde” personality, the military regime’s leaders have got rave reviews about their humility and correct behaviour, down the line subordinates usually imitate the actions for their superior. Obviously this has been a humane and considerate martial law. The collective responsibility of its leaders notwithstanding, the buck stops at the desk of the head honcho, in this case that of the Chief of Army staff (and now President) Pervez Mosharraf. Like every human being he is susceptible to the whispered falsehood in his ears but he seems to have developed a fairly good mechanism within himself to ultimately discern truth from falsehood. Exercising tremendous control in public, he almost never berates or humiliates anyone, those not meeting his approval get at most stony silence, not even a glare. For an absolute ruler this display of supreme confidence, that of keeping one’s cool, is a tremendous asset. That calm exterior gives not only him but his entire military regime strength and the regime’s credibility in public perception. That is why the undercutting of this credibility in the matter of devolution of power is such a tragedy. The expectations of the public rested in the military regime carrying out an honest and transparent transfer of powers at all levels, if at the base levels manipulations rules the day, what can one expect but rubber stamps at higher levels when democracy comes into full force? In the end it is the credibility of the military regime that will determine not only the future prosperity but the continued existence of the country as one having viable governance. This dissolution of credibility is something this military regime must guard against.

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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