Soldiering and Politicking

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The October 2002 elections should see the Army, if not it’s Commander, back in the barracks, hardly surprising the rumour machines are working overtime and the “the natives (read “politicians”) are getting restless”. Having spent 30 months out in the cold, they have watched fitfully as the contorted manner of politics in Pakistan they were happy with has sought to be changed by the military regime in an attempt to convert democracy from the farce it was into a realistic exercise. To an extent the Local Bodies elections accomplishes that purpose but indirect elections for Nazims and Naib Nazims made that effort meaningless. Any post in the world, first world or the third, where the vote can be manipulated, does not truly represent the electorate it serves. Citing cost, the country’s present rulers have reverted to the practice of attempting “selections” instead of allowing those representative of elections. With all the apathy among the voters, the fact that even this military regime with all sincerity in their intentions, have not been able to bring about pragmatic and meaningful change, will further dissipate voter interest in the electoral process. Every elected post must be subject to universal adult franchise, or we will reap the consequences of another military coup post-Musharraf, and it will not so far be away in the future. We have been lucky with Pervez Musharraf, there could be a Sani Abacha down the line.

During the past year the President’s modus operandi has been routine. Before officially announcing a decision already made by him earlier but not announced, he first summons “the college of cardinals” ie. the Corps Commanders to plug any loopholes and then goes into a round of very public consultations with groups comprising political parties, intellectuals and academics, media personalities, etc, ostensibly to seek their advice and counsel, actually to lobby for and drum up support. To his credit he has modulated his decisions from time to time to reflect informed criticism, he has used the process quite successfully and effectively to build consensus, particularly since the period leading upto the Agra Summit in July. This time around since the consultative series initiated by the President is politician-heavy, he is finding the going difficult. The problem arises not only because of a whole set of detractors but also those who wish him well. They have built up a crescendo, both for and against a referendum on the President’s continuity post-elections. Aside from the fact that he will get bogged down in a legal minefield in attempting the referendum, the politicians who count have suddenly discovered a rallying point that gives them hope of revival of their dissipating fortunes. And the politicians who do not count are counting on the referendum to display to the President they are “more loyal than the king”, they will wait to gouge out their pound of flesh later. For the first time since Oct 12, 202, Pervez Musharraf is on ground which is not of his choosing and one hopes that the political morass does not engulf him.

Of concern is the fact that some politicians who should know better are using the opportunity to orchestrate hatred for the Armed Forces. Despite the fact that the Indian Armed Forces are parked on the country’s borders with intent of grievous harm, both Ms Benazir Bhutto and Altaf Hussain are surprisingly deaf and dumb on the issue. On the other hand they have kept up a litany of complaints and criticism of our khaki-clad brethren who in fact need our unstinting support and prayers in protecting the country’s sovereignty and integrity.

The situation makes it incumbent for the President to be rather circumspect about the decision-making process, this time around he must use the “consultative” process for real-time consultancy, not for cheer-leading. As the clock winds down to October 2002, he will find that those climbing onto the political bandwagon have vested interested, being those who are limited to their own constituencies rather than the bearing on the national stage they aspire for or those who cannot even win their own seats without help from the Establishment. Far from the President having any use for them except as political window-dressing, they are the ones who need the President for manipulating the process in their favour. Supporting the referendum idea is not out of any great love for Pervez Musharraf but a grand design to get themselves “selected”, which by all accounts, is the likely scheme of things as the political scenario is unfolding.

Col Otto Skorzeny, Germany’s Commando Extraordinary, whose exploits the President must have studied as a young SSG officer, said that “politics is the soldier’s curse”, ie. every soldier wrongly assumes he can out-manipulate the politicians. As the only politician-in-uniform at that higher level to grace Pakistan, late Gen Ziaul Haq found this Skorzeny adage to his detriment when he had to sack Mohammad Khan Junejo, hand-picked by him as PM. The most docile of politicians, Junejo discovered his teeth once he assumed the trappings of power.

The correct course to follow is to have the Election Commission do its duty to the country and cleanse the political muck by comparing the candidates’ 1997 declaration of assets with their 1997 Wealth Tax Statements, major discrepancies would mean perjury under oath, invoking disqualification. As Saifur Rahman has proved once and for all, the accountability process in the hands of politicians (particularly one who was not only a novice but rather sick) can be counter-productive and politically slanted enough to lack credibility. As the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, the President must have a National Security Council (NSC) and keep the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in his own hands. To maintain continuity post-Oct 2002 he can go to the Supreme Court (SC) to seek legality from the date he assumed office. Given that legal cover, the President must have the elections on a “run-off” basis ie. anybody not getting more than 50% in the final round must face the one coming second in the second and final round. That is the only way to inculcate unity, by forcing homogeneity. Having concluded the elections, the President must leave politicking and governance to the politicians and not stain his credibility by getting bogged down in the political morass being prepared for him by friend and foe among politicians alike.

The salvation of Pakistan lies in the President keeping above the political process and leaving day-to-day governance to the politicians without any interference. At the end of the day Pervez Musharraf is a soldier out and out, a soldier can never be a politician and Pervez Musharraf should not try to become what he can never be. Since Pakistan cannot afford slipping back into the black hole we were, his continuity as President is necessary. The hard fact remains that it is the process since Oct 99 that has seen Pakistan emerge again as a viable nation from the dark days of the last century when we thought we had lost all hope.

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

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