Thursday, October 21, 2004

Pakistan : So, what has changed?


In seeking to stay in uniform, General Musharraf is not very different from Generals Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan and Ziaul Haq, who ruled Pakistan before him while wearing uniform. Like them, he enjoys absolute power and will probably continue to do so until one of the three things that led to the end of the rule of these earlier general-presidents happens: A popular uprising leading to chaos and erosion of the military's support marked the end for Ayub Khan. A disastrous war and military defeat made it impossible for Yahya Khan to stay in power. General Ziaul Haq died in office. None of them succeeded in building a political system that could outlast them. But while they were in power, each of them was praised for bringing a measure of stability to Pakistan.




So, what has changed?
Husain Haqqani

General Pervez Musharraf's decision to stay in uniform confirms that he considers the army, and not popular support manifested in an election, the source of his political power. Having made the decision, it would be useful for him to remember the advice of another four-star Pakistani general. Khalid Mahmud Arif, confidant of General Ziaul Haq and Vice Chief of Army Staff, served in the army for 38 years, including several important assignments in military governments. In his book, 'Khaki Shadows', General Arif declared, "Politics and soldiering are full time professions each requiring undivided attention. The military interventions in Pakistan bore heavy price tags for the country and the army itself. This cost is best avoided in the greater interests of both".

In seeking to stay in uniform, General Musharraf is not very different from Generals Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan and Ziaul Haq, who ruled Pakistan before him while wearing uniform. Like them, he enjoys absolute power and will probably continue to do so until one of the three things that led to the end of the rule of these earlier general-presidents happens: A popular uprising leading to chaos and erosion of the military's support marked the end for Ayub Khan. A disastrous war and military defeat made it impossible for Yahya Khan to stay in power. General Ziaul Haq died in office. None of them succeeded in building a political system that could outlast them. But while they were in power, each of them was praised for bringing a measure of stability to Pakistan.

The transient nature of the stability provided by military rule in Pakistan can best be understood by revisiting some of the positive assessments of previous military rulers made while their control seemed unassailable. A secret CIA analysis of the situation in Pakistan in March 1983, almost six years after General Ziaul Haq's 1977 military coup, which has since been declassified, begins with the words: "President Ziaul Haq faces no substantial challenge to his rule for now. [He] has proved a shrewd political survivor and could buy more time for his regime if the economy continues to grow, the opposition remains divided, and the political initiative remains in his hands."

The CIA analysis goes on to say: "Zia's authoritarian regime has avoided overly repressive policies, though it has dealt firmly with organized demonstrations. It has given the country nearly six years of domestic stability and substantial economic progress. Zia has also been able to deal effectively with external threats. He has stood up to the Soviets on Afghanistan, while keeping channels open to a negotiated settlement; he has improved relations with India; and he has succeeded in gaining major economic aid and arms assistance from the United States. The President ultimately depends on the Army to remain in power. Zia rules through a closed highly centralised circle of military and civilian advisers. The Pakistan Peoples Party, the party of late Prime Minister Bhutto, and the strongest group in the MRD, remains the most popular party in Pakistan but it lacks strong organisation and is factionalised. It depends on a dispersed constituency of the rural and urban poor that is best mobilised at the polls."

Replace Zia with Musharraf, substitute Soviets with terrorists and read ARD in place of MRD and the same analysis can probably pass off as a recent account. One is forced to ask, what has changed in Pakistan in the 23 years since this intelligence estimate was written, and can a nation going through the same motions once again be considered a nation making progress? Regime survival and the appearance of stability is not the same thing as national consolidation. Professional economic management, aided by external inputs, under General Ziaul Haq resulted in an annual economic growth rate of 6 percent. Shahid Javed Burki, then a World Bank economist and later Finance Minister in one of Pakistan's military-sponsored caretaker governments, suggested in 1985 that Pakistan's per capita income could rise to a point where the country could "join the ranks of middle income nations."

Of course, General Ziaul Haq's successful management of Pakistan ended with his death in August 1988 and he was followed by the period of the military's power sharing with politicians. Those who like to blame civilians alone for the country's disasters ignore the fact that from 1988 to 1997, the country was ruled by a troika comprising the elected Prime Minister, the army chief and the President. The election of the Prime Minister was also never free from military intervention as the army operated in the shadows to influence election results. One need only mention the creation of the IJI by the ISI in 1988 and the diversion of Mehran Bank funds for the election of 1990 - a matter pending before the Supreme Court without action - to make the point. The gains of the Zia era proved to be a mirage and were lost during the post-Zia phase of indirect military rule.

While General Ziaul Haq seemed secure in the saddle and Pakistan appeared to be stable in 1983, neighboring India faced several insurgencies and suffered from relatively lackluster economic performances. The Indian Prime Minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, was assassinated in 1984 by her own bodyguards, leading to large scale communal rioting. The United States, which expressed admiration for General Ziaul Haq, had little sympathy for Mrs. Gandhi. When her son, Rajiv, took over as Prime Minister, doubts were expressed about his ability to provide strong leadership.

In less than a decade, Rajiv was first turned out of office in a general election and then assassinated himself. But India's political system survived the two assassinations as well as several changes in leadership. Although Pakistan had been allied to the winning side during the cold war, it lost all the advantage Ziaul Haq and his predecessors had sought once the cold war was over. The economic growth made possible by the strategic rent collected by Pakistan from the US for Pakistan's role against the Soviet Union simply evaporated. The 'stability' of the Ziaul Haq era, its 'strategic gains', the 'stature' of Pakistan's ruler on the world stage and all the other 'positive developments' of the era just did not last. India moved forward because of a sustained political system, which absorbed external and internal shocks while Pakistan's 'domestic stability' and 'substantial economic progress' under military rule proved superficial and insufficiently self-generating.

Since 1999, the army is directly running the country again. Just as General Ziaul Haq found an anchor for his dispensation in the anti-Soviet Jihad in Afghanistan two years after he took over, General Musharraf also secured American patronage two years after his military coup d'etat, following the events of September 11, 2001. But the much praised stability and economic growth will prove transient again unless General Musharraf takes a different course. Pakistan's weak politicians may not be able to effectively challenge a uniformed general-president but they can make his legitimacy doubtful. And the absence of legitimacy, coupled with the absence of functioning institutions of state other than the military, are the reasons why Pakistan's sporadic periods of success under military rule have failed to become the launching pad for sustained political and economic development.

Apologists for military rule in Pakistan have argued that the generals offer the better alternative for Pakistan, given the 'poor' crop of politicians available in the country. But if Pakistan's problem is that it does not have good politicians, then those claiming to be better than current politicians must enter politics and fill the vacuum. If General Musharraf is better and smarter than the 'bad' politicians he criticizes, he should depoliticize the military, take off his uniform, and form a political party. That way Pakistan will continue to be under constitutional democratic rule and the country will gain a potentially "good politician." General Musharraf must then convince the people of his 'vision' and win a genuinely free and fair election against his critics on a level field. If he wins, he can run the country as an elected leader - as retired General Obasanjo did in Nigeria (after many failed military governments) or General Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has done recently in Indonesia.

There is a difference between replacing "bad politicians" with military rule and attempting to take the place of "bad politicians" by competing openly with them.

Hi Pakistan 20/10/2004