It’s only limited democracy; Pak army retains control

It’s only limited democracy; Pak army retains control
By H.K. Dua

President Pervez Musharraf has lifted the emergency but only after ensuring that he will be safe in the saddle as a Head of the State of Pakistan even without a uniform.

Whatever the tenor of positive reaction of the Indian government and of the US State Department to his Saturday night’s telecast, President Musharraf has cleared neither the air, nor the debris, left behind by grisly events that shook Pakistan’s politics and psyche during 42 days of his emergency raj.

The people of Pakistan listened to Mr Musharraf’s broadcast on Saturday evening with some hope, but at the end did not erupt into raptures that were natural to the Indian people who saw the end of the emergency raj way back in 1977.

What President Musharraf said was well thought-out and measured, avoidably patronising to the people who expected him to undo the wrong done to them and restore the pre-emergency dispensation, reinstate the judges he had sacked with a decree from the presidential palace and clear the way for the revival of whatever democracy Pakistan had before November.

Although President Musharraf has certainly hung up his uniform in his wardrobe as a souvenir and opted for an achkan, he missed the occasion to provide a healing touch to the wounds caused by the November 3 proclamation that served immediate personal interests and that of the Pakistan Army he led for years, but not those of Pakistan as a nation.

The major reason President Musharraf clamped the emergency was to throw out the Supreme Court judges who he was sure would have invalidated his election as President for five years by a captive electoral college. For this, he went to the extent of suspending the Constitution, came out with his own brand of a provisional constitution, imposed curbs on the press and resorted to large-scale arrests of the inconvenient and the critics across the nation.

President Musharraf in his address sounded as if he was gifting democracy to the people of Pakistan by promising free elections early next month. Over the years, most countries which have gone through similar traumas and now the people of Pakistan themselves know very well that freedom — particularly, when it comes as a gift and not as a right — is fragile and can be taken back and crushed into pieces.

The end of the emergency raj has not changed the essentials of the Pakistan situation, nor has it resolved some formidable problems it is faced with. The Army undoubtedly remains in command. Even without a uniform General Musharraf is a representative of the collegium of the corps commanders who are always distrustful of the political parties who want to wield power and sometime of a fellow general who may be planning to step out of the line.

No one knows at this stage who will emerge as the civilian Prime Minister of Pakistan after January 8 elections. But it is certain that the Army or President Musharraf will not let any Prime Minister control the nuclear policy or weapons, decide army postings and transfers, policy towards India, the United States, China and strategic areas like Afghanistan. These sectors are sacred to the doctrines that President Musharraf and other generals think belong to the Army’s domain and cannot be left unguarded for a civilian trespass.

President Musharraf has promised free elections that can be watched by foreign observers on invitation. How free these elections will be remains to be seen, particularly when he has made it clear that agitations will not be allowed.

Mobilisation of voters by political parties by processions and rallies can be read by President Musharraf and his regime as “agitations” when he sees that the politicians are gathering large crowds and posing a challenge.

Apparently, the emergency has been lifted under American pressure after ensuring that President Musharraf — who enjoys their support for the time being — is safe in power. He is not going to fritter away all he has gained through the emergency easily at the vagaries of the ballot box.

He would like the next month’s elections to throw up a Prime Minister who takes directions from the President’s office, inaugurates flower shows and school festivals, visits hospitals, but will have the freedom to claim that he or she is the elected Prime Minister of a democratic Pakistan.

What President Musharraf has dispensed through Saturday night’s broadcast is a small dose of democracy which has to function within the limits prescribed by him and other generals.

While the world leaders will send congratulations — warm or otherwise — the people of Pakistan know that the questions facing their country after 60 years of its existence remain unanswered and no one — a general or a political leader — appears to have a solution in sight. It is all a naked power game being played in Pakistan at its most cynical.