Better Musharraf leaves on his own than told to do so

Better Musharraf leaves on his own than told to do so
By H. K. Dua

EVERY dictator has his day. President Pervez Musharraf has been too long in the saddle doing things which no ruler in uniform or without should do to his people.

Long suppressed and living under the jackboots for years, the people of Pakistan have now asserted and chosen to ensure his defeat in Monday’s poll that might prove to be a turning point in the country’s chequered experiments with democracy and military rule.

Not even George W. Bush who has been propping up Musharraf to govern Pakistan for Washington can save him from the ire of the people. Nor, can the Pakistan Army. The armed forces are unlikely to go back to the barracks despite the outcome of Monday’s poll; however, to expect them to come to the aid of the Army Chief-turned-President is unthinkable.

No one supports a loser in the harsh world of politics – certainly not a ruler who has crushed democratic rights, violated the Constitution, sacked an inconvenient Supreme Court, sent agitating lawyers and civil rights fighters to jail and gagged the media.

As all dictators do, he did it all in the name of saving the nation from chaos. Patriotism is ultimately the last resort of those who want to govern without the consent of the people! If his future is now in doubt, Musharraf himself is to blame. Perhaps he knew the outcome of the poll when he said on the eve of elections that he would be prepared to work with any Prime Minister the election may throw up and also that he would like to be a “father figure”. He did not know perhaps that a father figure emerges out of love of the people, not their pent-up hatred.

With the PML-Q, the King’s Party as it was called, having bitten the dust, Musharraf is at the mercy of Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari. Nawaz Sharif spent years in exile, so did Benazir before she returned to her country to meet her death within yards of the Army General Headquarters.

Musharraf is now talking of national reconciliation. Nawaz Sharif, on the other hand, says he will seek Musharraf’s impeachment for scrapping the Constitution, sacking the Supreme Court and resorting to other illegalities.

Impeachment, however, is not easy as it needs the vote of two-thirds of the members of the National Assembly. Nawaz Sharif, if he is serious, will need the PPP’s support for it.

The most honourable course for Musharraf is to step aside on his own and let the National Assembly elect a new President who could reflect the national mood. Not doing so will lead to confrontation between an elected government and the President and Pakistan cannot afford it.

Obliging Supreme Court judges President Musharraf appointed to protect his presidency may also have to vacate the Bench. They are unlikely to save their robes tailored by President Musharraf.

For the people of Pakistan, Monday’s poll was a sort of date with history where a long-suppressed desire for democracy has found an expression. Pakistan’s endemic problems have not ended with the election, however.

The PPP and the PML-N had never been able to work together in the past. It will require statesmanship and a spirit of ungrudging accommodation on their part to ensure that the Pakistan Army does not exploit divisions in the coalition government the new National Assembly may throw up.

Pervez Musharraf may have lost the right to live in the President’s House, but the hold of the Army has not loosened, however.

General Kiyani recently told his officers not to meddle in political affairs. But to think that the generals who have tasted the uses of wielding political power have given up ambition is asking for too much. They will strike when the politicians begin fighting among themselves again.

Asif Ali Zardari, who has a serious image problem, and Nawaz Sharif have to find ways that the restoration of democracy that has taken place does not again get derailed as it had happened in the past.

They must remember that despite Musharraf becoming an odd man out in Pakistan, the Army will be watching from the sidelines for another fling with political power.

Immediately, it is unthinkable that the Army will let the new Prime Minister have a major say in policies towards India, the United States, China and Afghanistan and on the nuclear question.

A division of responsibility and power inherently creates scope for conflict. And the people of Pakistan, who are emerging from the shadows of long years of an authoritarian regime, have to ensure that the politicians give up the ways of corruption and exercise power for the welfare of the people and not for personal aggrandisement.

Democracy has come to Pakistan after a long time. It must not be frittered away because of the fragility of the institutions or fickleness of the politicians. It must be handled with care.