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Current Affairs ( 22 Aug 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Pakistan after Musharraf: No direct role for army

By Ajay Darshan Behera


General Pervez Musharraf’s resignation from the presidency last Monday was unprecedented, as it was the first time in the history of Pakistan that a military dictator has willingly given up power. Even though the writing was on the wall for some time now, it was difficult to believe that he would actually give up so tamely.


The problem for most Pakistani military rulers has been how to bow out of power at a given point in time, realising that the task for which they had assumed power has been accomplished. Ironically, military rulers start believing that they are indispensable to the destiny of the country and start looking for ways in which to continue in power. They civilianise their military regimes, entrench themselves in the power structure and refuse to leave. Pakistan had no history of a successful popular movement to dislodge a military dictator.


So far, the three previous military rulers that the country had did not give up power but left in unusual circumstances. General Ayub Khan, the first military dictator, was forced to do so in a crisis situation by his successor, General Yahya Khan. Yahya left in ignominy after the separation of East Pakistan when he was pushed out by the senior officers of the army. General Zia-ul Haq’s exit was ensured by a mysterious plane crash in which he died.


Musharraf managed to prolong his stay in power, but increasingly became weak under pressure to restore democracy in the country. Political developments in Pakistan during the past year did not unfold according to the script he had in mind. Like his predecessors, he would not have liked to give up power. But at the same time under tremendous pressures to quit, he did not have a clear exit strategy. He would have probably survived if he had still been the army chief. He became vulnerable the moment he had to give up the post.


In hindsight, one can say that he either did not understand the changing power dynamics or had a flawed exit strategy. He could have still departed gracefully when his constitutional term expired in November 2007. He would have retrieved some respect and been hailed as the first army chief who willingly gave up power in the interest of democracy.


Instead he imposed a state of emergency, got himself elected as the President by the outgoing electoral college even while still being in uniform. His ability to continue as the President,  even though it was illegal, came from the fact that he was the army chief. It became apparent the moment he appointed his successor, General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, that his days were numbered.


Even though General Kayani was perceived as a close ally of Musharraf when he was appointed last November, he did what is expected of the army chief and that was to protect the interests of the army first. Musharraf had increasingly become a liability for the army. The military was forced to recognise the popular mood by the series of events starting  from the sacking of the Chief Justice and the resultant demand by the legal community for the restoration of the country’s judges to the public’s demand for free and fair elections and the creation of a democratic government.   Musharraf’s attempts to cling  to power in such circumstances did not reflect well on the image of the army. Therefore, General Kayani left Musharraf to his fate but was, however, interested in a dignified exit for him.


Musharraf’s final departure is a defining moment in Pakistan’s history. It may reshape the contours of civil-military relations in the future. While it is clear that the army chief will continue to play an important role in governing the country,  what emerges is that the army may be less interested in assuming the reins of power directly. Pakistan is increasingly becoming a difficult country to govern and it is unlikely that the army will step in to set things right. They will let the politicians learn to govern. But there is very little that the civilian leadership can do without the backing of the army. The army will continue to rule without muddying its hands and probably not have to be worried about an exit strategy.


Unless another maverick army chief takes over power in Pakistan and professes that it is in Pakistan’s interest, the lesson that the army will draw from Musharraf’s stint as a ruler is that governing Pakistan is increasingly difficult and the army neither has solutions to Pakistan’s problems nor an exit strategy. As long as the interests of the army are protected, it will find it more convenient to rule Pakistan  from behind the scenes.


(The writer is an Associate Professor at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.)