New Age Islam
Mon Mar 20 2023, 07:01 PM

Islam and Politics ( 12 Aug 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Comment | Comment

A Pakistan without Musharraf would be a good change, even though temporarily

Setting a president: Impeaching Musharraf today would help Pakistan. But will it happen?


By Ayesha Siddiqa


Posted online: Monday, August 11, 2008


 When, last Thursday, Pakistan’s ruling coalition finally agreed to impeach the president, it suddenly became much more possible that the fourth army general who clung to power in the country might probably have to leave, despite his stated intention to fight back. The pertinent questions today are: will the coalition manage to fulfil its promise to the electorate, and how will the general leave — gracefully or after some embarrassment?


Like Musharraf’s predecessors, it is almost unbelievable that the former army chief will leave without resistance. General Ayub did not leave until he was forced to do so by his successor, General Yahya Khan, who in turn left under pressure from the senior officers of the army. Similarly, General Zia-ul-Haq wouldn’t leave until he died in a plane crash, which many still believe involved some members of the armed forces. Musharraf is most likely to leave if the present army chief puts his weight behind the ruling coalition.


The present move of the government might have appeared unlikely a month ago. There were a lot of sceptics who argued that the Pakistan People’s Party leadership did not intend to sack the president due to pressure from the United States or some hidden agreement related to the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) which was instrumental in Benazir Bhutto’s return to Pakistan. However, holding on to Musharraf caused a downturn in the PPP’s popularity: it seem to have plummeted within months after the February elections. More recently, the regime was embarrassed after it was forced to withdraw its risky decision to harness the ISI. It is likely that the ISI-related faux pas made the PPP leadership realise that it had to deal with the issue of removing the president as early as possible, so as to remove one of the obstacles to gaining the sort of power needed to control the intelligence agency and the military at large. Not to mention the pressure from its coalition partner, the PML-N, which insisted on restoring the judiciary and removing Musharraf.


The coalition plans to ask Musharraf to take a fresh oath of confidence from the parliament and address a joint session of both its houses, as his representative, the attorney-general of Pakistan, had committed to the Supreme Court. Currently, the former general-turned-president has two options: he could either sack the government by invoking article 58 (2) (b) of the constitution, or, alternatively, take a fresh oath. The first option is as risky as the second one. While the decision to sack the government will not be popular or receive the army’s support, the second could possibly go against him. The plan is that if he still refuses to leave, even after not getting a vote of confidence, impeachment proceedings will be initiated against him.


The only catch-22 with the second option, as far as the ruling coalition is concerned, is that the entire proceedings will buy some time for Musharraf to use those segments of the intelligence agencies that are beholden to him to try to divide the coalition and thwart their efforts to oust him forcibly. The coalition claims to have about 305 out of 450 seats in the parliament to make impeachment possible. They currently need approximately 295 seats to make this happen. Nevertheless, in case of any division within the coalition — which is always a possibility given the political differences between the PPP and the PML-N — they would have to struggle harder to make the union stick and be able to force the president out.


The agencies are already at work spreading all kinds of rumours about political leaders, especially Asif Zardari, and are trying to create the impression that Musharraf’s removal would cause the economy to nose-dive. Although the new regime has not exhibited any evidence of a vision for the economy, the polity or society, the fact is that Musharraf’s removal is not likely to make the country any worse than what it is today. The fundamental changes in certain aspects of foreign policy, especially vis-à-vis India, have already occurred over the past six months or more. Similarly, difference in opinion regarding how the Global War on Terror (GWAT) would be fought has also occurred. The Pakistani president today is one of the many players who cannot have a positive impact on policy mainly because of his emphasis on saving his own skin, through manipulating the state’s resources and politics rather than focusing on some policy initiatives.


Thus, the GWAT will continue to be fraught with the same problems as we see today. Again, relations with India will neither improve tremendously nor deteriorate substantially unless the cold war in Afghanistan blows out of proportion.


Domestically, the economy, especially the stock market, might stumble a bit but would eventually recover. A lot will depend on the consistency of American aid to Pakistan and whether it continues to be provided or not. This, in turn, will largely depend on how efficiently the political regime meets American demands regarding the GWAT. Reforming the ISI could possibly be one of the sticky points of that bilateral relationship.


Politically, there are four conceivable scenarios. First, the ruling coalition uses the opportunity to empower civilian institutions and correct the civil-military relations imbalance with the help of its external partners. Second, tensions begin to appear in the ruling coalition after a while but the government continues for five years. Third, there is political unrest resulting in the break-up of the coalition which would result in fresh elections. Fourth, the instability continues for some years until the army is ready to come back to power again.


Ultimately, the future depends on whether the political leadership recognises the importance of breaking the hold of a global patronage system and in putting an end to a similar system prevalent at home. The possibility of this happening might be dismal considering the fact that the global patronage system seems to have expanded further in the South Asian region. Nevertheless, a Pakistan without Musharraf would be a good change, even though temporarily.


The writer is an Islamabad-based independent security analyst .


Source: Indian Express, New Delhi