In his latest guest column for BBC News Online, Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid ponders the future of democracy in President Musharraf's Pakistan.
Just when most Pakistanis thought President Pervez Musharraf would be
moving towards strengthening the elected civilian government and
empowering parliament and Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali, he appears
to be moving decisively in the opposite direction.
Musharraf (l) has been sitting in on Jamali's cabinet meetings
In a series of moves in recent weeks the army has strengthened its grip
on the nascent democratic system, creating a new political crisis at a
time when the country is still facing the threat of terrorism,
sectarianism and Islamic extremism.
A reluctant Mr Jamali was forced to introduce a bill in parliament to set
up a 13 man National Security Council, which will ensure the military
retains control of all strategic policy making in the country.
The bill was bulldozed through the National Assembly
law on 14 April.
With an opposition boycott and no debate, the bill took
just three and a half minutes to pass through the senate.
General Musharraf has also thrown into doubt his promise last December to take
off his uniform as army chief of staff and become a civilian president
by 31 December, 2004.
After several cabinet ministers close to the army
requested him not to step down from the military, General Musharraf threw the whole
country into doubt when he told the BBC's Hard Talk programme that he was still
undecided as to whether he would relinquish control of the army.
In a separate development, Javed Hashmi, a leading opposition politician was sentenced by an
Islamabad district court on 12 April to 23 years in jail for
allegedly trying to incite mutiny in the army.
punishment was a clear signal that the army will not tolerate any
criticism from any quarter.
Opposition leader Javed Hashmi - languishing in jail
Meanwhile President Musharraf is sitting in on cabinet meetings alongside Mr Jamali
and is chairing other meetings such as those over police reforms, a
review of school textbooks and the allocation of resources between the
central government and Pakistan's four provinces.
All of these policy areas are normally the prerogative of
The frustration of many politicians, even those belonging to Mr Jamali's
Pakistan Muslim League, is matched by the growing frustration of Pakistan's
General Musharraf has refused to remove some 600 retired
and serving military officers, who occupy top slots in ministries, state run
corporations, the utility services, universities and the media.
It had been widely presumed that like his predecessor - the former military
dictator General Zia ul-Haq - once an elected government was in power,
military officers would be replaced by the bureaucracy.
Meanwhile some senior Pakistani diplomats say the foreign ministry has
a negligible role in deciding major foreign policy issues.
ministry was not involved in the recent thawing of relations with
India, which was handled by President Musharraf and his close aides.
Even if General Musharraf does relinquish his military position at the end of the year and
appoints a new army chief, he is rapidly institutionalising a dominant
and permanent role for the army in the country's political structure.
Analysts are divided as to what is happening.
Do President Musharraf's moves reflect the fact
that he is just plain reluctant to give up the supreme power he has
held since the military coup in 1999?
Or does he see threats ahead from
within the army and the political opposition?
Or has the army
concluded that its long held belief
that civilians cannot be trusted to run the government is vindicated by current events?
A senior army officer says General Musharraf's recent pro-active role has been
a result of the failings of the Jamali cabinet and parliament to take
its responsibilities seriously.
that the critical issues the country
faces are not being addressed because the parties are bickering in
However Mr Jamali was the army's choice for prime minister.
The rules for the
elections when he came to power were widely perceived by many international
observers as being arranged to keep out the large national
opposition parties, such as Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party and
the Pakistan Muslim League faction led by Nawaz Sharif.
The US war in Iraq has taken attention away from al-Qaeda, Musharraf says
So far, Mr Jamali has been a compliant prime minister doing the
president's bidding, much to the chagrin of many of his MPs who want an
assertion of parliamentary power.
There have been some mutterings of discontent in the army because of
General Musharraf's perceived pro-American line in supporting the US war on
terror and the recent military operation in the tribal areas of
Waziristan, where there were dozens of army casualties.
However the army is highly disciplined and motivated. It has also
benefited hugely from the perks and privileges it has acquired in the
civilian sector during General Musharraf's tenure.
Moreover in recent weeks President Musharraf's government has taken to castigating the
Americans on their role in Iraq and for interfering in Pakistan's
internal affairs such as when the US State Department issued a mild
rebuke on the jailing of Mr Hashmi.
The criticisms of Washington are not perceived as a strategic
the army, but an attempt to win back some level of domestic support where
anti-Americanism is growing.
Likewise General Musharraf has blown hot and cold on
the Kashmir dispute and relations with India, in a bid to shore up support
amongst Islamic parties.
Finally, although the opposition parties are strident in their
criticism of the military, they do not pose a serious threat and the army has played a successful game
of divide and rule over them.
It is more likely that General Musharraf is positioning himself and the army to
retain control over the political system when he eventually does takes
off his uniform.
But this is unlikely to lead to greater political
stability, economic growth or the ability to mobilise public support in
the war against Islamic extremism.
Here is a selection of your views on Ahmed Rashid's column.
What does a common man in the sub-continent gain from democracy. If we take the immediate neighbourhood of Pakistan, how does Indian democracy benefit the common man in India. Tardy economic growth, unemployment, corruption, terrorism, crime, misuse and abuse of laws by the powerful, environmental degradation are things that have continued unabated under different parties in power. Elections are nothing but a circus party for majority of the rural voters who most of the time do not know whom they are voting for. Urban voter does not care involved as he is in his everyday life complicated by the woes of governmental inefficiency. Political parties hardly differ in their approach to common man's problems. Caste and religion based politics is the grammar of politics than economic and political issues.
If General Musharraf can give Pakistanis a clean and efficient government and establish good neighbourly relations with India to shave off the clouds of war, he would have given his people lots of benefits of democracy.
He is institutionalising a dominant and permanent place for american control in pakistan.
amin khan, singapore
I respect Mr. Ahmed Rashid and his writings, only to the extent that he puts in time to write about subjects that other journalists of Pakistani origin haven't looked into. However, I differ with his interpretation and conclusions of his writings. He seems to be out of touch with ground realities in Pakistan and elsewhere. Typically in the USA The National Security Council is the President's principal forum for considering national security and foreign policy matters with his senior national security advisors and cabinet officials. Many countries have this kind of mechanism in their system of government. So why couldn't Pakistan have it as well. Mr. Ahmed should understand that Institutions evolve and the process must start somewhere. He absolutely neglects the horrors, political killings, inflation, suppression of middle and lower income class, high jobless rate and absolute lawlessness that was institutionalized by, Zulfiqar Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif's governments...
Qudsia Jaffery, Dallas, USA
In most international relations, the involved countries are "partners in cause" due to economic and strategic reasons. They are not like family members or friends who will be by your side when you are sick. So, why was Pakistan expecting support from US at times when it had nothing to offer to US (at the end of the cold war)? Why is Pakistan so much dependent on US and India to define its existence? Frankly, the view in India about Pakistan is not of someone who we have to compete against or respect, but that of a pesky troublemaker at and inside our borders. Pakistan can do itself a favor by rising above its self-inflicted definition relative to US and India. The only way to do it is to concentrate on empowering its citizens by a true democracy, writing and following a sound constitution, and encourage ethical economic activity.
I believe that Pakistan needs a powerful leader like the Musharraf. Just go through the History of Pakistan. Progress has been made only in Army's Time. So, what we have got to do with the Political Government................
Usman Masood, Pakistan
If South Africa and India can have a democracy then why is Pakistan failing. To say the people are too illiterate to understand the importance of democracy is naive. Like many other islamic countries, religion is being used as a tool to control the people much like it was in Europe 100 years ago. Together with politicians who are corrupt and greedy the country has become a military dictatorship. If religious extremism is going to be countered the first step is to give the people more control and let them learn than their economy and their individual lives will rapidly improve if they turn to a secular state where religion is secondary to making the correct decisions to stop poverty
Democracy doesn't have to be encouraged by some outside power. India and Pakistan set off on equal footing in 1947. No one from outside encouraged democracy in India. It's flawed, but evolving and has very strong roots. It's easy to be seduced by the immediate gains that a centralized, dictatorial regime brings. But that's been the downfall of Pakistan. If Gen Musharraf thinks that all that he has done has been for the benefit of the country then let him have the courage to stand in free and fair elections and let the people of Pakistan judge him for his rule!
Since independence in 1947, Pakistan has yet to evolve as a respectable country. Pakistan's misfortune lies with its landlords and military dictatorships. Army dictatorships have rendered this country to depths of misery. Musharaff can correct this wrong by bringing in revolutionery land reforms, abolishing age-old exploitatory current land ownerships. Then Mr President should give way to a real democratic system based on the principles for which this country was created. If Pakistan was created for establishing a viable, progressive Islamic state - that is what it has to be in letter and sprit. I hope and pray, that is the direction this unfortunate nation takes!
Rashid Bhat, USA
Ahmed Rashid's otherwise analytical piece does not deal properly with the American factor behind General Musharraf's tricks on democracy. There was American pressure on him to do something about his uniform, at least notionally. The Americans, initially were even willing to accept a government headed by MMA. Now, in view of the uncertain and costly operations on Pakistan-Afghanistan border, the US has no better ally in Pakistan than General Musharraf. Hence the revival of his continuation as the army chief. Surely, Musharraf had ruled so harshly that he cannot feel safe within, or even outside Pakistan without the shield of the army chief's status. Is it not an illustrative coincidence that the issue of his continuation as the army chief is also raised in the context of the grant of major Non-Nato ally status to Pakistan by the US.
Professor S D Muni, India
The militarization of state-owned institutions by Musharraf proves he is a dictator. Army involvement in politics makes it just another of the many parties that are not above board. I think it is time to accept the plain truth that the military should stay away from politics and go back to its barracks. It should stop conquering Pakistan, which the only way to make Pakistan prosperous.
Anis ur Rahman Razakhel, Pakistan
Despite all Musharraf's claims, his policies are more benefiting to the rich than the poor. Although public institutions (apart from parliament) have strengthened during his governing rule, lots needs to be done for the poor public who day-by-day become poorer due to price hikes. With some commodities, there has been an increase of almost 200% in his four years. Government is heavily dependent on 52% taxes on petroleum, thus filling its accounts. His policies are more inclined to Western rather than popular public opinions, That's why he is not much-liked by the public either. His idea of modern Islam is nothing but to blend secularism with Islam.
Well!! Mr Ahmed Rashid's comments don't follow the ground realities in Pakistan. He should see that the government - which was there before October 1999 - was civilian & democratic but what they did was to loot & plunder, nothing else. The concept of civilian government in Pakistan means loot & plunder nothing else again. One should see the history and then speak and write about that.
Malik Zaheer Abbas, Pakistan
I don't think that Pakistan will survive for long. History teaches us that whoever are supported by the Americans are eventually abandoned. Let's not forget what happened to the Shah of Iran, Zia-ul-Haq, Saddam Hussein... the list goes on and on. Musharraf is more interested in pleasing outsiders than the people of Pakistan, who really matter for the survival of this country. It won't be long before the Americans force him to forget Pakistan's nuclear weapons, seems like everything is for sale in Pakistan, from its air to its people.
Let's see what this "dictator" has given to Pakistan which no so-called elected leader (looter) gave in the past. Musharraf reserved one-third of the seats in the national assembly as well as in the provincial assemblies for women. He has empowered the masses by introducing a local government system. The media enjoys tremendous freedom. Pakistan is on the verge of an economic boom with GDP growing at 6% this year. Foreign debts have been reduced by $6bn in the last three years. Foreign currency reserves stand at an all-time high of almost $13bn. The Karachi Stock Market (KSE), which has never crossed 2,000 points since the creation of Pakistan, is almost touching 6,000 points. All surveys conducted by private organisations show that Musharraf enjoys the support of the vast majority of Pakistanis including me.
Of course, Mr Ahmad Rashid didn't bother to mention all these achievements in his article. He writes his article to promote "democracy" in Pakistan. Pakistan is more democratic under President Musharraf than it has ever been in the past.
Murad Ansari, Pakistan
I believe Pakistanis needs someone who is strong to lead their country. They must face the fact that they can't afford to continue the fighting in Kashmir as it is too costly. Clashes between Sunni and Shia plus the support for the Taleban is not worth it. Pakistan needs to concentrate to itself and repair its economy instead of indulging in small worthless bickering on whether women should wear their headscarves and such. Pakistan's bureaucracy is as lousy as India's and the only functional institution in Pakistan is the army.
During the days of civilian politicians - who called themselves reformist and Islamic scholars - corruption was widespread. Musharraf might be the man who can unite Pakistan with the help of a highly-disciplined army. Asian countries have proved they sometimes they need a strong man to steer the country to prosperity, such examples are Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew and Malaysia's Dr Mahathir. Even Indonesia is going back to Golkar.
Zaidel Bah Aruddin, Malaysia
The army is a guarantor for a strong, vibrant and stable Pakistan and as such, would have to be directly or indirectly at the heart of decision-making. Once the civilian institutions are deemed to be resilient, the army, I'm certain, will take a back seat. Remove the army from its current role and wait for a descent into civil war. The Pakistani populace appears to appreciate the role of the army given that there is little or no opposition to the status quo other than from within the chattering classes.
Musharraf has put Pakistan on the way to continuous and gradual development. In an international scenario of war on terror no political government would have been able to save Pakistan and by today Pakistan must have had paid a very dear price.
Under Musharraf, Pakistan is emerging as a tolerant and moderate Muslim state and this is the only way forward for development and peace. Any Pakistani must not support looter politicians, millionaire bureaucrats, or extremist terrorists who even authorise the killings of Muslims belonging to different sects of Islam.
Western-style democracy is not applicable in Pakistan where the majority of people are not literate and are not aware of the impact of their votes on national and international interests of country. Incompetence and corruption of politicians is ignored when voting for them. Voters just go for the candidate who gave them a few personal and local benefits. Even this new so-called "graduate parliament" has done nothing except proving sluggishness and incompetence. What I don't agree with Musharraf about is placing army generals as ambassadors, in universities or giving them other important key roles. They are supposed to be war and security strategists, not diplomats, university heads or economic and financial experts.
Aoun Kazmi, UK
General Musharraf is basically a dictator and will do whatever is necessary to stay in power. But the things which are happening under his government will only strengthen the Islamic lobby in the country. It is the first time in the history of Pakistan, that maps do not show Kashmir in its new school text books. He is changing the syllabus to have the minimum Islamic education in schools. The army was the only respectable institute in the country, now that he has involved them in the country's politics, people have started to see them as money-grabbing and it has lost respect in the public's eyes. Whatever the current situation is in the country is will get worse.
Ahmed Rashid's article is full of many common mistakes. Mr Hashmi's sentence is not one sentence, but a number of them, carrying 1-7 years of prison time each. Now, the thing is they all start at the same time, so he will be jailed for seven years. Mr Rashid has a totally negative focus, and thus does not see incidents which would not confirm his view. The judiciary in Pakistan has demonstrated its independence by allowing Mr Shehbaz Sharif to come back ... he will have to defend himself in court of course, and that could go both ways. The problem with people like Mr Rashid is that they see the negatives (and there are many, no debate about that) and present these as the only thing happening with Pakistan.
The unprecedented freedom the press enjoys has received no mention by Mr Rashid, nor the lack of corruption, looting or amassing of wealth in upper circles in the last few years. The economic boom in Pakistan is not worth mentioning for Mr Rashid. All this because it does not confirm what he starts out with ... this is bad journalism!
Shoaib Sultan, Norway
I totally agree with Mr Ahmed Rashid and congratulate him on taking such a bold step, and I want to add something here. Pakistan has been playing into the hands of the USA from a long time now, starting from the war in Afghanistan (Cold War), with all the benefits going to so-called "Friends of the USA" rather than the public of Pakistan. The USA always supports the role of the army in Pakistan, though it always seems to support democracy elsewhere: i.e. in Iraq. My question is why doesn't the USA support true democracy in Pakistan? My suggestion to President Musharraf is to please have a look at the past when the USA walked away from Pakistan after it fulfilled America's vested interest in Afghanistan.
Muhammad Khurram Hanif, Germany
AS seen before, time and time again, America's influence will allow a dictator to run a country on the pretext of democracy, but as soon as this dictator does not please America, then it will be seen as an undemocratic and uncivilised country. And the cycle of history will repeat itself again...
Timothy Dawkins, United Kingdom
I believe that Musharraf's double game of strengthening the Mullah factor to provide a valid pretext to stay on as a "messiah of secularism" will eventually come back to strike him in the face. Pakistani history has shown that all of the leaders who made attempts to appease the religious right were eventually booted out.
On the other hand, the self-righteous European and American writers who re-buff the "pathetic state of democracy in that country" should also cast a look at the role their own leaders have played in the fall of Pakistani democracy. Nawaz Sharif, after the reciprocal nuclear tests, was presented with a set of very stringent sanctions whereas India, who initiated the tests was generously let off the hook in the beginning. During the Clinton presidency, Pakistan was consistently ignored after years of loyal service towards the anti-Russian cause. Democracy was really never encouraged in Pakistan throughout its history
Faeyza , France