The General is in a Constitutional Crisis
August 30, 2003
Last October, amongst much international fanfare, General Musharaf held controversial elections that gave birth to a Parliament after a three year interval.
His happiness with a handpicked Parliament was short-lived. Although the two former Prime Ministers were disallowed from contesting and the Kings Party emerged with the largest number of seats, the country is descending into a constitutional crisis.
The constitutional crisis is triggered by the inability of General Musharaf to learn from his military predecessors that parliamentary leaders are won over rather than kicked about.
Last week the General was in Hyderabad where he declared that if the Parliament refuses his order to rubber stamp his edicts, known as the Legal Framework Order, the Parliament will “go”.
He is wrong in claiming that if the LFO goes, so does the Parliament. His three year rule was based on the promise to hold elections resulting in a sovereign Parliament. It was not endorsed by the country’s Supreme Court to enable one man to force his unrepresentative views on an entire Nation.
Parliament is resisting the efforts by the military dictator to subjugate the elected voice of the country. It views the edicts of the General as partially an attempt to bring in a presidential system through the backdoor. It worries about the National Security Council bringing defence and foreign policy issues under the control of the armed forces. Unlike Turkey, the ruling Generals in Islamabad are closer to the extremist forces that fought the Afghan Jihad than the moderate political leadership.
Parliamentarians assess, too, that it is not in Musharaf’s self interest to dissolve Parliament and he is making empty threats. An attempt to dissolve Parliament could be the end of the Musharaf presidency if precedent is a guide. Moreover, he would lack immunity for his deeds. Therefore it was in his own interests ultimately to accept the demands of the political parties and allow Parliament to function.
Pakistan’s political history showed that a president that dissolved an assembly had to go too– although the Parliament came back after fresh elections. General Zia, Mr Ghulam Ishaque Khan and Mr. Farooq Leghari were the three Presidents in recent history that went home after dissolving parliaments. In his heart, Musharaf knows that he too would go home—without immunity. Therefore there is little chance of his getting rid of the Assembly as he threatens from time to time.
Islamabad’s present Parliament was elected under the decision of the Supreme Court that held the constitution in abeyance until such time as the new assemblies were elected. Musharaf is the latest in a long line of dictators in the checquered political history of Pakistan. The earlier dictators brought their Legal Framework Orders (LFO) to the Parliament. The only one who did not do that was General Yahya Khan. That action resulted in the breakup of the country and the surrender of 90,000 troops.
There are some positive aspects to the LFO introduced on the insistence of political parties. These include larger representation for women as well as joint electorates for minorities. Parliament would approve them. But the General is increasingly ignorant of the political realities in the country. Last week he wrongly claimed in Hyderabad that womens representation and joint electorates were in danger.
Or perhaps this was a trick to divert attention from the real issues agitating the elected representatives. The controversial issues include Pakistan’s governance by a sitting army chief (which Musharaf still is after claiming the presidency), the power of the president to dismiss assemblies which gave rise to political instability in the past, the need to reform the election commission and the modalities for elections, labour rights and other laws. These could include, were press reports correct, that Musharaf granted himself a million dollar house as army chief and a second as president. As a lollypop, he extended this to all former presidents. To check this, the Parliamentarians asked for a list of the edicts passed which they are expected to ratify during the official talks. That list is yet to be given to them.
There were other controversial edicts passed too. For example, the Opposition complained to the United Nations Rapporteur when reports leaked that an accountability judge was paid a dressed up bribe as “retrospective promotion and back payments” in a case against former First Lady Begum Bhutto. Parlaimentarians would be uncomfortable indemnifying such self serving acts. Parliamentarians need a comprehensive copy of each of the edicts passed and need to vote for them individually after applying due diligence. Yet they are denied access even to the nature of the edicts that they are to consider.
For months the Jamali administration and the political parties were engaged in negotiations on the LFO issue. (Although the substantive talks took place with the religious alliance and not the alliance with the former Premiers). For some reason, General Musharaf did not want these negotiations to succeed. According to reports, even while these negotiations were going on, Musharaf was discussing dissolving Parliament to frighten the legislators and get a better deal for himself. This was an old trick which had been played by Gen. Ayub in the fifties and Gen. Zia in the eighties. The Parliamentarians are wise enough to see through these empty threats and are calling Musharaf’s bluff. He needs the assembly for indemnity for overthrowing the constitution. If he fails to get it from his handpicked assembly by making concessions, he could be the biggest loser.
The reason Musharaf wants to make Parliament subservient is that he can no longer preside over cabinet meetings. He misses the time when he could change laws at will through edicts. Whatever he wished, right or wrong, became law. He was surrounded by yes men and courtiers. Now he finds placating his own allies, what to talk of the Opposition, a frustrating task. If he doesn’t keep them happy, his allies stay away from the Parliament breaking the qurom, ending the session and embarrassing him.
He does not want to give up the army post. Its surprising that he is unable to find one amongst the many military colleagues whom he could trust as the new army chief. He wants everything his own way without realizing that political leadership is about give and take and about compromise. His inflexibility and refusal to see the other parties point of view has plunged the country into a grave constitutional crisis.
In retrospect, the lack of leadership qualities is unsurprising. Musharaf’s lack of leadership qualities gave birth to the ill advised Kargil adventure where Islamabad had to withdraw unilaterally after three thousand soldiers and officers gave their lives for the success of the operation. He joined the war against terror without consulting his handpicked National Security Council or handpicked cabinet. They too would have joined the anti terror effort and the country could have benefited by developing a consensus as well as getting better terms than Musharaf got, like debt write off.
Musharaf’s other bitter legacy is the rise in economic and political suicides, three near wars with New Delhi, deteriorating relations with neighbours Iran and Afghanistan, renewed violence in Karachi, the Okara Military Farms scandal where peasants are losing their lives because Musharaf’s cronies want their lands and blind eye to governmental corruption.
Musharaf came in with the promise of clean politics which now lies shredded under his military boots. He freed convicted men to form a government in one of the smaller provinces. Those who were declared corrupt by his cronies in the National Accountability Bureau were declared clean the minute they joined Musharaf. The press report the use of money in buying Senatorships while Musharaf turns a blind eye. Recently the press reported a Senator offering to purchase twelve parliamentarians for Musharaf.
The politics of expediency and opportunism may be the art of the dictator. However, earlier dictators lacked Musharaf’s stubbornness putting their own self interest before that of false pride. His inability to coopt the anti Nawaz Grand Democratic Alliance, at the time he overthrew the former Premier, lost him political support. His controversial presidential referendum weakened him further. His manipulation of the electoral process with the sordid horsetrading and postphonement of Parliamentary sessions worsened his plight. The more he fights the traditional parties, now united in the Alliance for the restoration of Democracy, the weaker he gets.
His attempts to build controversial dams that hurts lower riparians (and perhaps benefit desert state land self allotted to himself and his cronies) creates inter provincial tensions for personal gain. Pakistan faces a water crisis. The answer is to build a series of smaller dams. These can be done much more quickly, much more cheaply and provide water much more expeditiously than huge dams.
Musharaf’s continued attempts to marginalize the two former Prime Ministers reflects his inability to build a pluralistic society that ultimately creates a stable society. The continued relevance of the leaders of the mainstream parties in the hearts and minds of the public makes Musharaf angry and frustrated. He wants his own way all the time even when it damages the national fabric. He appears highly strung becoming emotional before the press with tears in his eyes.
It must be asked, as the Bombay Blasts once again shake the fragile peace intiative between India and Pakistan, greater Taliban activity hurts Pak Afghan relations, Musharaf remains mired in a constitutional crisis at home and the spectre of poverty continues to haunt the youth of Pakistan while Musharaf remains at loggerheads with Pakistan’s two major parties whose leaders he fears, if he is the right person to lead Pakistan.