Understanding Pakistan Project Team September 25th, 2007
By: Athar Osama
[Note: While this editorial was being written, Justice Wajihuddin Ahmed has announced his candidacy for the President of Pakistan as a consensus candidate of the judicial community. If nothing else, this makes a bold and daring statement that men of principle are still willing to take on the mighty and the uniformed. A man of integrity and principles, we wish Justice Wajihuddin best of luck of luck in his endeavor - Ed.]
With the date for the Presidential Elections now being announced for Oct 6, 2007, the year-long speculation about whether or not General Musharraf will (or will be able to) seek another term in office is coming to an end. Barring any fresh legal or political challenges which are likely, but not certain, Presidential Elections WILL be held on Oct 6, 2007 and in all likelihood, General Musharraf, in violation of the Constitution of Pakistan, WILL still be holding another “office of profit”, namely, his position as Chief of Army Staff at the time of his re-election.
Whether or not he will give up his uniform after–and only if–he is re-elected as President of Pakistan for a second term is really immaterial. Having used every potential trick under his sleeve to first usurp power from its rightful owners–the people of Pakistan and their democtracally elected representatives–and then legimitize his rule through farce–and perhaps rigged–Presidential Referendum and then a democratic facade, the General is now well on his way to using his uniform to threaten, bully, and harrass all his political opponents and to-be defectors from his own party–but most importantly, the people of Pakistan–to “elect” him to office once again.
If one decides to discount the increasingly irritated and hostile public opinion, as evidenced by the Lawyer’s Movement earlier this year, and the increasingly independent Supreme Court as a result, the election of the President on October 6th seems like a foregone conclusion. It would, however, be rather unwise and shortsighted to discount these recent developments so easily. In this Special Edition of Understanding Pakistan, we look at the Politics of Wardi in the lead up to the proposed Presidential Elections in October 2007. More specifically:
- Justice (Retd) Wajihuddin Ahmed, one of the few honorable Justices of the Supreme Court of Pakistan who refused to take an oath of allegiance under General Musharraf’s Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO) and chose to retire instead, in article written in May 2007, talks about the Constitutional Position on Presidential Elections. While some of what Justice Ahmed speculates about is now established reality, his article is refreshing as it is informative about the issues that confront our Supreme Court today…
- Salman Akram Raja, an advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, takes a look at the issues involved in the election of the Incumbant and the challenges that Supreme Court faces in the ongoing legal battle today. The author presents an interesting set of legal arguments including some legal precedence by this very Court that may have restricted the options that the Court now has to rule against the dual office of the President….
- Syed Sharifuddin, a Constitutional Advisor to the Commonwealth Secretariat in London, again addressing the issue of General Musharraf’s re-election brings to bear some international legal practice and evidence to the question. It engages in an interesting legal jugglery to, on the one hand, encourage the current regime to follow the Constitution and stand-down and, on the other hand, to cajole them into avoiding adopting extra-legal means to (once again) subvert the Constitution….
- Athar Osama, in a “History of Failure: The Rise and Fall of Military “Experiment” in Pakistan” argues against the futility of electing a President in Uniform and carrying on with the painful and useless exercise of trying to create a better democracy by practicsing dictatorship–a process whose greatest affectees are the Pakistani people themselves…
Before we provide Understanding Pakistan’s own assessment of the likely Politics of Wardi, we leave you with this somewhat humorous but mostly ironic parody of General Musharraf’s insistence on clinging onto his Khakis. One particular thing that caught my eye and attention as I watched this was a placard that said: “Apne Mulk ko Fatah Kerna Bund Kero”
Returning back to our own analysis, we believe that the potential challenges to the President’s Election can come from four different sources, namely, legal, political, people, and institutional (the army). We describe each in more detail and rate these according to their likelihood and impact.
Challenge # 1: Legal Challenge from a decision of one of the cases before the Supreme Court — There are several cases under the review of the Supreme Court right now, including ones filed by MMA and Imran Khan, that challenge the President’s right to seek a second term in office or hold dual offices of the President of Pakistan and Chief of Army Staff. While these cases are ongoing, a negative verdict for General Mushrraf is likely to create major problems for his re-election. The legal question under consideration, as it stands right now, is not so much whether the Constitution allows General Musharraf to be a President in Uniform in his second term (it does not, except that an exception for his first term was created in the 17th Amendment but that has since expired) but rather if he can stand in a Presidential Election in the first place. Should the Court read the Constitution as allowing the latter, he will get elected in uniform and then resign from his army post before taking the oath of the Presidentship for the second time, or so claim his supporters and legal advisors.
However, should the Court decide against this alternative–or perhaps even ask him to wait for 2-years past-retirement to become eligible to contest for any political office–the government has a B- and C-Plan to ensure some kind of face saving and/or counter-strategy. Rumors are rampant that other cover-up candidates–ranging from Chaudhary Shujaat to Shaukat Aziz to Sehba Musharraf–are being lined up just in case Musharraf hismself is disqualified at the last moment. The C-Plan may be a declaration of Emergency or a fresh Martial Law followed by complete abbrogation of the Constitution. The Supreme Court justices have so far played their cards very close to their chest and their effort (perhaps very wisely so) has been to somehow force General Musharraf to “voluntarily” give up his uniform without the court having to pass a verdict that is going to put it in direct confrontation with the Government (and the latter in violation of the former’s ruling).
Challenge #2: Political Challenge from mass-resignations by members of All Parties Democratic Movement (APDM) — The second potential source of a challenge to the Oct 2007 Elections can come from members of APDM. Members of the combined Opposition Parties, with the notable exception of PPP, have vowed to offer mass resignations should the President Elections go as planned. This action, if it goes ahead as planned, is likely to cause major embarrassment to the Government is will, in most likelihood, take away whatever limited domestic and international legitimacy these Presidential Elections may have in the first place. While the United States is not likely to be much perturbed, this is likely to lead increased international pressure from European Union and other democratic countries. Musharraf & Co. might still go ahead with their planned elections–or in the wake of major embarrassment–decide to scrap them altogether. Either way, Musharraf’s facade of democratic rule in Pakistan is likely to suffer a major–perhaps fatal–blow as a result.
The effectiveness of this measure, however, lies in its unity and timing. Thats where the problem with executing this highly complex political maneaouvre lies. Our political parties are not particularly fond of “hanging together”. Intense political rivalries often take precedence over national interest (the ongoing posturing by PML(N) and PPP is a good example) and backdoor politics often takes over the politics of ethics and principles. Besides, the dubious role of the religious alliance which has everything to lose and perhaps nothing to gain from the return of mainstream political parties the country’s political scene cannot be easily neglected. This makes it highly unlikely that our political parties would find the common purpose, resolve, and maturity execute this option with enough effectiveness.
Challenge # 3: Popular Challenge from the people of Pakistan, especially an organized group like the Lawyer’s Movement — The third of the major challenges that the General may face on his way to the top for another five years comes from the people of Pakistan themselves. The General’s popularity among the masses as well as the (intellectual) elites of this country has been falling sharply over the last several months, if not years. The Lawyer’s Movement earlier this year–and perhaps one of its kind ever in Pakistan’s otherwise checkered history–show little sign of abating even after the reinstatement of the CJP in July. Mr. Munir A. Malik, the President of Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) has written widely and quite ominously (for the current regime) about his views on promoting Constitutional Superiority in Pakistan and there is little doubt that he would see a President in Office as anything other than that.
The Lawyers have already indicated their willingness to go all out against an unconstitutional President Election. They have the momentum on their side and the politicial parties are more likely to piggy-back on the black coats’ leadership than to come out in direct confrontation with the government. The several million dollar question really is if this Lawyer’s Movement could be translated in a wider societal movement for change. Are the people of Pakistan–or atleast a large, vocal, and visible minority of them–tired enough of the present regime to take to the streets? For General Musharraf and his opponents, there might be lessons in Ayub Khan’s last days in office. The General would be ill-advised to resort to mass arrests or use of force against a popular movement for even a small action here can lead to a much larger reaction that then becomes impossible to contain. These excesses are likely to happen, though, as the General and his advisors have repeatedly proven themselves capable of making big blunders in the recent past.
Challenge # 4: Institutional Challenge from within the Top-Leadership of the Armed Forces — This is the most tricky one, primarily because we don’t have the slightest of the insight as what goes on within the GHQ. The generals are a strange breed in that their loyalties to their country are expressed in terms of their loyalties to an institution–the Pakistan Army. Right from the day one, an officer in Pakistan Army is taught to mindlessly mix the the interests of these two entities and not let their judgement be clouded by asking questions that may upset or embarrass their superiors. What is good for the Army has to be good for Pakistan and whatever the Army wants for Pakistan is obviously in the best interest of the rest of the country. Faced with constant hammering of that point over several decades, it generally takes quite a while for this faulty perception to wear-off. Even when it does wear off and the person is able to see through the faulty logic of this argumentation, however, it takes considerable courage and professionalism to confront and acknowledge the truth.
This is not to say that it hasn’t happend before. When Ayub Khan became too much of a liability, Yahya Khan forced him to resign from office, only to become too tempted to seek one for himself. Had Zia lived any longer, perhaps he would also met a similar fate. The involvement of the Army in country’s politics is something that is bound to have an effect on the professionalism and morale of the forces and is likely to pit these soldiers, whose entire raison detre is to “fight the enemy”, against their own people. No soldiers wants that and a professionally sound general who cares about his men and the dignity of the institution is, sooner or later, likely to realise that. The question here, though, is: How much enough? Nobody has a clue. The General (with a big G) can temporarily feed the generals (with small gs) with money, jobs, land, and patronage to keep them quiet for sometime. But the clock is ticking and there is going to be a limit to their obedience.
Which of these four potential challenges are likely to pose the greatest threat? Which one of these is most likely to happen? In terms of the greatest threat, we would rate the institutional challenge as the highest, followed by people (popular) challenge, legal challenge, and finally the political challenge. The reason for doing so is simple. The Army Chief is only as good as the goodwill of a dozen or so Corps Commanders and senior generals he commands. If the latter think the former is too much of a liability, they can pull the plug and the games over. A popular challenge, especially one sustained over a long period of time, is likely to ultimately bring the government down by forcing it to resign or at least pushing it into making (fatal) blunders. Not quite as clean and quick as the institutional challenge but a potentially potent one. A legal challenge can make life miserable for the General but can be easily ignored (e.g. as in Nawaz’s deportation) if needed.
On the question of which one is most likely to happen (in the short-term forseeable future), we would rate the people (popular) challenge as the highest, followed by the legal challenge, the political challenge, and finally the institutional challenge. We believe that a popular movement–especially within certain sub-sections of the population such as a Lawyers Movement–is likely to start off quite easily. Whether or not it can be sustained over a fairly long period of time in another question. The legal challenge to the regime will come–especially, if all else fails–since the newly independent Supreme Court would find it difficult to ultimately justify such a gross violation of the Constitution. Given a choice to assert their independence or lose it, that might as assert it and then lose it. The political challenge will come, albeit in fits and starts, and as a series of totally incoherent actions on the part of incoherent politicians. We’ll not be surprised if only PML(N) and PTI are the two parties resigning from their offices with MMA and PPP taking a more “non-confrontational” approach (read as “go along” policy) to the issue. With regards to the institutional challenge, perhaps it would suffice to say that it will come in due-course of time but no one outside the GHQ has any idea when.
In each of the four circumstances identified above, the resultant incumbant will have much less legitimacy than the General had in 2002. The last year has been one of chaos and turmoil in the present administration which is, beyond doubt, reaching the very end of its political wits. It would be really hardpressed to find a pretext to rule for another five years.
For now, though, the nation must prepare itself, once again, to elect a President at Gun Point. In all likelihood, therefore, things are going to get worse before they get any better. Fasten your seatbelts and brace for a bumpy ride in the months ahead. Its probably is not a ride of our own choosing but it certainly is one that is in our best long-term interest.