July 29, 2021
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Democracy In Olive Green

The US and the Western silence on the constitutional amendments proposed by Musharraf that would reduce the elected political leaders to doing the bidding of the army underlines their dependence on him.

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Democracy In Olive Green
Gen.Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's military dictator,  has already released to the press for public discussion  a package of constitutional amendments to be promulgated before the elections to a new Parliament promised by him are held in October, 2002.

The amendments propose to strengthen the hands of the President as against the Prime Minister by restoring to the office of the President, in a further enhanced form, the various powers which the President had previously enjoyed under the 1973 Constitution, which is still in force, but which were got abolished by Nawaz Sharif after assuming office as Prime Minister in 1997 with the co-operation of Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP).

These powers related to the dismissal of the Prime Minister, the dissolution of the two Houses of the Parliament and the provincial Assemblies, the ordering of fresh elections, and the appointment of the Governors of the provinces, the chiefs of the three wings of the Armed Forces, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, the Chief Election Commissioner and the Chairman of the Federal Public Service Commission.

Many of these powers were originally introduced into the 1973 Constitution by Zia-ul-Haq before he restored limited democracy in the 1980s. Political perception that these powers were repeatedly misused by  Presidents, either on their own or at the instigation of the Army,  on occasions such as the dismissal of Mohammad Khan Junejo by Zia in 1988,and of Benazir by Ghulam Ishaq Khan in 1990 and by Farooq Leghari in 1996, and the forcing out of Nawaz Sharif by Ghulam Ishaq Khan in 1993 led to all the parties in the then National Assembly uniting together in 1997 to have them unanimously abolished. In addition, Nawaz Sharif had legislation against floor-crossing in the National Assembly enacted to remove any possible threat to his position from malcontents in his own party.

Ever since he seized power on October 12,1999, it has been Musharraf's argument that the abolition of these powers led to abuse of authority and arbitrary exercise of the powers of the Prime Miniser by Nawaz Sharif by taking advantage of the two-thirds majority enjoyed by him in the National Assembly. It has been Musharraf's contention that in democracy as practised in Pakistan, which he often describes as sham democracy, the absence of checks on the arbitrary exercise of powers by the elected Prime Minister leads to tyranny in the name of democracy.

Musharraf's contention that he is doing nothing new and that he is merely restoring to the office of the President the powers which it had enjoyed between 1985 and 1997 and that, in addition,  he is providing a safeguard against a possible arbitrary exercise of these powers by the President as had happened in the past has some validity. The safeguard proposed by him is in the form of an amendment laying down that the President will exercise the discretionary powers relating to dismissal and dissolution on the recommendation of the National Security Council (NSC).  He points out that such a safeguard was not there in the past. He has justified the enhanced powers for the President in the name of unity of command. Only he, as a person professionally trained to command, can do so; the Prime Minister has to obey.  He has sought to reduce the Prime Minister to a mere subordinate of the President, holding office at his pleasure and discretion.

Ever since the Army first seized power in 1958, the idea of giving  it a de jure role in the political process through an NSC mechanism on the Turkish pattern had figured in the public debate in Pakistan. The last to have raised this issue was Gen.Jehangir Karamat, as the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) during the second tenure of Nawaz Sharif in 1998 for which he had to pay a price by having to quit office prematurely. After seizing power in October, 1999, Musharraf implemented the suggestion of Karamat and set up an NSC under his chairmanship to play an important role in policy-making.

The de facto primacy of the military in Pakistan's national security management  and in the decision-making process relating to defence and foreign policies since 1958 is sought to be made de jure by Musharraf through the institution of the NSC, which would function under the President and not the elected Prime Minister.  Through this, he is seeking to give a constitutional sanctity  to what used to be called the Troika mechanism through which the military, even in the past, had played a behind-the-scene role in the political process when an elected Government was in power. 

With the NSC mechanism in place, the military's political or quasi political role even in a democratic dispensation would be constitutionally sanctified.  So long as Musharraf continues in power, the military and the political class would be equally represented on the NSC, with the five political members---the Prime Minister and the Chief Ministers of the four provinces equalised by the President, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee and the three chiefs of the Armed Forces.  There has been speculation in the Pakistani media that under measures contemplated, but not yet announced, Musharraf proposes to dilute the powers of the judiciary to review the constitutionality of his actions as the President.

Since Musharraf has already got sanctified his continuance as the President for five more years through a referendum, which was widely seen as shamelessly rigged, and secured the consent of his Corps Commanders to his continuing to retain the post of the COAS, what these amendments amount to is that even after the restoration of an elected Government, he would retain in his hands all the major reins of power, with the elected Prime Minister providing merely a democratic facade for continued military rule in civilian colours.

To further strengthen his position, Musharraf has already taken or proposes to take before October, 2002, certain other measures the like of which no other military dictator of Pakistan had attempted to take . The first amongst them is his introduction, after his seizing power on October 12,1999,of  a mechanism for military monitoring of the functioning of the civilian bureaucracy by appointing at various levels of the civilian bureaucracy in the federal and  provincial governments serving or retired officers of the Armed Forces to monitor the performance of the civilian bureaucrats.  This has led to considerable demoralisation and resentment in the civilian bureaucracy and is one of the factors responsible for the poor state of law and order in the country, with the Police and the civilian magistracy not exerting themselves in dealing with terrorism, sectarianism and other threats to internal  security.  Unhappiness over the interference of the military monitors in the day-to-day functioning of the Foreign Office was one of the factors which reportedly led to the recent resignation of Abdul Sattar as the Foreign Minister, ostensibly on health grounds.

The second is the almost total militarisation of the intelligence apparatus by Musharraf.  Pakistan's intelligence community consists of the Special Branches of the provincial Police, the Intelligence Bureau (IB) of the Interior Ministry of the federal Government, the intelligence Directorates-General of the three wings of the Armed Forces and the notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The Special Branches and the IB were in the past largely manned by Police officers, even though the practice of appointing retired Army officers as head of the IB had started even in the past.

Musharraf has inducted a large number of serving and retired military officers into the SBx and the IB and appointed retired army officers, often with an ISI background, into the Home Departments of the provinces in order to ensure that when an elected Prime Minister is appointed, the entire intelligence machinery would be under his (Musharraf's) control and the elected Prime Minister would have practically no means of finding out what is going on in the country in general and in the Armed Forces in particular.  He has thus sought to ensure that the Prime Minister's role in national security management would be practically zero.  A careful reading of the actions taken or proposed to be taken clearly indicates that Musharraf, despite his protestations to the contrary, intends giving an elected Prime Minister a meaningful role only in the economic administration of the country.  On paper, he/she would also have a role in the maintenance of law and order, but this would be reduced in significance in the absence of any powers of effective supervision over the intelligence apparatus and the Police.

The third is his attempt to create a new political class owing its existence and powers to the military and which would willingly let itself be manipulated by him.  Even past military dictators had created and nourished their own political poodles. Musharraf has sought systematically to weed out from the political scene all those ill-disposed towards him through measures such as the disqualification of those convicted in criminal offences involving moral turpitude and abuse of authority, often allegedly concocted by his Accountability Bureau, which would keep out Benazir and Nawaz and of those who had not repaid the loans taken by them from banks for more than one year after they became due for repayment or those who had been granted pardon/write-off by past Governments to escape prosecution for non-repayment of loans.  It has been calculated by some Pakistani analysts that 80 per cent of the current crop of politicians could be kept out of the elections by Musharraf under this provision.  The laying down of a university degree as a minimum qualification for contesting the election is likely to keep out a large number of the remaining 20 per cent.

Through a new code of conduct drawn up by a subservient Election Commission, which willingly collaborated with him in rigging the referendum, he has sought to ensure that even those qualified to contest would not be able to carry on an effective election campaign. The code of conduct would effectively bar the candidates from raising his volte face vis-a-vis the Taliban and his co-operation with the US in its war on terrorism during the election campaign.

Thus, what Musharraf is seeking to achieve in the name of genuine democracy is to further consolidate his own powers and sanctify the role of the military in the political process.  For him, genuine democracy is democracy in olive green, with the role of the political leaders reduced to carrying out the bidding of the Army in return for a certain ceremony, protocol and status as the elected Prime Minister, but with very little powers.

The political class by and large, excepting those  who have always had the reputation of being the political poodles of the military intelligence establishment, and the religious parties have strongly opposed his moves, but their ability to effectively  counter his machinations in the name of democracy has been weakened by the  silence of the US and other Western powers who continue to feel that there is no alternative to him if terrorism based in Pakistan is to be weeded out and if Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is to be prevented from falling into the hands of the terrorists.

They do not seem to realise that Pakistan-spawned terrorism was a by-product of the previous military rule under Zia and that, instead of being eliminated, it would only gather strength if the present military rule under Musharraf continues under the facade of democracy.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai)

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