Turning a blind eye as Musharraf dismantles democracy in Pakistan
By Ahmad Faruqui
Global Beat Syndicate
DANVILLE, Calif.--Over the past three years, while reinventing the mission of the Pakistani army, General Parvez Musharraf has dismantled democracy in Pakistan with U.S. approval. In the post 9/11 environment, the army's mission of fighting a proxy war in Kashmir had become anachronistic--to leaders in Washington, the "freedom fighters" army sent into Indian-held Kashmir were no different from the al Qaida terrorists.
So Musharraf repositioned the army to fight the terrorists, abruptly reversing Pakistani foreign policy to ensure his own survival. This pleased U.S. and European leaders who, in turn, gave him carte blanche to define Pakistani democracy on his own terms.
President Musharraf is focused on getting the economy moving again, even if that means a major reduction in tensions with India. And like General Mohammed Zia before him, he knows that is the best way to ward off domestic threats. To preserve the central role of the army, he is willing to let the conflict with India move to a back burner, except for the occasional test launch of his new Ghauri V intermediate range ballistic missile.
This strategy comes through clearly in how he reshuffled the top brass early in October. All senior general officers who had played a key role in the Kargil conflict (except for him) are now retired from service. All those with pro-Taliban leanings are also out. To use analyst Stephen Cohen's expression, he has "rented out" the army to Washington.
A few days after his coup of 1999, Musharraf's military spokesman declared with great emotion, "Others may have tried to hang on to power, we will not. We will make history." In January 2000, Musharraf told a television interviewer, "I am not going to perpetuate myself." He said that while he could not give a certificate on it, he was giving his word of honor.
In Pakistani culture, a man's word is sacrosanct and carries more weight than any paper contract. But if the man is in uniform, and the army chief to boot, the calculus breaks down. General Zia, soon after his 1976 coup, had promised much the same, but was still president when he died in a plane crash in August, 1988.
Thus, five years after the coup, we find General Musharraf methodically taking steps to perpetuate his grasp on power. First, he pushed a bill through the National Assembly allowing him to retain the office of army chief while serving as president. Now he has cashiered out all those generals who helped bring him to power on October 12, 1999.
This was the second purge; the first major shuffle among the top brass was done on October 7, 2001, the day that the United States launched Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. In an internationally televised press conference, Musharraf laughed off a question about the real reason for the changes. He said they were occasioned by his decision to continue as the army chief. To the most casual observer, it was clear that he was responding to U.S. pressure.
This second shuffle is the most significant: it is far from routine. While generals are retired very three years, this rule is applied selectively, as witnessed by the examples of Zia and Musharraf.
The top two generals now in place were promoted over six senior officers because of their moderation of political views and--the ultimate criterion--loyalty to the president.
At the next level, the reshuffle is designed to achieve ethnic balance. But loyalty is the key factor here as well. General Hayat, the Vice Chief of Army Staff, has been beholden to General Musharraf for his promotions since his time as a colonel. He was recently the target of a terrorist attack in Karachi (where he was serving as corps commander) because of his close ties to Musharraf and the high regard in which he is held in Washington. General Ehsanul Haq, chairman of the joint chiefs, has been instrumental in implementing Musharraf's agenda within the all-powerful intelligence services. He is also on good terms with the country's leading religious party, even though he does not subscribe to extreme religious views.
Musharraf and his handpicked prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, continue to maintain that each region of the world needs its own definition of democracy. Why should they say otherwise when the Bush administration is solidly behind them?
Saying that the war on terror would not have been possible without Pakistani cooperation, Secretary of State Colin Powell noted recently that the United States was "working in close partnership with President Musharraf, as we help him to move his country forward at a pace that Pakistani people can absorb." Not much has changed since 1981, when President Ronald Reagan enlisted General Zia to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Zia repositioned Pakistan as a front-line state against the Evil Empire and, over the next eight years, systematically dismantled Pakistani democracy. Washington simply looked the other way.