DAWN - Opinion; October 2, 2002

Published October 2, 2002

More of sabre-rattling

By H.M. Askari

IF India’s determined effort to blame Pakistan for the terrorist attack on a Hindu temple in Gujarat last week is any indication, the two South Asian antagonists would seem dangerously close to a flashpoint of open hostilities. Many military strategists are of the view that with its army deployed in massive strength on the border with Pakistan, India could well try to ‘provoke’ an incident that would trigger full-blown conflict between the two sides.

Addressing the UN General Assembly in New York last month, President Pervez Musharraf had warned that the slightest miscalculation or misreading of the situation on the border by either side could spark hostilities between the two countries. About a million troops from both sides are deployed on Pakistan’s eastern frontier. Considering that both countries are nuclear powers, hostilities could lead to unimaginable devastation in the region.

With the Indian prime minister out of the country on an official visit at the time of the attack on the temple, the deputy prime minister Lal Krishna Advani, known for his anti-Pakistan and anti-Muslim hysteria, instantly blamed Pakistan for the attack. In studied display of bellicosity, he even went to the extent of calling President Musharraf “our enemy.” Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who cut short his foreign tour to rush back home, also described the attack as a well thought-out conspiracy against his country. He at least had the decency not to blame Pakistan by name for the outrage. However, he declared that the blood spilt in the temple “should be a challenge for us to wipe out terrorism.”

The Hindu extremists who represent the extreme right-wing parties in Mr Vajpayee’s coalition government, have openly called for a war against Pakistan. Jai Bhagwan Goyal, head of the Delhi branch of the militant Shiv Sena, has declared: “Pakistan should be taught a lesson, the government should wage a full-fledged war against Pakistan.” Reports from New Delhi have quoted India’s deputy home minister, I.D. Swami, as saying that pressure is mounting on the prime minister for military action against Islamabad. The leader of the Shiv Sena group has even threatened to withdraw his party from Mr Vajpayee’s coalition government unless it acted to punish Pakistan for the temple killing.

Although at times Mr Vajpayee appears to distance himself from the Shiv Sena and other extremist elements in his government, this is only up to a point. The fact is that he cannot afford to alienate them; they represent the real strength of his National Democratic Alliance (NDA) which is the ruling coalition at the centre. The BJP and the Hindutva are in essence two faces of the same coin.

For months before the attack on the temple, militant Hindu groups in Gujarat were on the rampage against Muslims. Following the carnage Mr Vajpayee stoutly resisted the demand for the dismissal of the state chief minister and his government for their widely suspected complicity in the rioting. An estimated 2,000 Muslims, including large numbers of women and children, were cold-bloodedly killed.

The United States which has lately been making overt moves to strengthen ties with India should realize the potential capability of the BJP and its fundamentalist allies to commit acts of religious terrorism and violence. Washington’s efforts for peace and stability in the South Asian region will not produce any positive results so long as New Delhi continues to demonstrate naked belligerence towards Pakistan and its own Muslim minority.

After the three-day meeting of the US-Pakistan Defence Consultative Group (DCG), Pakistan should feel somewhat reassured of Washington’s intention to bolster its conventional defence capability but it would be unrealistic not to recognize the gap in the perceptions of Islamabad and Washington in respect of this country’s defence needs. While Washington is primarily concerned about international terrorism and the flushing out and capture of Al Qaeda and Taliban remnants, Pakistan’s perception of the threat to its security is from its hostile neighbour on its eastern flank. This gap in perceptions was also evident from the statements by the American and Pakistani spokesmen at the joint press conference at the conclusion of the DCG rounds of talks in Islamabad.

Affirming that the US had developed a ‘major understanding’ enhancing military cooperation with Pakistan, the visiting US under-secretary for defence, Douglas J. Feith, who led the American delegation, stressed at the press conference that “Pakistan has made a very important contribution to making the operation ‘enduring freedom’ (in Afghanistan) a success.” He also said that Pakistan and the US had put together “a good military relationship” to work against terrorism and to improve the security environment in the region. Mr Feith confirmed that his country had decided to give “all necessary equipment, financial assistance, training and sharing of more intelligence with Pakistan to chase Al Qaeda and other terrorists.”

Priorities had also been determined in this behalf. However, about the release of military hardware to Pakistan (in accordance with the list of its specific needs provided by Pakistan at the DCG) Mr Feith pointed out that the US policy decision-making was a “complex issue”, because of which things could be delayed for some time.

While confirming that the US was “very much interested” in seeing de-escalation between India and Pakistan, Mr Feith expressed the view that tension between the two countries could cause problems for the on-going operation against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. He maintained that war between India and Pakistan would destroy the efforts for removing terrorism from the region.

However, the joint statement issued at the end of three days of talks between the defence teams of the two countries said that the acquisition of US defence stores for improving conventional weapons capabilities were mentioned “as key Pakistani priority”, as were measures and conditions for a long-term defence relationship between the two sides. The statement went on to say that the US agreed to expedite the resolution of pending issues (a possible reference to the F-16s held up in the US?) and to provide information to Pakistan on the availability of new weapons and systems as early as possible.

The crucial point is whether the US duly recognizes that Pakistan’s security concerns basically relate to India’s hostile attitude towards this country. Pakistan’s defence secretary made it a point to stress at the DCG meetings the threat posed to South Asian peace and security by the unresolved Kashmir dispute. An official statement stressed that Pakistan expected an even-handed approach from the US: Kashmir was a political issue and not a territorial dispute and needed to be resolved in accordance with the wishes of the people of Kashmir.

There need not be any misunderstanding on this score. As far as Pakistan is concerned, despite two wars and the Tashkent Agreement and the Simla Accord, India remains unwilling to sit with it across the negotiating table and sort out all problems and differences with it. President Pervez Musharraf has expressed his willingness over and over again to meet the Indian leaders at any place, any time, at any level.

Talks between Pakistan and the US on defence cooperation are encouraging. But as long as the Kashmir question and other bilateral issues between India and Pakistan remain unresolved, there can be no meaningful and stable security environment in South Asia.

The paradox of elections

By Zubeida Mustafa

AS polling day approaches, the polarization in the public perceptions of the election scene is amazing. There are some who are vocal about the deep apathy and cynicism of the voters, and on that basis alone they confidently predict a low turn-out on October 10.

Others vehemently deny that electioneering is in a low key. They point to the corner meetings and the party workers’ drive to mobilize the voters — as much as they can within the restrictions imposed on them by the administration.

But no one would deny that the public involvement is not as much as one would have expected it to be, considering that the polls are ostensibly designed to restore some kind of political rule in the country. The absence of the top leaders of the two key mainstream parties from the scene has deprived the campaigns of their lustre.

All this actually points to the paradoxes inherent in the present situation. On the one hand, the parties have been crying themselves hoarse about lack of credibility of the entire exercise. For that they rightly blame the government which is itself responsible for creating this impression, given the hamhanded manner in which the election process has been managed. This has understandably reinforced the apprehensions of many that this will be a controlled exercise. Even if the voting itself is fair and free, the results will not be.

In spite of these aberrations, the parties have decided to participate — and rightly so. That presents them with the paradox of demonstrating their popular appeal in an election they have otherwise denounced. If they fail to draw out the voters they would also lose credibility. It is a heads-I-win-and-tails-you-lose situation.

Irrespective of how one assesses the popular response, the polls cannot be rejected as being of no consequence. One can understand the low-key electioneering. But it is difficult to justify the failure of the parties to raise critical national issues in their campaigning and election manifestos. It is plain that no leader has done his homework. No party has a well-thought-out programme to offer. The vague promises of spreading education, improving the living conditions, and resolving the Kashmir dispute mean nothing to a weary electorate, which has heard such empty pledges before and knows well that they are election gimmicks. This poor performance by the political forces notwithstanding, the decisive factor in the elections will not be who emerges the winner (Musharraf, of course) but the forces which will inevitably be released when the country goes to the polls. These simply cannot be anticipated. But the revival of the political process which has been in abeyance for the last three years will provide the opportunity to elements, which are not necessarily pro-status quo, to step into the power structure and trigger changes in the political set-up.

It is a positive development that the political parties are participating in this process, although they continue to hold out threats of a boycott even at this late hour. Seventy-one parties were found eligible — actually 129 were desirous of contesting the polls but 58 were disqualified. No major party has been kept out of the race, in spite of the stiff eligibility conditions prescribed by the government.

Obviously, all parties now recognize the importance of participation in the electoral process and many of them have learnt the hard way that the politics of boycott does not really pay. Besides, the large number of aspirants — 3,546 filed their nominations for 272 general seats (of which 3,248 were accepted) — indicates that still there are people who have not rejected the concept that politics brings some returns. Thus we have an average of 11 candidates per general seat. In 1997, the average was eight.

There are quite a few significant characteristics of the emerging election scene that could potentially have far-reaching implications for the future politics of the country. First, there is the induction of about five million new voters as a result of the lowering of the voting age to 18 years. How the youth among the 72 million voters in Pakistan will vote — that is if they vote at all — is not easy to predict. But they can swing the outcome of the polling one way or the other if they choose to. In this a lot of money is said to be changing hands. If that is true then the richest party with plenty of resources at its disposal has a better chance of winning.

The politics of alliances is another factor that will determine the outcome of elections. The key political parties have again failed to enter into seat adjustment arrangements. As a result, a multitude of parties are in the race and will undercut each other’s votes. How these parties have mushroomed, quite a few of them being splinter groups of mainstream political parties, is a wonder of Pakistani politics.

Their most spectacular achievement has been their success in fulfilling the tough requirements laid down by the Election Commission. The PML-Zia was created within three days when its mentor, Ijazul Haq, who was a member of the PML-Q, decided to strike out on a separate path. It is a different matter that the Election Commission did not deem it fit to recognize it as a political party.

This has led to the fragmentation of politics on an unprecedented scale. Of the 272 general seats in the National Assembly, only three will witness a one-to-one contest, while 12 constituencies have three candidates in the field each. All the others have a larger number of contestants, a Tribal Agency even having 26 candidates vying for victory. Karachi’s NA-251, another coveted seat, boasts an array of 22 candidates. Ten candidates in a constituency is quite common. Small wonder then that a hung parliament is being predicted.

The only effective alliance which has emerged is the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal comprising six religious parties which have joined hands together on a purely religious platform. This is the first time they have done so. The PNA in 1977 and the IJI in 1988 which had some of them had also included secular parties from the right. Although one knows that the MMA is a marriage of convenience — Jamaat-i-Islami, the two factions of the JUI (Fazlur Rahman and Sami-ul-Haq), JUP, Tehreek-i-Jafria and Jamiat Ahl-i-Hadith are not quite famous for their unanimity of views on any theological issue of significance.

But to give the devil its due, they should be given credit for recognizing the value of an electoral alliance in the present context if they are to make a better showing. As such, all the 122 candidates which they have put up for the National Assembly will not be undercutting each other. The same cannot be said of the 225 PPP candidates, the 155 PML-N and the 191 PML-Q contestants. All this makes the prospects of the various parties rather uncertain.

Another significant feature of this election is the presence of women in such visible numbers. Apart from the 359 women who are in the run for the 60 reserved seats for them, nearly 60 others are contesting on the general seats (in 1997 there were 35). True, many of them are representing their fathers, husbands and even grandfather in one case, because the male members could not cross the qualification barrier on account of defaults on loans or not being graduates. A lot would depend on how many of them get into the assembly. Once there, not all of them might be inclined to be as subservient to their male benefactors in politics as they are at home. Power creates its own logic and compulsions.

Elections also have their own dynamics. They can become a catalyst for change as they have in the past. After all, it was Junejo, a prime minister thrown up by the Majlis-i-Shoora created by the partyless elections of Ziaul Haq, who had the courage to sign the Geneva accords on the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in April 1988 when his mentor was not inclined to do it.

How citizens can feel safe: OF MICE AND MEN

By Hafizur Rahman

I AM willing to pledge my lifelong allegiance to General Pervez Musharraf if, instead of foisting his brand of democracy on us, he can bring about even a modicum of improvement in the style and attitude of the police towards crime and towards citizens. At the moment the force appears to be indifferent to both. At best you can say it is indulgent towards the former and inimical to the latter.

Take two recent news reports, both quite minor in their import. The first one says that two constables came across another two of their breed in one of the wild areas that abound in Islamabad, who had made a young man give up his wrist watch and gold ring and were trying to convince him that his salvation lay in going home and fetching some money to retrieve the two items. Nothing unusual for the police.

According to the second report, two persons accused of being dacoits, managed to escape from the Old Sukkur Police Station by boring a hole in the lock-up wall, and Manzoor Ahmed, a constable on duty at the police station, fled along with them. This was rather unusual for a policeman.

While the sequel to the first incident is known — the culprits were suspended from service and the case is being investigated — it is a matter for conjecture what made Manzoor Ahmed run away from his place of duty. Was he bored with police work? Was his extra income insufficient to satisfy his needs? Was he lured by the romantic aura that newspapers have spun around the lives of dacoits in Sindh? No one knows the answer, and the real reason must remain a mystery till Manzoor decides to come back and tell all.

What is common between the two stories is that nowadays it is difficult to make a clear distinction between the two professions of crime and crime-fighting. How can the citizen feel safe? By seeking the protection of the police or that of criminals and dacoits. The latter are at least a known entity and one is under no illusion about what to expect from them.

On the other hand the policeman, bound by the state to lay down his life if necessary for the safety of the citizens, can betray them without notice. The only redeeming feature in the Islamabad incident was that two constables had a conscience and helped to expose their errant colleagues.

Although the latter must have deplored the absence of an esprit de corps in the force. Therein lies a faint hope. Viewed in the overall context of the performance of our police, these two incidents are very minor indeed. There have been occasions when policemen have rivalled professional criminals in breaking the law, in displaying brutality and a flagrant disregard of the rights of citizens. Every other day a High Court issues injunctions against police officers, both subordinate and senior, to appear before it and explain some act of omission or commission on their part. They invariably tender unconditional apologies but there is no evidence of anyone of them learning a lesson or being afraid of the process of justice.

One reason for this may be that even where an inspector general of police himself takes notice of the wayward acts of his men in a case, he and his HQ tend unfortunately to take the side of the culprits and protect them “for the sake of the force’s good name,” as if the force had a good name. There is hardly any known case where truly drastic punishment, by way of creating an example, was meted out for blatant violation of the police rules.

But that is not the real reason. The real reason lies elsewhere — with the government or the regime in power in a province, since police and law and order are provincial subjects. I am making no sensational disclosure when I say that the police is openly and unashamedly used to further the narrow political ends of the provincial administration.

In fact most of the political activity on behalf of the provincial rulers is undertaken by the police.

You will find the so-called political advisers sitting idle while the real business in the field is in the strong hands of the SP and the DIG and their minions who are ever ready to oblige with their bag of dirty tricks. As a senior information man in Punjab I have watched how the DIG of the Special Branch was always at the right hand of the chief minister or the governor.

If a government becomes beholden to the police for its own safety and continuance in office, how can you expect it to crack down on the force with any degree of sincerity when the force betrays the administration, tortures innocent citizens, becomes oblivious to its duty to law and justice and openly indulges in gangsterism.

Successive federal governments too have not been innocent of using the security forces and personnel of the secret agencies for their political purposes. Once upon a time the DIB used to be the chief political whip of the regime. And when I say whip I mean whip. Even an acutely political ruler like ZAB relied on ex- police villains like Saeed Ahmed Khan and Masood Mahmud to do his work for him.

Imagine Prime Minister Tony Blair deputing the head of MI-5, the British Secret Service, to take a political message of some sort to the Leader of the Opposition, and then the Chief Constable resorting to arm-twisting to extract a favourable response to the PM’s message! If we have to follow Britain in everything, why don’t we follow the good traditions that they have set up in their own country?

I know we are not as democratically advanced as the British, and that it is difficult for us to give up our Third World habits of autocratic behaviour, but the reason for taking up this subject today is that once again we are on the threshold of having a representative government. If Ms Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif, in their two terms, could not resist the temptation of using the police and the agencies to tide over their inept handling of political affairs, do you think the next man in is going to do it? Hardly.

An unbridled police force unleashed on the public is like a monster that you can’t even shoot to kill. It may turn around on its unscrupulous masters one day and try to destroy them. That won’t be a happy day for the country.

Spinning on Iraq

THE question of whether the United States should go to war with Iraq ought to be the subject of a full, careful and sober debate by Congress. Instead, it is being treated as a purely political issue, to be manipulated for maximum advantage in the midterm elections.

On one side, President Bush is openly employing the subject as a partisan instrument on the campaign trail. Rather than respond to legitimate questions about his race toward a military confrontation with Saddam Hussein, he accuses the Democrats of being weak in defending national security.

On the other side, the Democratic leadership in Congress is hurrying to get the issue off the table. Rather than press the administration about a campaign that could risk the lives of tens of thousands of Americans and Iraqis and cost the country hundreds of billions of dollars, it is moving toward quick acquiescence to a resolution giving Mr. Bush broad authority to wage war. Though many Democrats are uneasy, their doubts are being steamrolled by their leaders’ zeal to return voters’ focus to domestic economic issues.

The president’s cynical and irresponsible manipulation of the issue risks devaluing his credibility as he seeks to convince the United Nations and US allies that action to disarm Iraq is essential. We believe Mr. Bush is right in arguing that Saddam Hussein poses an unacceptable threat, and right in choosing to confront that menace.

But he undermines his own case by taking it on the campaign trail and thereby feeding suspicions, both at home and abroad, that he timed his initiative for maximum electoral advantage, rather than in response to serious calculation about how and when Iraq could best be dealt with. He also risks emerging with broad but ephemeral congressional and public support for a mission that will likely demand considerable courage, fortitude and staying power from this country.

Congress could help ensure that an Iraq mission succeeds by insisting that Mr. Bush — as well as any resolution — address the specific challenges of a campaign against Iraq. Will the United States allow a last attempt at the peaceful implementation of UN resolutions, and will it wage war only after UN passage of an explicit resolution authorizing force?

The draft resolution the administration submitted to Congress does not address these questions. Is the United States committed to maintaining order in a post-Saddam Iraq through American occupation forces or peacekeepers, and, if so, for how long? Is it committed to installing and supporting a new government in Iraq, and what kind of government would this be? The resolution does not say how the war and subsequent reconstruction would be funded.

Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., argued last week that a resolution should clarify these issues; he also argued that funding for Iraqi nation-building should be appropriated now. Many Democrats share his views. Yet, like Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt, the Democratic leaders in the Senate and the House, Mr. Edwards wants to get Iraq off the table: “In a short period of time, Congress will have dealt with Iraq and we’ll be on to other issues,” he said the other day.

The Democrats can’t have it both ways: They can either face up to their momentous responsibility in deciding on war or abdicate their authority and join Mr. Bush in playing the short-term political angles. The former course would be harder and take more time; but by choosing the latter they would weaken themselves, and the country. —The Washington Post

It’s democracy, perhaps, but not as we know it: WORLD VIEW

By Mahir Ali

IGNORANCE is an evil weed, which dictators may cultivate among their dupes, but which no democracy can afford among its citizens. —William Henry Beveridge

IT IS perfectly legitimate for General Pervez Musharraf to claim that democracy cannot be defined by any particular set of rules. After all, during the preceding century the world has encountered a range of political systems that projected themselves as democratic. The opinion wasn’t always universally shared. For example, no one ever took seriously the outcome of elections in one-party states with one-candidate constituencies.

Yet the western democratic model, often held up as a paradigm of political virtue and the epitome of civilization, also leaves a great deal to be desired. One needn’t cite the mis-election of George W. Bush to drive home this point — although it ought to be fairly obvious that only a seriously unbalanced system could keep on throwing up candidates such as Dubya and his ideological grandfather, Ronald Reagan. Once upon a time the average western democracy at least offered a choice between parties with reasonably distinct socio-economic platforms. But in the decade or so since the Soviet Union’s suicide, differences between the main conservative and social-democratic factions of the political elite have rapidly been diminishing.

They have not gravitated towards the centre, however; rather, they compete within the context of a consensus on the primacy of market forces. Frequently they are willing to manipulate the market to serve the interests of big business, which in turn controls politics through campaign contributions. The recent Enron scandal in the United States represents no more than the tip of the proverbial iceberg in the increasingly incestuous relationship between the economic and political branches of the ruling class.

A prime example of the coalescence of the so-called left and right is provided by the British phenomenon whereby a leader of the Labour Party has taken over the mantle of the Conservative Party’s most ideologically uncompromising prime minister. In fact, it is beginning to seem that Tony Blair may have exceeded his brief; although Margaret Thatcher was extremely proud of her special relationship with Reagan, even she may have resisted sinking to Blair’s level of obeisance and obsequiousness towards Washington.

Popular disenchantment with the realignment of mainstream political forces has manifested itself mainly in two ways: more votes for alternative parties such as the Greens, as well as for neo-fascist organizations, or a boycott of the ballot. In the US, the turnout in presidential elections has in several decades rarely exceeded the 50 per cent mark. It tends to be higher in Europe, but Germany’s 80 per cent last month was unusual by continental standards — and, as we noted last week, it was achieved by a clear-cut and important distinction emerging between social-democrats and conservatives.

Many people who make the journey to the polling booth as a civic duty realize that their votes are all but worthless. They also understand that most campaign promises are no more than a vote-procuring measure, and that the majority of popular demands are likely to be ignored — or, at best, rewarded with rhetoric — for the next four or five years.

However, notwithstanding its wide range of flaws, shortcomings, distortions and discrepancies, even democracy of the bourgeois variety boasts considerable advantages over the various forms of autocracy practised in certain parts of the world, be it the superficially benign despotism of the Gulf sheikhdoms or military dictatorship. And one of the most desirable features of western democracy is that the armed services broadly accept the supremacy of the civilian political order. This is not to suggest that Dwight Eisenhower was mistaken in warning of the risks posed by the military-industrial complex in the US, nor to imply that the army cannot serve as the primary repressive agent of the state.

Yet it’s worth remembering that, for example, the British army has played a regressive role in Northern Ireland only for as long as it has been commanded to do so by elected British governments. The Pakistani experience has been the polar opposite of that, with the army playing a determining role in national affairs even during the periods of ostensible civilian rule, and assuming power directly whenever that role has come under any threat, real or perceived. This tendency has reaped no benefits for Pakistan — and the same could be said for other nations, such as Nigeria, whose armed forces are ever willing to create a breach and then step into it as saviours.

Not surprisingly, this tendency has proved debilitating for democracy. Pakistan’s first planned general elections were pre-empted by General Ayub Khan’s coup d’etat. Before long he found himself basking in the praise of his American benefactors, being described as an Asian de Gaulle. Perhaps the most relevant difference was that Charles de Gaulle — notwithstanding his militarism — was the elected president of France.

Ayub’s “basic democracies” charade enjoyed no more credibility than his subsequent “election” as president, and his overthrow paved the way for the long-delayed general elections. The electoral process was as free and fair as could be hoped for — and unique in that respect. But it was followed by inarguably the worst year in Pakistan’s history, when the verdict of the ballot box was challenged with bullets and millions of people were mowed down by an army gone berserk.

The genocidal year may have been stretched to two, three or more had it not been for Indian intervention.

Subsequently, a smaller Pakistan revelled all too briefly in democracy — but the army was busy playing its role as a spoiler well before July 1977. The pact between the PPP and the NAP-JUI alliance offered the prospect of nationwide social democracy. Despite its feudal underpinnings, the NAP was considered too radical not only by the military high command but also by the Shah of Iran, to whom representative and vaguely progressive rule in neighbouring Balochistan seemed like a dangerous example.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto ought to have resisted pressure to scuttle the pact — but, then, a reluctance to share power at any level was one of his crucial weaknesses. Even within his own party, any hint of intelligence or independent thinking was more likely to be rewarded with imprisonment rather than a seat in the cabinet. In contrast, would-be waderas, small-time goondas and a variety of sycophantic dimwits — all of them distinguished by a dearth of political principles — flourished, and many of them did their bit in contributing towards the crisis that beset the nation following the second general elections.

The seat rigging by some PPP stalwarts uncertain of their popular standing provided an ideal excuse for an anti-Bhutto movement driven by rather baser motives than the defence of democracy and propelled by generous assistance and encouragement both from vested interests within the country and interested parties abroad who had begun to consider ZAB a dangerous maverick who potentially posed a threat to western influence in the Muslim world. None of this excuses the manner in which the besieged government reacted to the protests. Yet it is crucial not to overlook the fact that General Ziaul Haq made his move after the government and the opposition had reached a compromise.

Zia began his tenure with a lie — the promise of a return to representative rule within 90 days — and piously adhered to a menu of prevarication right until he made his explosive exit from history. Many of Pakistan’s worst ills — corruption on a grand scale, sectarian and ethnic strife, the spread of religious fundamentalism, the proliferation of weapons and drugs — are either rooted in the Zia era or were exacerbated during that period.

After Zia’s departure, the army decided against retaining power directly, but it never distanced itself from the political press. The IJI was cobbled together by the ISI, with Zia’s chief civilian disciple at its helm, as a way of denying power to Zia’s chief nemesis. It didn’t work the first time around, but while the successive Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif administrations wreaked havoc, the army was always there, waiting in the wings, looking for a chance to pounce.

Whatever the accuracy of the charges of corruption and maladministration against the PPP and the PML governments, the point is that the army’s own record in these respects could hardly be described as pristine. Musharraf’s claims to complete honesty have always been compromised by his refusal to dwell on the misdeeds of previous military rulers.

That in itself would have been unforgivable. But he has gone further. He has described his own rule as a “democratic dictatorship” — a pure contradiction in terms. He may have done so on the basis of his ersatz referendum — a constitutional infringement that was supposed to give him legitimacy. He has now had his way with the 1973 Constitution just like Zia did before him, and the document consensually endorsed by an elected parliament is now unrecognizable.

Next week’s elections will — eventually, once the battle’s lost and one and all the horse-trading’s done — yield a prime minister accountable to a National Security Council dominated, effectively if not numerically, by the armed forces. They won’t yield an all-powerful president, because we’ve already got one immovable. Unelected. Accountable to no one other than Washington. And that’s meant to be “true democracy”.

Isn’t that an absurdly devious turn of phrase for a “plain-talking” soldier? We shall return to the theme next week.

E-mail: mahirali@journalist.com



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