Five years of gains and failures

Today, President Musharraf completes his five years in power. His record in office is a mixed one, for even his worst denigrators will not deny him the credit for turning the economy around and maintaining a measure of political stability, just as his most ardent admirers will find it hard to defend some of his blunders.

The earth-shaking crisis that found General Musharraf being at the helm of affairs was 9/11. As the Taliban's erstwhile mentor, Pakistan was in the eye of the storm. The general's handling of the crisis has been criticized by sections of the politicians and the media; but given the nerve-racking situation in the world since 9/11, it appears that Islamabad had little choice.

The decision to join the US-led war on terror and Pakistan's close cooperation with the Americans in fighting militancy ended the country's political isolation. Of greater importance was the economic benefits of cooperation, with the threat of a default on payments giving way to higher foreign exchange reserves and plentiful doses of aid.

The other positive development has been the peace process with India. The rapprochement came in the wake of the eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with that country in the summer of 2002. Pakistan did not succumb to military pressure and held its ground.

Mercifully, good sense prevailed on both sides and the troops pulled back. The ground for peace was broken when the Saarc summit in January turned out to be seminal, with the then Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee visiting Islamabad.

The two sides then agreed to a composite dialogue, which was followed by a series of confidence-building measures. Even though a breakthrough on Kashmir appears nowhere in sight, at least India has recognized the need for a Kashmir solution. The detente with India has been appreciated by the whole world, and for that President Musharraf deserves full credit for playing his cards well.

It is, however, in the realm of domestic policy that the general finds himself in a trap of his own making. By attempting to ostracize the PPP and PML-N, President Musharraf now looks for support from those to whom his "enlightened moderation" is anathema.

Throughout these five years, his main concern has been to legitimize his rule. For this his government organized a referendum (April 30, 2002) that was thoroughly spurious.

This way he thought he was "elected" with a 97.5 per cent 'yes' vote. The general election that followed in October that year was manipulated from the word go. The most horrendous aspect of this rigging was the mutilation of the Constitution.

The changes wrought through the Legal Framework Order turned the Constitution virtually into a presidential one. There were, of course, some desirable changes - like the abolition of separate electorates, the increase in the number of seats for women, etc.

But some other changes were horrendous. The LFO provided for a National Security Council and the revival of Article 58-2(b). The former has subordinated the elected civilian government to the military, while the latter has given the president the right to dissolve the assembly and dispense with an elected government even if the prime minister enjoys the NA's confidence.

Worse still, instead of letting the LFO be debated and voted upon by parliament, the president made it a law through a decree signed by him. The current year has been occupied by one concern: should the general retain his uniform while remaining head of state? Under the Constitution a man in uniform cannot contest a presidential election.

But the general managed to get a vote of confidence by parliament. In a speech earlier this year, he had promised to shed his uniform by the end of the year, but now he is having second thoughts. For all one knows, the general may have his way and retain the offices of president as well as army chief. But that would be no service to Pakistan.

This country was achieved by constitutional means under the leadership of a constitutional veteran. History has shown that the arbitrary mutilation of the Constitution and "the systems" given by a succession of generals have proved fatal for the country.

The world does not recognize Pakistan as a democracy, despite the fact that the press is free - freer than ever before. Democracy is Pakistan's destiny. There is no other way this country can move forward. From this point of view, President Musharraf has little to show for himself.

If at all he is sincere to the cause of democracy, let him trust the people and their representatives. The economic reforms the general has introduced and the course of foreign policy Islamabad has been following can be better guarded by democratic institutions than by an individual, howsoever well-meaning.

Terrorism in full swing

As the fate of two Chinese hostages held by militants in South Waziristan hangs in the balance, there was another suicide bombing at a Lahore mosque on Sunday, killing four people.

A day earlier, religious scholar Mufti Jameel Ahmed Khan and one of his associates were gunned down in Karachi by unidentified attackers, who escaped from the scene on their motorbike after committing the murders in broad daylight.

Last week's terrorist attack on a mosque in Sialkot and another one on a religious gathering in Multan resulted in the killing of dozens of people. This is full-throttle terrorism, whose spread the authorities have failed to check.

Instead, Sindh police have reportedly sent written directives to many mosques and imambargahs in the province asking them to have their own private guards or armed volunteers posted on the premises to provide security.

If true, this would mean abdicating the primary function of the police of protecting citizens in all public places. If put into practice, this may also have other more serious repercussions.

For one, who would stop such armed volunteer groups from turning into private militias over a period of time? The very suggestion is absurd and a recipe for disaster. This is against the norms of civil society and must not be allowed to take effect.

Whether in South Waziristan, Punjab or Karachi, the recent acts of terrorism have shown that the government's policy of showing clemency or offering amnesty to the militants is not working.

It is disturbing to note that the commander of the hostage-takers in South Waziristan is a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner. Similarly, merely banning some sectarian organizations has resulted only in their resurfacing under new names.

Those running these organizations have remained as menacing a threat to society as before. It is time all such elements were disarmed and those involved in acts of violence brought to book without any political or other considerations coming in the way.

The government must ensure that proper security is provided to all legal foreigners residing in Pakistan and to the places of worship everywhere. The decision by the Lahore police to deploy 4,500 policemen at a number of city mosques and imambargahs is the right one.

The ban imposed by the interior ministry on unauthorized religious gatherings following the attack on one such congregation in Multan last week must be enforced rigorously throughout the country.

The general public must be made to feel secure while visiting a place of worship, and the responsibility for providing security at public places must rest exclusively with the state's law enforcement agencies.

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