ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Pakistan: General in His Labyrinth

The charter of democracy agreed on by Pakistan's two leading opposition politicians has given a fillip to the long dormant democratic process in Pakistan. If the campaign sustains and gathers momentum, Musharraf, who has thus far held to power by subverting constitutional norms and reaching an unsavoury alliance with fundamentalist religious parties, may find the going tough. The promised elections of 2007 now appear full of unexpected possibilities.


General in His Labyrinth

The charter of democracy agreed on by Pakistan’s two leading opposition politicians has given a fillip to the long dormant democratic process in Pakistan. If the campaign sustains and gathers momentum, Musharraf, who has thus far held to power by subverting constitutional norms and reaching an unsavoury alliance with fundamentalist religious parties, may find the going tough. The promised elections of 2007 now appear full of

unexpected possibilities.


Nay, but this dotage of our general’sOverflows the measures.

– Opening line of Shakespeare’s

Antony and Cleopatra

ondon has become the hub of Pakistani politics lately, at least since the arrival of Nawaz Sharif in December 2005. The ousted prime minister and head of Nawaz-faction of the Pakistan Muslim League took up a “flexible” exile in London, a change from what till recently was a rigidly monitored exile in Saudi Arabia. Ever since, Sharif has set about upping the oppositional ante against the military dictatorship of general Pervez Musharraf. On July 2, 2006, as part of this grand alliance against the entrenched dictatorship of Musharraf, all the component parties of the alliance for democracy (ARD) signed on May 14 the charter of democracy (CoD) that was agreed on earler between two pre-eminent Pakistani opposition politicians, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif. ARD issued a unanimous call for the immediate resignation of Musharraf and his civilian relay Shaukat Aziz, paving the way for free and fair elections. This demand is consistent with the spirit of the charter which has, predictably, stirred the placid political scene till long presided by the undiminished one-man rule of Pervez Musharraf which had its beginnings in October 1999 when he overthrew Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League government. This show of political unity, strengthened by a unified vision that envisages a fully functioning, untrammelled democracy, has provoked intense commentary in the Pakistan press, for till now, both politicians had failed to agree or even provide a clear road map towards democracy. Both politicians remain popular with the masses as seen in the rigged elections of 2002 where parties led by them bagged the largest share of vote despite Musharraf’s single-minded campaign to malign and restrict them.

The immediate spur to the charter comes from the growing realisation of Musharraf’s unrestrained power lust, his desire to hang onto absolute rule and preserve military rule beyond the specified cut-off period of 2007. Until now he has hung onto power by engineering the rise of his “test-tube” party, the Muslim League (Quaid) – a breakaway faction of Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League – through a rigged election in 2002 followed by bribe-inspired defections and constitutional tinkering in the new parliament. Earlier in the same year he had got himself elected as the president through a ghost referendum. Prior to these dictatorship-entrenching measures he had managed to send Nawaz Sharif into gilded

Economic and Political Weekly September 16, 2006 exile in Saudi Arabia and contrived to stop Benazir Bhutto from returning, thus ensuring a challenge-less field to himself.

Until the charter signing ceremony both parties had explored options of accommodation, separately, with the military regime – a reflex from habits of the past. Notwithstanding the chequered history of both parties, the proclamation of charter of democracy is a significant development and a clear recognition on the part of both leaders that the hitherto all-mighty Musharraf is determined to dig in for a long innings by shutting out two major political parties from the electoral contest. Hence the charter of democracy deserves some serious consideration both for its content and context.

In one way the charter of democracy is the culmination of the steep learning curve that both leaders perforce went through, after having danced to the tune of successive Pakistani military generals and having done all they could to do each other down throughout the 1980s and 1990s. This hardbitten realisation, enshrined in the charter, commits both major parties not to seek the blessing of the military generals in undermining democratic governments in future. This welcome move represents a delayed onset of maturity between both major parties. In the case of Nawaz Sharif, in particular, the surge of political maturity is quite significant as he is a direct product of the system of controlled democracy instituted by the previous dictator, Zia-ul-Haq. This unexpected political maturity is further evidenced in his Muslim League’s rock-ribbed opposition to the military regime of Musharraf, which has seen one of its top leaders, Javed Hashmi, clamped up in prison for more than 20 years. In addition, the charter seeks to restore the much-contorted 1973 constitution, which Musharraf suspended and changed beyond recognition, to its pre-1999 coup form, after forcing changes to the document through his puppet parliament.

More importantly, the charter seeks to wrest control of the nuclear command and control system from the military’s grasp and put it back in the executive head, i e, the prime minister’s, hands. This resolution has directly sprung from the recent controversy surrounding the nuclear trafficking network run by the top nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan. What appears to be is at the back of this thinking is the probable complicit role played by the military in nuclear smuggling and the military’s stranglehold over the nuclear policy.

There is a further reiteration of the intent to subject the defence budget to the scrutiny of parliament and to require all military officers to submit an annual account of their assets. Until now successive parliaments have been denied a detailed look at the defence budget. In the wake of the budget last June, in particular, calls for parliamentary oversight of the military budget have gathered momentum. This is likely to strike a chord with most Pakistanis who have observed disturbingly visible signs of corruption among the defenders of the realm under Musharraf’s rule. Apart from monetary corruption, military officers are encroaching upon

Call for Papers

The Geopolitics of Energy Security

Emerging Asia is changing the dynamics of the energy market. The growing demand for oil and gas from Asia (especially China and India) is leading to new patterns of energy trade with obvious security implications. Asia is increasingly becoming vulnerable to the twists and turns of the global energy market. While finding secure energy sources is critical for consumers, exporters too face the imperative of finding stable, secure markets. With large and diverse stakeholders, the global energy security regime needs to move towards a co-operative structure. Ironically, such initiatives are sometimes perceived with suspicion, giving rise to tensions between old and new stakeholders, and even creating new fault lines for future conflicts.

To consider these issues, the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi and the International Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) are organising a two-day international workshop on The Geopolitics of Energy Security: The Rise of Asia, scheduled on December 15-16, 2006. The workshop will bring together researchers from India, China and other countries, to discuss the challenges and prospects for promoting energy security in Asia, with a focus on geopolitical perspectives. The conference aims at conceptualising the emerging issues of energy geopolitics with the rise of Asia and its ramifications for security issues.

The themes for the workshop are as follows

1. Geopolitics of Energy Security in Asia: Emerging Trends; 2. Energy Security in Asia: Regional Perspectives; 3. Energy and Maritime Security; 4. Expanding the Energy Security Agenda

The IDSA invites analytical and well-researched papers of about 5,000 words on the above themes from interested scholars/

officials/experts. Deadline: A brief proposal of paper should reach IDSA by September 30, 2006. The proposals for papers will be reviewed by an Expert Committee. Those selected to write the papers will be intimated about the Expert Committee’s decision by October 15, 2006. The complete papers should reach IDSA on November 15, 2006. After submission of complete papers, the Expert Committee will review them. The selected papers will be published as a book on The Geopolitics of Energy Security. A token honorarium of Rs. 20,000 will be paid for the selected papers.

All proposals should be mailed to: The Director, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses Block No. 3, Old JNU Campus, New Delhi 110067 The abstracts and papers may also be sent via email to

Economic and Political Weekly September 16, 2006

traditionally civilian jobs, setting off a worrying trend. One recent conservative estimate has put the number of top military officers inducted into civilian jobs at more than 1,000 since the Musharraf-led coup in 1999; other observers have voiced deep concern over the growing expansion of the military into commercial activity that carries serious implications for its professionalism and the future of democracy. These measures put together can restore the much elusive and “military-resisted” civilian supremacy over the unruly beast of the Pakistan army.

Equally important is the enunciation of a firm intention to review lands allotted to the military officers since Musharraf seized power. In the last few years, military officers have embarked on an unprecedented land-grabbing operation whereby premier chunks of land have been appropriated by the military in the name of national security. The land thus appropriated has been parcelled out among the military officers who have gone on to make enormous money by selling it at commercial rates. This has bred considerable resentment among general population who have seen their living standards plummeting on a daily basis. (Majority of Pakistanis now dub the military bureaucracy as both a “kleptocracy” and a “plotocracy” – lust for grabbing plots of lands in the most expensive parts of the city.)

Another important element of the charter is the creation of an independent election commission to ensure the transparency and integrity of elections in future. Until now, military intelligence agencies have played a decisive role in fixing the outcome of each election, bypassing the largely ceremonial Pakistani election commission. The natural corollary of this, therefore, is the demand for the 2007 elections to be conducted under a neutral, caretaker administration. In the event of this demand not being honoured both parties have decided to boycott the elections.

Furthermore, there are mechanisms spelt out with a view to involving both opposition and the ruling party in major decisions concerning the appointment of judges and election commissioner in a future democratic set-up. Also, the promise of a truth and reconciliation commission is welcome news. Most Pakistanis would fall in with this as they have increasingly come to believe that the Pakistan army is above the law. The proposed commission would also empower political victims of the military dictatorships; it would also exercise due power to investigate the conduct of the military in launching disastrous military adventures such as Kargil (when Musharraf led a disastrous military campaign in 1999) and in undermining the civilian government through the 1990s. These intentions when viewed in totality add up to the overarching goal of bringing the army under the thumb of civilians, thus sowing the seed of genuine democracy in Pakistan. No one in Pakistan is in any doubt now as to this pressing necessity.

Showdown for Democracy

Not surprisingly, this show of rare unity has unnerved Musharraf who has so far ruled unchallenged. In a response characteristic of Musharraf, he resorted to the tired and cliched tactic of running down both exiled politicians as corrupt and vowed not to let them participate in the elections in 2007. In a further effort to up the ante, he brazenly announced his intention to use the existing assemblies to rubber-stamp his second five-year term in office before the October election of 2007. This sets the scene for a decisive confrontation between Musharraf and the democratic movement represented by the alliance for democracy (ARD) of which Benazir-led Peoples Party and Nawaz-led the Muslim League are the major components. In this evolving scenario the bigger question that is obsessing Pakistan-watchers is whether Musharraf can continue in his unbounded one-man rule’s mode without a major challenge? The answer, on the basis of emerging trends, is probably no, and there are a number of reasons to prompt this conclusion.

The continuing policy of shutting out major political forces has led the army to import religious parties into the political arena. This has so far served two crucial purposes for Musharraf: one to undercut the two major liberal and progressive parties and pit them against the officially backed religious right; two, to sell Musharraf to the outside world as the last bulwark against the rising forces of religious parties and thus indispensable to the preservation of a liberal Pakistan. But this fiction is now becoming difficult to maintain both at international and domestic level with each passing day. At the international level, a growing consensus seems to be converging that Musharraf is playing it both ways and is not being sincere enough in containing jehadist political groupings. More concern is being voiced over the Pakistani military regime’s renewed support to domestic religious groups and the Taliban in Afghanistan. This tension was on full display when two key allies in the war on terror, Hamid Karzai, president of Afghanistan, and Musharraf clashed in public when the former accused the latter of being not proactive enough in containing the Taliban. This spat occurred in the context of US presidents George W Bush’s visit to the region earlier this year. More significantly, unease has also been gathering among Musharraf’s western backers about his seeming insincerity in living up to his public words in the fight against terrorism. These trends add to the impression that the fiction of Musharraf being indispensable to the war on terrorism is wearing thin. Against this backdrop the US congress has slashed American aid to Pakistan by a symbolic small margin to reinforce its changing perception of the Musharraf regime. This must come as a blow to the latter who has staked his future on a closer strategic alliance with the US.

At the domestic level, too, consensus has emerged that the religious alliance of parties known as Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) after its acronym in Urdu – has been in close alliance with Musharraf regime. Indeed, this closeness is so intimate that the acronym MMA has come to be dubbed as Military-Mullah Alliance (MMA). This should come as no surprise to avid Pakistan-watchers who have seen the Pakistan military working in concert with the religious political and terrorist groups to achieve the military-set domestic and foreign policy objectives.1 Above all, what has dented Musharraf’s slender credibility is his retraction of a televised promise to doff his uniform by 2004. This retraction, which evoked massive widespread displeasure, coupled with his moves to extend his rule in uniform beyond 2007, has lent a sharp new edge to the generalised disenchantment with his rule that has seen law and order worsen and living standards plummet due to unprecedented price hike. The popular disenchantment, moreover, has been fuelled by the sorry spectacle of Musharraf involving the Pakistan army in fighting its own people in Baluchistan and Warizistan areas of Pakistan. For the second time (the first being the pro-democracy movement in Sindh) after 1971, when the whole population of Bangladesh (East Pakistan) rose in rebellion against the high-handedness of the Pakistani military rulers, Pakistani troops are now

Economic and Political Weekly September 16, 2006 being resisted and fired on by an angry population affected by the military action in different parts of the country. In an effort to stem the tide of popular anger the military regime has reportedly blocked web sites that detail atrocities committed by the Pakistan army on Baluchis fighting for provincial autonomy. Similarly, the government has blocked media access to Waziristan, where the military operation to hunt down Al Qaida is going on (where collateral damage is considerable).

In an effort to contain these nodal points of civil unrest, the military intelligence has engaged in a dirty war with its own people, picking up potential dissenters in broad daylight. It is estimated that hundreds of political activists are either missing or presumed dead during the last five years. On this front parallels with the Latin and South American disappearances in the 1970s and 1980s by paramilitary squads are too close to ignore. Add to these nodal points of popular disquiet is the ham-fisted response of the military to the recent earthquake and the arc of discontent is complete. Perhaps more disturbing for Musharraf is the drumbeat of low-key dissent originating from the army. Only recently, ex-army chief during the late 1980s, Mirza Aslam Beg, voiced concern over Musharraf’s continued occupation of the presidency in uniform and added his support to any anti-Musharraf agitation (Dawn, May 18, 2006). Further proof of the unease within the army came from the national newspapers Dawn’scolumnist and ex-military officer, Ayaz Amir, who disclosed, in his recent column, considerable unease within the top-brass of the military over certain decisions taken by Musharraf in recent years, including the holding of a bogus referendum to get himself elected as the president (Dawn, May 12, 2006). Sensing this, Musharraf has ensured more funds earmarked for the army in the 2006 budget at a time when Indo-Pakistan mutual relations were reaching a high note. Given this backdrop, and coupled with his stubborn intention not to strike any accommodation with the major political parties, Musharraf has yoked himself to the interests of small ethnic, regional and religious parties whose combination props up his shaky personal rule. It appears that Musharraf has painted himself into what a seasoned observer of Pakistan scene, Ahmed Rashid, dubbed as “between a rock and a hard place” (The Daily Times, May 25, 2006).

The dividing lines between the democrats and the people on the one hand and Musharraf and his band of army-backed civilian allies are hardening day by day.

With the arrival of charter for democracy as a pointer to a clear-cut, united way forward, anything is possible between now and the upcoming elections in 2007. Pakistan is once again headed for the unknown. What is crystal clear, however, is that direction of political events will not follow the dictator’s diction for too long.




1 For a comprehensive discussion on this issue see International Crisis Group’s reports on the issue of military, mullahs and religious extremism in Pakistan on



The Institute of Economic Growth (IEG) plans to appoint One Associate Professor in the UNDP-IEG Programme on “Urban Poor and Sustainable Livelihoods” in the scale of pay of Rs. 12,000-420-18,300 plus usual allowances admissible from time to time at the Institute for the period up to 31st December, 2007. The Institute reserves the right to fill up the position at the level of Assistant Professor, if circumstances so warrant.

Essential Qualifications

The candidate should have a good academic record and must be an outstanding scholar with Ph.D. in Economics or a related social science subject. The candidate should have credentials of a long record of publications of books and research articles with specialization in urbanization and labour market behaviour/urban poverty/services for the urban poor.

The Institute may consider suitable candidates who may not have applied, if circumstances so warrant. Other things being equal, SC/ST/OBC candidates will be preferred.

Interested persons may send their Biodata with names of three referees and copies of five best publications to the Academic Programmes Officer, Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi University Enclave, North Campus, Delhi-110007 latest by October 5, 2006. Employed candidates must route their applications through proper channels.


Economic and Political Weekly September 16, 2006

Dear Reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here

Back to Top