General Pervez Musharraf created history when he finally doffed his “second skin” after heading the mighty military establishment for little over 9 years and opted to move into the Presidential Palace in Islamabad; on the face of it, Musharraf earned the distinction of becoming the first COAS to have transitioned from the army house to the Presidency rather peacefully. All his predecessors Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan and Ziaul Haq — exited from the scene ignominiously — the former two forced out by political circumstances and the latter by a stroke of nature (the Aug 17 1988 C-130 crash) though the source of stroke remains hitherto a mystery.
Musharraf also wrote himself in the history books as a ruler who weathered all political upheavals by continuously delivering blows — through the mighty security and intelligence apparatus — to mainstream political parties and thereby further fragmenting and weakening the opposition.
Musharraf might convince his detractors — both at home and abroad — that he allowed the National Assembly to complete its term, and that he ensured peaceful transition from the military chief to the civilian presidency to fulfill his promise of “replacing sham democracy with real democracy”. In the process, he emasculated most civilian institutions by stuffing them with an army of serving and retired army generals.
The general did this all — albeit on his own terms; and that is the tragedy of this “peaceful transition”. Beginning with the controversial March 9 suspension of Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, Musharraf unleashed a process that first claimed over three dozen lives in Karachi on May 12 and then exposed protesting lawyers to unprecedented high-handedness of police and other security organs.
Manhandling of Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, unceremonious redeportation of Nawaz Sharif upon his return to Pakistan on September 10, and mauling of scores of lawyers in September and October during protests over the controversial presidential election all belong to the tactics that the mighty Musharraf-led establishment employed as part of its plan to blunt opposition.
The brutal assault on lawyers and media — before and after the PCO proclamation — flowed from a flawed sense of “indispensability”. Gen Musharraf continued to delude himself with the thought of his “indispensability for the continuity” and that is why he cleared all legal and constitutional hurdles by imposing the state of emergency on November 3. Posterity will probably judged most of the acts after Nov 3 as a mere “eyewash”.
Sadly, General Musharraf lorded over Pakistan for most of the last nine years, practically unquestioned only to stumble in March when he attempted to either remove or take the chief justice on board. He also had to bite the dust on several occasions, particularly when he made and then retracted remarks to foreign television networks on people like Mukhtaran Mai, Dr Shazia Khalid and even Asma Jehangir. While Bush and Blair heaped praise on him for his allegiance to their agenda of war against terrorism, Musharraf conducted himself as a “savior statesman above law”. The issuance of ordinances to “legitimise” the Nov 3 PCO exemplifies this state of mind that essentially rests on power and not on legal and democratic discourse.
The General defended all his actions as “steps in the national interest”, and ironically he himself defined the parameters of “national interest”.
The Washington Post also dilated on the same subject in its November 26, 2007 issue and drew interesting analogies.
“In the interest of promoting democracy, Pakistan’s president, Gen Pervez Musharraf, recently announced that he had to lock up most of his country’s democratic activists. And because he wanted the Pakistani Supreme Court to independently rule on whether he could continue as president, Musharraf also locked up the country’s top judges and replaced them with yes men.”
“Seen in the long light of history, last week’s court ruling that Musharraf could continue in power was less Machiavellian than unoriginal. For as far back as historical records go, people in power have told astonishingly bald-faced lies, saying they are acting in the public interest when they are really acting in their own,” wrote the paper.
The Post also picked up Saddam Hussein to illustrate the ruse of “national interest.” “Saddam, said the paper, used to win “elections” with upwards of 95 per cent of the vote — the missing 5 per cent, no doubt, being a dictator’s gesture in the direction of modesty. In earlier times, conquests and colonialism, even slavery, have been justified as being in the best interest of the victims.
The paper also drew on a new research in political science and psychology, which it said, provided a novel explanation for why leaders and managers regularly let their followers down and resort to the kind of “layoffs and pay cuts are good for you” talk that defines absurdity. These studies show that leaders often emerge from communities not because they are ruthless, but because they are skilled at managing social relationships.
Something happens to people once they acquire power, however, and the transformation appears to be psychological.
Adam Galinsky, a social psychologist at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, recently had volunteers describe either a situation in which they had power over someone else or a situation in which they felt powerless. Those asked to remember a situation in which they felt powerful were made to feel even more powerful by being given control of the distribution of goodies, whereas the volunteers asked to remember a powerless situation were further reminded of their powerlessness when they were asked to estimate how many goodies they expected to receive.
Galinsky’s point, which he noted in a study published in the journal Psychological Science, is that volunteers made to feel powerful, even in a trivial laboratory experiment, almost instantly lose the ability to see things from other people’s points of view.
Dacher Keltner, a social psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley, says that power exacerbates many cognitive biases. People who lack power turn out to be more accurate in guessing the opinions of those around them, whereas those in power tend to be inaccurate. Because subordinates are also hesitant to tell superiors things they do not want to hear, the problem gets worse, with powerful people having even less input and perspective about how others think and feel.
Seen in the light of these findings, the fatal moves that Musharraf made since March this year also become more understandable. His contradictory statements on Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif (their “corruption”, they will return to Pakistan over my dead body etc) offer ample evidence of the self-righteous and holier-than-thou mindset that he had sunk into.
Once “out of skin”, Musharraf will also lose the teeth and claws that he possessed as the COAS, and thereby exposed to huge challenges, not only from Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, but also from within. His relegation to the presidency alone has also thrown the king’s party in uncertainty.
Sooner than later, new realities of the power play will begin to catch up with him, as a new army chief, no matter how loyal and trusted, will chart the future course of Pakistan Army and its role in politics according to his own vision.
The imperative to adjust himself vis-à-vis the new army chief and the future prime minister on the one hand, and to balance this role with the US desire of “do more against terrorists” on the other, will put Musharraf to new and tougher tests. He would certainly feel weaker even than he might have imagined.
More importantly, Nawaz Sharif as well as Ms Bhutto appear set to take on the civilian president the moment they make it to the parliament. Sharif already rules out working under him saying that “any government serving under Musharraf will be illegal and undemocratic.
“My party will not become part of any coalition government under President Musharraf in the future,” the PML-N leader Sharif said.
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They are also demanding the reinstatement of all judges dismissed under the PCO.
Sharif says elections would only be acceptable once Gen Musharraf lifts his state of emergency and withdraw an order suspending the Constitution.
All said, maintaining the status quo up to the general elections after Musharraf doffs his “skin” looks quite uncertain. An entirely new power play is likely to unfold because of the illegalities and contradictions in the post Nov 3 system including the caretaker government. Early part of December will most probably determine as to whether the mighty establishment can control this domino and hold transparent elections with the participation of all major parties.