This morning Pakistan time, General Pervez Musharraf resigned from the armed forces, ending his 46-year military career. Tomorrow, he will take the presidential oath for another 5-year term as a civilian and emergency rule could be lifted.
Musharraf, lasting longer than most – myself included – expected, is teetering through what he describes as the third phase of his transition to civilian rule. But he faces an enormous set of challenges and a number of wild cards that increase his and Pakistan’s precariousness.
MUSHARRAF DOES IT HIS WAY
“And now, the end is near, and so I face, the final curtain.
My friend, I’ll say it clear,
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain.…
Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew,
When I bit off, more than I could chew.
But through it all, when there was doubt,
I ate it up, and spit it out.
I faced it all, and I stood tall,
and did it my way….
The record shows, I took the blows —
And did it my way!
I did it my way.”
- Frank Sinatra, “My Way”
Musharraf’s resignation from the army isn’t a concession to his opponents or foreign governments; rather, he’s following through on his desired course of political transition. The emergency, as I’ve argued before, is a means for Musharraf to secure a political transition on his own terms.
As early as November 15, Musharraf said that he’d shed his uniform by the end of the month. Resignation from the army wasn’t much of an issue. Musharraf made sure that loyalists would fill positions as army chief, chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, ISI director general, and corps commanders.
Essentially, the issue was presidential power. Musharraf wanted to ensure that once the uniform was removed, he’d be assured not just the presidency, but the presidency whose powers he vastly increased through the Legal Framework Ordinance. These powers are critical for him to continue military-led nation-building. Musharraf, as William Millam — among others — has noted, feigns himself to be indispensable for Pakistan’s progress. In his farewell address to the military today, Musharraf referred to the army as the “savior of Pakistan,” and the guardian of its security and progress.
Musharraf has reasonable backing from the armed forces; his real obstacles are a functional judiciary, aggressive media, and a viable parliament. This trio would create greater scrutiny and oversight over his activities.
LESSONS LEARNED FROM MAY
It is the media coverage of the first attempt to depose Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry that brought Musharraf’s regime to one of its weakest points ever earlier this year. Musharraf suspended Chaudhry in March of this year — a first in Pakistan — on dubious charges. A movement to restore Chaudhry to office picked up, with the chief justice making visits to major Pakistani cities. The government thwarted his attempt to reach Karachi on May 12 and its coalition party, the militant Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), led a brutal day of street violence broadcast live on television in which dozens were killed. Musharraf stayed out of the public light for days, appearing a week later in a long, difficult interview with Talat Hussain of Aaj Television, whose program the government has recently forced off air. The experience of that week is something Musharraf would not like to repeat.
As a result, he sought to curb judicial checks on executive power, hammered the independent press, and is working to shape a hung parliament that has little chance of repealing constitutional amendments vastly empowering the president.
MUSHARRAF, NAWAZ AND BENAZIR: A REVERSAL OF FATES
Musharraf’s loss of legitimacy has left him with strong-arm tactics and political manipulation. It is an ironic twist of fate.
In 1999, Pakistanis were fed up with Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto – many accepted Musharraf with open arms. Musharraf was seen as saving Pakistan from Sharif, who increased his prime ministerial powers, attacked the judiciary, and waged war on the press.
Eight years later, their political fortunes have reversed. Both, especially Sharif, are more popular than Musharraf, who now looks much like the man he overthrew.
The reversal of fates is part of the deleterious cycle of alternation between civilian and military rule that has stunted Pakistan’s growth.
It could have been different for Musharraf, who very much has the memory of Ayub Khan and others in the back of his mind. He’s very much wanted a smooth transition to qualified civilian rule with lasting reforms.
But, like many previous Pakistani rulers, Musharraf squandered public support, abused executive power, and failed to establish institutional change that will outlive him. Based on historical precedent, the odds are the baby will go with the bathwater.
Musharraf missed opportunities to transition politically with institutional and popular support. And he is unlikely to ever gain those back.
HOLLOW CIVILIAN BASE
The utility of Musharraf’s corporatism has declined considerably. Segments of Pakistan have benefited from his economic reforms, but the middle and lower classes are increasingly strained by inflation and disdain the free reign given to the “land mafia” and the Karachi Stock Exchange’s insider traders.
The rich-poor divide is growing. At the far end of Karachi, a seven star hotel is being built along with many other Dubai-style projects. But away from the rising fantasy land, in the heart of the city, its majority deals with immense congestion, infrastructural decay, poverty, pollution, violent crime, and daily blackouts. These problems have been exacerbated by relinquishing the city to the MQM.
Pakistan’s economic growth under Musharraf has been considerable. But its agricultural sector and textile industry – the big employers and exporters – have suffered from benign neglect. The textile industry has lost market share to China, India, and Bangladesh. The reason isn’t quality of goods, but pricing. Industrialists believe their competitive disadvantage can be relieved through targeted subsidies.
Macro-level structural reform and privatization have created active banking and telecom sectors and a marked growth of services industries. But Pakistan is a country where roughly 2/3 of the population is below the poverty line and a majority is illiterate. Little has been done to catalyze manufacturing growth – despite the country’s large labor pool.
Politically, Musharraf has surrounded himself with a mix of rootless technocrats, clowns, and thugs.
His recent prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, was brought in on loan from Citigroup. Aziz, an effective economic manager, failed to build a popular base. As a result of this (and possibly machinations by the Chaudhry cousins), he won’t be running in the upcoming elections and could possibly move back to the U.S.
Ahmed Raza Kasuri, a legal aide to Musharraf, has appeared on national television several times cursing like Andrew Dice Clay. Wasi Zafar, the previous law minister, came on the most watched public affairs program and vigorously scratched his groin area while knowingly in the camera shot. His claim to fame, however, is an appearance on Voice of America in which he threatened to harm another panelist.
Musharraf’s main political allies, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Pervaiz Elahi, have little popular appeal beyond their mid-sized city of Gujrat. Shujaat heads the Musharraf allied PML-Q party, but he is an atrocious public speaker and a recipient of widespread ridicule. Musharraf could supplant them with Mian Azhar, the popular Lahori who preceded Shujaat as PML-Q head.
A key member of Musharraf’s political coalition is the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), led by Altaf Hussain, currently in exile in London. The MQM led a violent wave of violence in Karachi in the late 1980s and early 90s and still effectively holds the city at gunpoint. They are believed to run the prolific mobile phone snatching network that not only nets dozens of phones daily, but also all too often kills those who don’t give up their phones immediately. It’s a deadly mix of identity politics, illicit trade, and youthful rage. The MQM, however, serves as a check on the PPP’s presence in Sindh.
THE NAWAZ AND BENAZIR FACTORS
As a civilian, Musharraf will become increasingly dependent on a popular base. But the political party he assembled is one of turncoats and technocrats. Its very existence is challenged by the return of Nawaz Sharif, whose party it broke off from. While Sharif is originally the political child of Pakistan’s military and intelligence services, his popular appeal – particularly in Lahore and elsewhere in urban Punjab – is significant. He and his brother, more than anyone in Musharraf’s camp, have the political weight to lead a mass political party.
Musharraf’s deal making with Benazir, at Washington’s urging, was incomplete in its exclusion of Sharif. Nawaz was recalcitrant, but any meaningful effort toward national reconciliation in Pakistan has to include the military and heads of the two major political parties. Why? Because those left out always play the role of spoiler. And the two paired together collude against the one. Years later, the roles are switched, but the country’s challenges remain.
Moreover, resting the nation’s stability on a deal with Benazir Bhutto — of all people — is naive and misguided. If she ascends to the premiership — most likely through a weak coalition with the PML-Q and MQM — she is almost certain to challenge Musharraf head-on. Benazir has no aspirations to become Musharraf’s Shaukat Aziz; she will fight to create a viable premiership and reduce Musharraf’s presidential powers. Once she has a foot in the door, there’s no telling what she’ll do.
Vis-a-vis the major power brokers, Musharraf — at the moment — has no real challengers. Bhutto’s push will occur after the elections. Sharif hasn’t had enough time to field a large number of candidates for the elections, though PML-Qrs can defect to his side once the new parliament comes in. But Musharraf’s PML-Q has been in election-mode for quite some time and this year’s record-high budget is designed to earn the ruling party public favor.
There is, however, a major wild card in the form of Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, the new army chief of staff.
Kayani brings a fresh, well-regarded face to the command of Pakistan’s army. Indeed, much weight has been put on the shoulders of this “good soldier” who has come from humble roots.
The new chief of the army has reportedly created a division of labor with Musharraf. Kayani sticks to his formal job description and handles the many security challenges, such as in Swat, while Musharraf focuses on political affairs.
It is said that Kayani doesn’t have much political ambition. It’s unclear as to whether that’s a result of his insular personality or a strong view that the military shouldn’t be involved in politics. Previous Pakistani presidents have chosen what they saw as a benign COAS, only to find the opposite later.
Kayani was reportedly silent during Musharraf’s March meeting with Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, as the latter was being deposed. Furthermore, he was “neutral” on the imposition of emergency rule, when Musharraf queried his closest advisers.
The meaning of the poker-faced general’s behavior is unclear. Was he undecided about the treatment of the chief justice and suspension of the constitution? Or was he opposed to the prevailing consensus, but unwilling to openly express polite opposition to Musharraf — then his military senior?
While Kayani’s personality and past behavior are critical, the dynamics change significantly as he establishes himself at the army’s helm. Loyalties within the service begin to shift toward him. Grievances and demands within and without the army are channeled to Kayani, perhaps compelling him to play a role he has avoided.
In other words, while Kayani may be averse to politics, the institutional and power dynamics within Pakistan might force him to jump into the ring. Kayani has been deferential to Musharraf the chief of army staff — his military superior; but how will he view Musharraf, a civilian president, especially when that president becomes at loggerheads with an aggressive prime minister (i.e. Bhutto)?
The story will not end if and when the new parliament comes into session next year. Pakistan will remain deeply fractured and the elite discord that has ravaged the country since Jinnah’s death will remain. Musharraf once had a mandate to make lasting institutional change based on a national consensus. The tragedy of emergency rule is that it effectively meant the end for Musharraf — whose strengths are as compelling as his flaws — to bring Pakistan the viable, lasting governance framework it has never had. Instead of rising above the discordant elite and, through popular support, bringing them together, he has muddied himself and joined the fray. Pakistan, after eight years of Musharraf, seems in many senses to be back at square one.