Originally Published 2005-05-11 11:37:15 Published on May 11, 2005
There is only one way in which Pakistan can survive as a nation-state. That is, the Pakistan Army will have to confine itself to being an armed force and not usurp the powers and responsibilities of the legislature and executive branch of the government. The mission objective of an armed force is to safeguard the integrity and sovereignty of the country and not run it. The people of Pakistan have a choice here.
Pak Army should give up politics
There is only one way in which Pakistan can survive as a nation-state. That is, the Pakistan Army will have to confine itself to being an armed force and not usurp the powers and responsibilities of the legislature and executive branch of the government. The mission objective of an armed force is to safeguard the integrity and sovereignty of the country and not run it. The people of Pakistan have a choice here. 

They may either opt for a military dictatorship where the Army is the political establishment or a democracy where the Army remains confined to cantonments in times of peace, and on the borders in times of conflict. Democracy is a natural choice. People should have the right to elect their representatives and not get burdened with military dictators waiting in the wings to pounce on the weak political leadership.

President Musharraf has the opportunity to change the destiny of his nation. He is uniquely placed to salvage it from being a poor, impoverished, bigoted, terrorist breeding ground to a moderate, developing Islamic nation. He has the right qualifications. He is a soldier with remarkable credentials. He has been an astute politician. He has goodwill in international capitals. He represents the face of moderate Islam. Unlike Zia, he has not divided the country along sectarian lines. He is widely respected, both within and outside his country. People expect him to fulfill their aspirations of seeing their nation earn respect in the comity of nations. No one is more conscious of the burden of the responsibility of making Pakistan a land of prosperity more than President Musharraf.

Some of the options which he might consider to create a roadmap for a progressive Pakistan are detailed herewith. The first step would be to resign as the Chief of Army Staff. This is crucial for setting up the stage for a series of political reforms which are essential to strengthen Pakistan's democratic institutions. Various democratic institutions have fallen into disuse with regular bouts of military dictatorships that have been a characteristic of Pakistan's political landscape since 1947. There is a need to revive them and strengthen them at the earliest. For this to happen, President Musharraf will have to stop being the Chief of Army Staff.

This is essential to delineate the military from the civilian role. One of the serious administrative flaws in today's Pakistan is the military control of a large number of civilian establishments. This will have to be altered. The military should not be burdened with the responsibility of running water and power departments. It is best left to civilian experts. President Musharraf will have to take a leaf out General Mirza Aslam Beg (1998-1991) book, who decided not to take charge after the death of President Zia-ul Haq in an aircrash. His decision allowed the civilian leadership to assume power after the elections.

According to Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a well-known commentator on Pakistan Army, General Beg and his officers were content to live with the civilian leadership as long as the military's corporate and professional interests were not threatened. This attitude has undergone a change. Today's commanders are willing to accept the presence of political parties but want their roles to be strictly defined and adhered to. Dr Rizvi, writing in the influential Pakistani English newspaper, Daily Times, states: "This adversely affects the prospects of autonomous growth of civilian, political, economic and societal processes."

Once President Musharraf decides to resign as the Chief of Army Staff, it will be easier for him to change the leadership of the civilian establishment. This will also neutralise the growing resentment within the Army. President Musharraf's decision to remain the chief till 2007 has created a huge backlog of promotions and retirements which has had adverse impact on the functioning and morale of the armed forces.

The next step President Musharraf must consider taking is dismiss the National Assembly and Senate and call for fresh elections. The 2000 elections were a fraud on democracy. These were conducted by the military and the main ruling coalition was patched together by Rawalpindi GHQs which, incidentally, in the past three years has had three prime ministers, and, if newspaper reports are to be believed, a fourth one is on the way. A highly unstable coalition politics is not what today's Pakistan needs. The Government has to be stable and free of the military. President Musharraf, using his discretionary powers, should call for elections in 2006 and stay away from politics, sending a clear signal to the military and the intelligence services to completely desist from interfering with the political process.

As a parallel action, he should free imprisoned political leaders, lift restrictions on political parties, and allow Mr Altaf Hussein, Ms Benazir Bhutto and Mr Nawaz Sharif to return to Pakistan. This will help him rein in the clerics of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) who have been threatening anarchy in the country. The clerics have joined hands against him and their influence needs to be curtailed in the interest of Pakistan. A free political atmosphere can do the trick. The Election Commission of Pakistan should be revived and strengthened. The policy of appointing pliable judges of higher courts should be dispensed with. President Musharraf should appoint an independent-minded, honest judicial officer or bureaucrat as the Election Commissioner. He should, in no case, pick a retired general. This will be critical for making elections as free and fair as possible.

President Musharraf should then repeal the Legal Framework Order, 2002 (Chief Executive's Order No. 24 of 2002), Constitution (Seventeenth Amendment) Act, 2003, Provisional Constitution Order No. 1 of 1999, The President's Succession Order, 2001, Term of Chief Election Commissioner Order, 2000, Proclamation of Emergency (Amendment) Order, 2001 and National Security Council Order (Amendment) Order 2002.

Once the elections are conducted, President Musharraf will have to take the next big step. He should allow the new President to be elected by the representatives of the people. This will necessitate his resignation once the new Prime Minister is sworn in. There is every possibility that he will be re-elected as the President of Pakistan. This will bring credibility to his appointment and stature. He will then be free of internal as well as external pressures of complying with democratic norms.

His first task as a President will be to persuade his Prime Minister and the Cabinet to restructure the National Security Council, add enough teeth and responsibility to enable this organisation to carry out the first mission critical to Pakistan's existence as a nation: To neutralise extremism and terrorism from within. This is what President Musharraf says is one of his primary missions. Pakistan urgently needs to be rid of terrorism and extremism that has been allowed to flourish for various reasons.

The throwback has brought only bad name to Pakistan internationally. It has made it regress a few decades in terms of social, political and economic development. President Musharraf cannot take any chances this time; it is not a commando operation. It is a question of Pakistan's future. Only history will tell whether he will measure up to the expectations.

The author is Senior Fellow, South Asia Programme and Director, Information Services, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.
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