Musharraf, his uniform and Pak democracy

Ayaz Amir:

When Gen Musharraf successfully reduced the nation to a state of tedium with his ode to brevity on December 30 — a TV speech that went on for 55 minutes — did it not occur to him, or did no one among his gaggle of advisers tell him, that it would be a good idea to say something about the Asian tsunamis? From one less-than-convincing argument to another he went defending his uniform but the greatest tragedy to hit Asian shores these last 50 years somehow escaped his attention. The wages of a troubled conscience or a mind burdened with other things? When you are obsessed with the trees, you are apt to lose sight of the bigger picture.

Setting out to be a great reformer, Pakistan’s fourth military saviour has reduced himself to total dependence upon his army position. Is this power enhanced or power diminished, power impoverished? Even if he were to try, the president couldn’t have passed a more devastating vote of no-confidence against his own hand-crafted system for no one is left in any doubt that without the prop of his uniform this makeshift system would collapse. The new mantra is that uniform strengthens democracy. One of the titles General Musharraf is being regaled with after his uniform speech is “Protector of democracy.” Democracy’s future is indeed bright when we are tempting all future army chiefs to cast themselves in the saviour mould. Anyone would think a quartet of saviours — Generals Ayub, Yahya, Zia or Musharraf — would be enough for any country. But imagine a succession of Ayub or Zia clones stretching into the far distance.

If our political parties were at all capable of leaving their petty interests aside, they would come together on the uniform issue. But what do we see? The Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy all but dead, the PML-N isolated and irrelevant for the moment, the PPP engaged in behind-the-scenes contacts with ISI or Military Intelligence, the religious alliance, the MMA, suffering from internal tensions and resolved, whatever its posturing, not to push matters to a point of no return. The MQM is firmly in the military camp, quite a change for a party which was a bugbear for the military not long ago.

Something that would really have an impact would be for the opposition to say that as a last resort they’d walk out of the assemblies leaving the Q League, the Patriot renegades and the MQM to run this show as best as they can. Far from being irresponsible, such a move would be the logical, indeed the only credible, answer to the president’s insistence on remaining in uniform. After all, if the opposition parties say this is a sham democracy, made still more sham by a president who is also army chief, what’s the point of participation? But again barring the PML-N, no one else is in a mood to act real; not Benazir Bhutto who would gladly cut any half-decent deal with the military, not Maulana Fazlur Rehman who has perfected the fine art of appearing to march towards the brink while staying well short of it, not even Qazi Hussain Ahmed, who has a fair idea of what the MMA is likely to lose in a confrontation with GHQ.

This leaves us with a collection of paper tigers, strong on roaring, weak on meaningful action. Democracy you would think requires some sacrifice. What sacrifice is anyone prepared to make? Thus a double crisis of credibility threatens: a personal one for Gen Musharraf, a collective one for the champions of democracy.

Ayaz, a columnist for Dawn, writes for THT from Islamabad