EDITORIAL: Musharraf’s political options are closing
Everybody had predicted at the end of 2006 that 2007 would be a tough year for President General Pervez Musharraf. These predictions were made without even venturing a remote guess that he would confront a rather peaceable judiciary and precipitate an unprecedented crisis. Despite the annulment of the privatisation of the Steel Mills by the Supreme Court at the hands of a proactive chief justice of Pakistan, no one had even dreamed that the president would try to get rid of him in the way that he did.
When he tried to axe the chief justice, world opinion was shell-shocked. No one thought that the general would relapse to his pre-Kargil commando persona. In fact, many people thought he was in a temporary retreat after a series of failures experienced on other fronts. Therefore attempts were made to understand his difficulties and incapacity against the extremists and the Taliban even though there was a general consensus that he was reluctant to prevent the Taliban from attacking across the Durand Line. Meanwhile, his “deals” in Waziristan were not going so well; in fact they tended to push up the number of cross-border sallies by the Taliban. And when he tried to tame the seminaries that the world accused of incubating suicide-bomber mindsets, he simply lost out in the face of resistance from within his ruling PMLQ party. Still, the world tended to forgive him for failing with the madrassas because it was seen to be a hard task to accomplish given his cohabitation with the MMA.
The madrassa is Islam’s version of the phenomenon of the cult groups that creep up in evangelical United States from to time. The pattern of these cult groups is: insulation from society, indoctrination and rejection of society and finally a righteous assault (jihad) on society for its correction. Thus President Musharraf acted shockingly after a madrassa complex in Islamabad ran amuck and threatened him with suicide bombing. The vigilantes of the fire-breathing mullahs used violence against citizens and disrupted commerce in the capital city. But he, who had not long ago vowed that he would defend every inch of Pakistan, was not willing to come out and face the jihadis. Even more shockingly, his PMLQ actually negotiated with the clerics and succumbed to their blackmail. In the event, a defeated President Musharraf faded into the background and it looked as if he would put into gear a different strategy and realign himself with alternative elements who were willing to walk with him.
However, instead of coming back from behind his cover and sorting out the threatening mullahs of Islamabad, he attacked the chief justice of Pakistan. When the lawyers came out to protest all over the country he was angry and began to plan ways of sorting them out. The contrast was breath-taking. The protest spiralled after that and became a movement. The cashiering of the chief justice could not be rolled back democratically because the opposition parties supported the judge and politicised the issue. In Lahore he took the pulse of the public reaction and in Karachi he sanctioned brutal action to stop the chief justice in his tracks, leaving more than 40 dead. This is even more irrevocable than the dismissal of the chief justice.
Now the world expects him to take the right decisions unless he wants to see the spiral of violence escalate further, disrupting the life of the country and rolling back all his achievements in the economic sphere. International opinion is no longer blindly supportive of him, but it doesn’t want him to come to a bad and abrupt end. Many strategists think he can no longer legitimately remain army chief and president. So they would rather see him doff his uniform but remain president after holding free and fair elections and stitching together a workable national alliance of like-minded parties and groups. But this may be easier said than done.
What next? In the developing scenario it seems highly unlikely that President Musharraf will be able to “achieve the twin objective of sustaining the present power structure and ensuring that the general elections are perceived as fair and free by domestic and foreign observers”. If the presidential election is held in two months as he insisted in his speech in Islamabad on May 12 and he is re-elected from the current parliament, it will not have a pacifying effect on the people. National life will remain disrupted in Pakistan and there will be no stability.
It is being said everywhere that President Musharraf is running out of options and the few that he still has are not good for him or for the country. Of course, he can stick it out like Field Marshal Ayub Khan until his luck runs out or the public’s disenchantment spills into national gridlock at some stage and his number two in the military is compelled to ask him to quit. But there is another way of looking at things if one is pro-Musharraf for one reason or another. He has been an unorthodox military leader and is known to opt for pragmatism in the face of a difficult situation. Could he still make a working deal with liberal political forces in the country so that he can ensure longevity and press ahead with the promised liberal agenda?
It seems that the window of opportunity for making a deal with such liberal forces has snapped shut with the Karachi massacre. Instead of binding the old wounds he has opened some new ones. The forces that President Musharraf promised to fight on behalf of the people of Pakistan have been further strengthened. *