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A Country on the Edge

Is Militarism Irreversible in Pakistan?

by AHMAD FARUQUI

After watching cricket with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in his native Delhi, General Pervez Musharraf proudly declared to world acclaim that the peace process with India was irreversible. But he has yet to declare in Islamabad that Pakistan’s move toward democracy is irreversible.

During his recent tour of Australia and New Zealand, he said Pakistan was already a democracy, but for his having to wear a uniform to safeguard it. Conveniently, the general’s four stars are never visible when he travels abroad. They are meant to shine and intimidate his fellow Pakistanis at home, especially the khakis. He knows the day he doffs his uniform, he would rule at the mercy of his army chief. Even the taxi driver in Karachi knows this simple truth, which is the iron law of Pakistani politics.

Why, one must ask, is Pakistan still governed by its military, in the sixth decade of its life? Like the one field marshal and two generals who preceded him, Musharraf believes that Pakistan needs the big stick of the military to survive as a nation state. Deep down, one senses an authoritarian conviction that the people cannot be trusted to choose their own leader. As Ayub famously said in the early-sixties, it is the duty of the khakis to "save the people from themselves." He forecast that Pakistan would be ready for true democracy two generations hence.

Well, that time has now come and there is still no sign of true, unfettered genuine democracy, like the kind that exists in India or even the kind that is being exercised in the theocratic state of Iran. The generals, like the British imperialists whose uniform they wear, believe that Pakistan is a collection of warring tribes that cannot self-govern. This is an ideological premise. And then comes the issue of self-interest. The generals of the Pakistani army have fallen in love with the benefits of militarism that continue to enrich them even when they retire.

Surely Jinnah did not create Pakistan so that the Khaki Raj would replace the British Raj. A furious debate continues to rage in Pakistan (and recently in India) on whether Jinnah was a secularist or a closet theocrat. But there is no debate about whether he wanted to establish a democratic or a militarized nation, since the answer is obvious.

So the necessary debate that needs to occur is who derailed democracy, the civilians or the military?

It is often argued in the West that the military is the only strong institution in Pakistan that can hold the country together. But this argument confuses cause and effect. An overweening military has prevented the development of strong civilian institutions. Had Jinnah lived, it is unlikely that the dispute over Kashmir would have persisted for half a century, resulting in the diversion of billions of dollars to the military. It is this large military force that has crippled civil society in the country.

In India, the military is strong but its strength has not come at the expense of civilian institutions. Indeed, strong civilian institutions in India have kept the military out of politics and kept it focused on its core competency. India’s military failures, unlike Pakistan’s, have been openly studied, critiqued and analyzed, leading to continual process improvements.

Today, Pakistan is a country on the edge, being held together by its nuclear bomb program on the one hand and on the promise of F-16s from the US on the other. Both are relics of an irrational and un-winnable conflict with India. Neither is going to help the nation survive, because what is chipping away at its national identity are a myriad of internal problems.

Stephen Cohen’s candid assessment about Pakistan’s political future to the US Congress is worth noting. From a US perspective, Cohen said the main problem is not whether or not Pakistan is serious in pursuing terrorists but that "Pakistan itself and its faltering political system, its dysfunctional social order, its dangerous sectarianism, and its grossly distorted political system." Pakistan, he said, is one of the few states that have achieved "sustainable failure."

Perhaps sustainable failure is a core competency of Pakistan’s. Sadly, such a core competency does not lend itself to generating revenues in world markets.

About mid-way into his rule, General Musharraf laid out the formula for making democracy irreversible: "To keep the military out, you have to let the military in." While to everyone else this sounded like asking the fox to guard the henhouse, it provided the impetus for the misbegotten National Security Council (NSC), patterned after its Turkish namesake.

At a time when Pakistan seems to be inching deeper into the abyss of militarism, Turkey is pulling out of it. This is partly out of pressures arising from its desire to join the European Union. Last year, the European Parliament noted that the Turkish military still has "inappropriately large power" in that country’s polity and called for stricter civilian control of the security sector as a prerequisite for Turkey’s membership in the European Union.

In response, Turkey passed a constitutional amendment that curbs the military’s powers. For example, special accounts that had long been used to finance commanders’ pet projects have been terminated. Military courts may no longer prosecute civilians in peacetime and allegations of torture by the military will be investigated and prosecuted promptly.

Most tellingly, structural reforms have been passed to curtail the powers of the overarching NSC. It has been enlarged to give civilian ministers a majority and the enabling legislation has been amended to prevent abuse of the NSC’s advisory role and decrease the frequency of its meetings. The prime minister is now authorized to appoint the NSC secretary-general, who sets the agenda and the tone of the council’s work. All of this must make Shaukat Aziz envious.

Turkish democracy seems increasingly vibrant just as Pakistan’s is becoming increasingly flaccid. In his Congressional testimony, Cohen laid out three conditions for Pakistan’s political development. One, it should hold free and fair elections in 2007 where the exiled leaders of the two leading parties are allowed to participate freely. Two, the army should end its "comprehensive interference in domestic politics." And three, President Musharraf should give up his Army job well before the elections.

There are no signs that any of these conditions is about to be fulfilled. In Pakistani politics, it is militarism and not democracy that is on the march.

Dr. AHMAD FARUQUI is director of research at the American Institute of International Studies and can be reached at Faruqui@pacbell.net.

This article first appeared in the Daily Times.