A sense of deja vu
1 July 2001
B. Muralidhar Reddy
New Delhi: It was not the action but its timing that came as a surprise to the people of Pakistan. B. Muralidhar Reddyon the reactions to Gen. Pervez Musharraf declaring himself President.
``HISTORY REPEATS itself. Once a King was questioned about the legality of his action. He replied, I am the Law,'' read a three- line letter under the headline ``I am the state'' in the leading Pakistani English daily, The News, of June 28, exactly a week after the military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, appointed himself President of the country.
The letter from Mr. Radia Mohyuddin from Peshawar, a town experiencing one of the worst upheavals in Pakistan's history because of the refugee influx from Afghanistan, makes no overt reference to the takeover as President by Gen. Musharraf. But its import is clear. It is a reflection of the sense of resignation, at one level, and of disgust, at another, of the ordinary Pakistani at the state of affairs in the country.
There is no other way of gauging popular opinion. There is a ban on open political activity. The occasional thunder from leaders of mainstream political or religious parties against the Government is never translated into action. So the man/woman on the street has every reason to be sceptical of the real intent behind the rhetoric of the self-proclaimed leaders of various hues. Pakistanis have heard so much rhetoric from the traditional neta that they prefer to let off steam in the columns of the media, rather than fall in the trap of the political class.
The manner in which Gen. Musharraf crowned himself President is characterised as the `second coup' by several commentaries in the lively Pakistani press. The first coup was when the military decided on October 12, 1999, that enough was enough with the so- called experiment of democracy of the 1990s and decided to overthrow the Nawaz Sharif Government.
Never in the history of Pakistan was anyone elected with such an overwhelming majority as Mr. Sharif. His party had won four- fourths of the seats in the National Assembly. And yet when he was ousted, there was not a ripple across the length and breadth of Pakistan. In fact, there was quiet celebration all over the country. Such was the legacy left behind by him and the Government before him led by the ``Daughter of the East'', Ms. Benazir Bhutto. People actually felt relieved that the Army had intervened.
There were very high expectations of the Musharraf regime. His much-publicised seven-point agenda was very well received. But the hopes died soon. But Gen. Musharraf is still seen as a better bet than the two civilian rulers who preceded him. His Government is at least seen to be making an honest attempt to put the system back on track. The General has succeeded in sending the message down the line that his regime is not into making millions and opening secret accounts in Swiss banks.
However, Gen. Musharraf has squandered much of his ``hard earned popularity'' by ousting the one and the only elected representative in Pakistan, Mr. Mohammad Rafiq Tarar. It was not his action, as it was known that Gen. Musharraf had an eye on the Presidential palace, but its timing that came as a surprise to the people in Pakistan. The manner in which Gen. Musharraf fulfilled his ambition also shocked one and all. By adding a few lines to the so-called Provincial Constitutional Order (PCO) - the Constitution under which the military has been governing Pakistan since it took over in October 1999 - the General has usurped the office of President! It is as simple and as complex as that.
Why did Gen. Musharraf do it? What was the great hurry? Could he not have found a more sophisticated method to walk into the Aiwan-e-Sadar (the Presidential Palace)? Was it necessary to make a mockery of the PCO? Did the India factor (his planned Summit with the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee) force his hand? Or was it a case of pure hunger for power? These are the questions that are haunting ordinary Pakistanis.
By his action last Wednesday, Gen. Musharraf has ended up being no different from the other military dictators of Pakistan - Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan and Zia-ul-Haq. They all took cover behind the same old hackneyed cliche of ``supreme national interest'' that was used by Gen. Musharraf in announcing his decision to don the mantle of President.
Today, Gen. Musharraf wears five different hats. He is Chief of the Army Staff, Chief Executive, President, chief of the National Security Council, and chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. The man who promised to usher in ``genuine democracy'' from the grassroots level ends up occupying all the posts that matter in the country.
The development has raised several disturbing questions, partly triggered by the statements of Gen. Musharraf himself. He has been talking for some time on the need for balancing the powers between the President and the Prime Minister to ensure that future Premiers does not end up repeating what Ms. Bhutto and Mr. Sharif did. The point would have been well taken if he had not occupied the post of President and that too for an unspecified period.
At the moment, there are too many questions that beg an answer about the future of Pakistan. Gen. Musharraf by elevating himself as President has only added to them.