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Is Committing Crimes Right Of Rulers?

By       Message Muhammad Khurshid     Permalink
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Rulers of Pakistan, enjoying the support of United States President Bush, have put the country into great crisis, which will certainly affect other parts of the world, but still no action is being taken against them.

They are the rulers and have the right to do to whatever wrongs they choose in this world. They are immune from the law.

A newspaper comment discussed the situation in Pakistan. It stated that THE gruesome terrorist attacks on Benazir Bhutto’s convoy in Karachi is likely to strain the mutual understanding between the PPP and General Musharraf, given the suspected involvement of state officials. The devastating human cost of the atrocity and the security threats it has generated has also raised questions about the viability of holding parliamentary elections.

What is to be done? Democratic transitions are periods of high uncertainty making it extremely difficult to explain or predict their outcomes. Theoretically, the regime and opposition are divided into hard-liners and soft-liners, or lions and foxes as Machiavelli would put it. The foxes in the regime would prefer gradual liberalisation of the system by engaging the soft-liners in the opposition.

The lions in the regime would like to sustain the status quo, or worse, return to military rule. The lions and foxes are harder to distinguish in Pakistan’s case, as the military’s unity of command leaves little room for open dissent. On the surface, however, those opposed to talks with the PPP in the PML-Q government could be classified as the hard-liners. The lions in the opposition would like to terminate authoritarian military rule by forceful opposition and resistance.

The PML-N’s public posture approximates this position. But short of a defeat in war, civil war or organisational revolt, military regimes tend not to wield power to civilians voluntarily. This leaves the soft-liners, the PPP in this case, who see phased opening of the system as the most viable way of restoring representative democracy.

The dilemma of any opposition politician in a transitional context is whether to court or not to court the generals. Negotiating the rules of the ‘post-military’ game with the generals carries the danger of legitimising the illegal usurpation of constitutional authority by the military. The other danger is that civilianisation of government may not necessarily translate into a civilianisation of the structures of state power. Even defeated militaries can extract concessions from civilians in matters of strategic policy and corporate autonomy. And an entrenched praetorian military like Pakistan’s is tempted to retain vast anti-democratic prerogatives to exercise authority without responsibility.

In this ‘ripe fruit’ model, the military usually stages a mock withdrawal to the barracks to conceal their latent structural influence until the time it can retake or reconfigure state power. Yet, there are few feasible non-violent alternatives to the less than perfect negotiated transition.

Comparatively speaking, such transitions are not an unmitigated evil. In Latin America and East Asia, for instance, transitions have survived despite authoritarian prerogatives carried over from the ancien regime. Would Pakistan also follow the same route? There are at least two crucial differences. First, transitions from authoritarianism in other regions coincided with the recession of the threat to the existing socio-economic order from the radical left in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. As a result, the military could no longer blackmail or displace civilians on the grounds of threats to national security. Over time, politicians were able to erode military autonomy.

Second, US support for authoritarian allies dropped significantly once the Left was neutralised. In comparison, Pakistan’s internal and external situation is radically different. The complex threat of militancy spurred by regional conflicts and domestic politics is likely to benefit the coercive organs of the state. Moreover, the United States still sees Musharraf in the president’s saddle as its best bet against the terrorist threat to its national security. Of course, a civilianised Musharraf plus PPP would be an asset in the eyes of the Bush administration.

On the ground, Musharraf has made it clear that the post-uniform political system would be a throwback to the troika of the 1990s, that is, a civilian president with the powers to sack the prime minister with the army chief as the ‘moderator’. This is dangerous thinking, one that could seriously impair the prospects of redemocratisation in Pakistan. The troika model is not based on a triangular dispersion of power.

In fact, it is a diarchy between the president and the prime minister. But since the president has no independent power base and derives his strength from the support of the military, the tussle is between the military and the elected civilian government. If evidence is needed, consider this: both former presidents Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Farooq Leghari had to exit after the military refused to back them in their power tussle with the prime minister.

The PPP insists that it talks transition with the military for a free and fair election that would benefit all opposition parties. The outcome of the still uncertain pact between the two sides, the party’s not unfounded hope is to use the ballot to undo authoritarian statutes such as Article 58-2(b), and the ban on the election of prime minister for a third time. Not surprisingly, the popular tide appears to be on the PPP’s side despite the Musharraf government’s hope that the ‘deal’ would undermine Ms Bhutto’s credibility and disappoint her supporters. It might have slightly dented her democratic credentials, as she has admitted herself.

But the assassination attempts and her resilience in the face of the clear and present threat to her life is likely to generate a rally around the leader effect with at least two possible consequences. First, it is likely to make the PPP and its support base more determined to cohere and mobilise support despite foreseeable difficulties. Second, it could also potentially turn undecided moderate voters in the party’s favour.

It would not be outlandish to speculate that a credible election is likely to be a contest between the PPP and the PML-N, especially if Nawaz Sharif returns. A credible election will also restore the faith of the people of Pakistan in the democratic process which is likely to be the best medium- to long-term bulwark against extremism. But the signs are not good. Regardless of the motivation behind the suicide attacks, its adverse effects on electoral politics are not hard to discern: an election campaign conducted in an environment of fear and insecurity would harm the two mainstream popular parties and benefit military hard-liners and their civilian proxies.

Who prevails, the authoritarian hard-liners or the democratic soft-liners? That is indeed the question.

The End

 

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Muhammad Khurshid, a resident of Bajaur Agency, tribal areas situated on Pak-Afghan border is journalist by profession. He contributes articles and news stories to various online and print newspapers. His subject matter is terrorism. He is also (more...)
 

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