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Musharraf came across as a larger-than-life heroic figure in the war against evil for whom it was appropriate to make exceptions. Now outmanoeuvred by his own political miscalculations and with no allies to give him cover, the former general had no option but to leave.
By Ahmad Faruqui, Associate, Pakistan Research Unit, University of Bradford
Less than a year ago, Pervez Musharraf was re-elected by Parliament to a second five-year term as president. On more than one occasion, President Bush had called him a friend. And it wasn’t just Mr. Bush who heaped accolades on him.
Leaders throughout the West had held him up as a bulwark against religiously-spiked terror, the scourge that Osama bin Laden had unleashed against the West. Heads of state, prime ministers and foreign ministers came from around the world to visit him in Islamabad, implicitly endorsing military rule while speaking elsewhere of the democratic imperative.
Musharraf came across as a larger-than-life heroic figure in the war against evil for whom it was appropriate to make exceptions. When he addressed the UN General Assembly in formal Pakistani attire, the whole world listened to him.
Even though at home he often dressed up in the khaki fatigues of the army, General Pervez Musharraf projected a liberal image, a post-modern dictator well suited to the demands of the twenty-first century, a man whom fate had thrust into the difficult task of governing a fractured nation, one who championed women’s rights and espoused the gospel of enlightened moderation.
Even when events began to get out of hand in the spring of 2007, causing him to suspend the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, he appeared to be in charge. But events continued to escalate, with the storming of the Red Mosque and the restoration of the Chief Justice by the Supreme Court.
He became deeply concerned that his presidential election may be declared null and void. In November, he suspended the Constitution, declared a state of emergency, fired sixty of the top judges and confidently admitted that he had broken the law.
He wanted to telegraph the message not only to his fellow Pakistanis but to the world as a whole that he was one of a kind, a tough guy who would ride it out. Once again the West accepted his rationale, that sometimes one has to cut off a limb to save the body, as he put it, quoting Abraham Lincoln. Like Pakistan’s three prior military rulers, Musharraf had discovered that the secret to staying in power lay in frequent recitations of Hans Kelsen’s Law of Necessity. He was making full use of the legal advisor that had helped every military ruler in Pakistan rationalise his seizure of power, a man who ironically had been on the legal staff of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan and one of the leading Constitutional minds of British India.
But now there was a difference. The Americans, tired of Musharraf’s failures in the War on Terror, and concerned about their plummeting image in the region, began to openly apply pressure on him to retire from the army. The warnings came from none other than US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Soon thereafter, he doffed the uniform that he had once affectionately called his second skin. He had hung on to it despite agreeing to remove it three years prior, once again citing the need to serve the national interest.
In the run-up to the January elections, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated and the elections postponed to February. When they did take place, his political allies were routed so thoroughly that some quit the ‘King’s Party’ and formed their own. While that would have sealed the fate of any ordinary mortal, Musharraf stood there like a colossus, unmoved by the results. He had, after all, made sure that his successor as army chief, General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, would be a loyal and pliant man, eight years his junior and a former student.
The opposition parties cobbled together a coalition government but it was a team of former adversaries that had little in common except their distaste for him and his policies. Musharraf continued to think, mistakenly as would become apparent to him when it was too late, that the US and the army were still solidly behind him.
The heads of the two main political parties, Asif Zardari (the husband of the assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto) and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, agreed to restore the deposed judges but failed to follow through on the agreement. Rumours were rife that Musharraf through the back door was deftly exploiting their differences and, despite having taken off the uniform, was fully capable of deflecting the rather feeble artillery shells that his political opponents were lobbing at him.
He persisted in making the case for continuing the need to govern for another five years, so that the reform agenda that he had laid out in his first speech in October 1999 would be fulfilled. Among those future accomplishments would be the completion of the port city of Gwadar in an arid corner of Balochistan and the construction of several giant dams that would provide water and electricity throughout the country. He was like a Pakistani Pharaoh gazing into the future of the Indus River Valley.
In years past, he had got his political allies in Parliament to amend the Constitution by incorporating into it a cleverly crafted Legal Framework Order which gave the president plenipotentiary powers. This was a significant structural change since Jinnah had envisioned Pakistan would be governed on the Whitehall model and indeed that is what was envisioned when the Constitution was passed unanimously in 1973 in post-Bangladesh Pakistan.
Like General Zia, General Musharraf fired prime ministers at will. At one press conference, as a prefatory note to the firing of a prime minister, he had asked the gathering if they knew the name of the prime minister of Egypt. None did. Then he asked them for the name of the president of Egypt. All did. With that, he had rested his case. In the future, all power would flow from the president in Pakistan and he would stay there as long as needed to fulfill his agenda.
In the end, the political parties of the coalition that had been able to agree on little else suddenly found within themselves the unifying fire of impeachment. Initially, this created confusion and doubt about their motives, with some analysts saying this was just a ploy by Zardari to delay the restoration of the judges. Legal experts from all sides weighed in saying impeachment had never occurred in Pakistani history and was not about to occur now. Others argued the process would tear the country apart and divert attention from the increasing rate of inflation and shortages of key commodities such as food and oil.
However, as the days went by, the coalition became increasingly unified and its volleys increasingly more vigorous. One by one, the four provincial assemblies passed resolutions calling on the president to resign or seek a vote of confidence from parliament. Even Al-Qa'ida joined the fray, threatening to behead any elected official from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas who voted in favour of Musharraf. Independent legislators began to openly voice their criticism of the president and some joined one of the two leading parties. Even some who belonged to the King’s Party began to regret their prior association with Musharraf. The game had become one of increasingly distancing oneself from the man who had once commanded not only the army but the respect of a large number of his fellow citizens.
A new poll now indicated that 83 per cent of Pakistanis wanted him out office. On the sixty-first anniversary of independence, Musharraf found it difficult to summon a decent audience for his nationally televised speech. Not a single diplomat was there and the rambling and disjointed speech was largely ignored by the national press. People by that time had come to think of him as a man who spoke to himself.
So it was that the walls suddenly caved in on him. A ‘never say die’ commando who had mounted a bold assault on Indian defences in the icy heights of Kargil in the winter of 1999, a consummate golfer and a competitive bridge player, was outflanked and outmanoeuvred by a weak coalition government of ‘corrupt and feckless’ politicians who come to power on the backs of a lawyers revolt that had resonated with a newly formed Civil Society in the country.
It has long been said that Pakistan is governed by the three A’s: Allah (God), America and the Army. In the end, the army fearing that its image in the nation had been smeared quite badly by Musharraf’s self-centered policies, decided to stay out of politics and maintained strict neutrality. The US, seeing that anti-Americanism was on the rise throughout the Muslim world and most notably in Pakistan, stepped out of the way. Condi Rice stated on a Sunday talk show that asylum for Musharraf in the US was not being considered. Not wanting to second guess Allah, Musharraf folded his cards and walked off the Bridge table.
His resignation on 18 August was just a day after the twentieth anniversary of the plane crash that had taken General Zia’s life. Zia had ruled for eleven years, Ayub for ten and Musharraf, who had hoped to rule longer than either, quit just shy of his ninth anniversary. Sic transit gloria mundi.
Ahmad Faruqui’s third book on Pakistan, “Musharraf’s Pakistan, Bush’s America and The Middle East,” has just been published in Pakistan by Vanguard Books. He writes regularly in the Dawn newspaper.
The views expressed above are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of RUSI.