Uncertainty and instability continue to plague Pakistan. There seems to be little prospect of the restoration of real democracy in the country in the foreseeable future. The doors of Pakistan’s national assembly were indeed thrown open on Saturday, but only to reinforce a dictatorship. Mr Pervez Musharraf was sworn in as president for another five years. The ostensible legal basis for his new tenure is the referendum held in April this year. There were widespread charges of malpractice, and the referendum was a deeply biased exercise designed with the sole purpose of providing Mr Musharraf’s military dictatorship with a democratic façade. The referendum asked: “For the survival of the local government system, establishment of democracy, continuity of reforms, end to sectarianism and extremism, and to fulfil the vision of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah, would you like to elect President General Pervez Musharraf as president of Pakistan for five years'” The wording of the question suggested that anyone opposed to Mr Musharraf’s continuation was also against democracy and in favour of extremism.
Not surprisingly, every major political party of consequence had boycotted the referendum. The country’s only independent human rights organization, the Pakistan human rights commission, has categorically stated that the referendum was marred by gross irregularities. Mr Musharraf has already constituted a national security council, which will be the supreme decision-making authority. Amendments made to the 1973 constitution have further eroded the authority of elected leaders. The parliamentary elections held last month have produced a fractured verdict, and no prime minister has been appointed yet. Representatives of many of the political parties, whose members were elected to the national assembly, have made it clear that they would swear allegiance only to the constitution before the military coup. This is the stuff of praetorian politics, and only those who have forgotten Pakistan’s chequered experience with the army would have expected the general to act differently. Field Marshall Ayub Khan, who pioneered military rule in Pakistan and stayed in power from 1958 to 1969, was forced out of office by another army officer, General Yahya Khan, who gave up power only after he had lost the war against India in 1971. There were few signs that General Zia ul-Haq was likely to give up political control even after more than a decade. Only his death in a plane crash forced the return of democracy. Mr Musharraf seems to have learnt well from his predecessors.