The controversial amendments recently introduced by Mr Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan’s constitution clearly indicates that the prospects of an early return of real democracy in the country are now even more remote than before. Parliamentary elections may still be held in October, but real power will continue to be wielded by the president. The legal framework order, which amends the “suspended” 1973 constitution, essentially seeks to legitimize Mr Musharraf’s continued authoritarian control of the country. Not surprisingly, the LFO specifies that Mr Musharraf will remain president of the country and chief of the army staff till October 2007. The 13th amendment to the constitution, which took away the powers of the president to dissolve the national assembly provided under article 58(2B), has been done away with. Mr Musharraf can now dissolve the next parliament without providing any justification. Similarly, article 243 has been restored, through which the president has the discretion in the appointment of chairman, joint chiefs of staff committee and the chiefs of the armed forces. Moreover, a permanent national security council, with the three service chiefs, will mean a permanent role for the forces in governance.
It comes as no surprise that Mr Musharraf has made these radical changes. Continuation in power is at the core of praetorian politics and only those who have forgotten Pakistan’s experience with the army would have expected the general to act differently. Consider Pakistan’s past experience with three military dictators. Field Marshall Ayub Khan, who pioneered military rule in Pakistan and stayed in power from 1958-1969, was forced out of office by another army officer, General Yahya Khan. And Yahya Khan gave up political power only after he had lost the 1971 Bangladesh war against India. There were few signs that General Zia ul-Haq was likely to give up political control even after more than a decade from 1977-1988; only his death forced the return of democracy. Although the amendments made by Mr Musharraf have been fiercely criticized by nearly all the political parties in Pakistan, the international community’s reaction to the changes has been predictably muted. While Mr Musharraf had found himself isolated after the military coup of October 1999, he quickly rehabilitated himself by aligning with the United States of America in the coalition against terrorism after September 11. The dominant opinion within the Bush administration still is that Mr Musharraf, rather than any other alternative, can best serve American policies in the region. Narrow self-interest rather than issues of principle are, therefore, guiding the policies of most states towards Pakistan. Continuation in power of a friendly dictator seems more important than the return of democracy.