Lahore, March 5: “Military coups in Pakistan are like a pre-programmed monster. They unfold in predictable ways,” declared a Pakistani political observer. And most Pakistanis agree that up to now, things have moved according to script.
Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, who headed the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy during the last election for the National Assembly, corroborating this, said: “Pervez Musharraf is fourth in the line of military adventurists in Pakistan. There is no difference in their intentions. They want to perpetuate their rule and for that they either want to abrogate the Constitution, hold it in abeyance or tailor it to their needs. This is what Musharraf is also doing.”
The Nawabzada, now in his eighties, is caustic in his criticism of the General: “Our Constitution says that a government servant must first resign, then wait for two years before seeking public office as President.
“But a Grade 22 government servant (Gen. Musharraf) first promulgates a Provisional Constitutional Order and declares himself President; then organises a referendum, which he rigs, to perpetuate his rule and now refuses to take off his uniform and has become the President indefinitely.”
There can be little doubt that today uniform dominates the civilian government in Pakistan. Nobody expects that Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali will ever emulate Mohammed Khan Junejo, who took on Zia-ul-Haq.
Najam Sethi, editor of The Friday Times, explained: “There are no strains in the civil-military relationship. The civilians are timid. All the key positions in the administration are held by General Musharraf’s hand-picked men.
“About 500 serving or retired armymen are running the civilian administration. Only at the superficial level do you have a parliament and the Provincial Assemblies.”
Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, a senior leader of the Pakistan People’s Party and a member of the National Assembly, said: “People are not looking towards Jamali for leadership. Jamali only provides a civilian face to the military government. “The policy-making power is very much with Gen. Pervez Musharraf.”
Hamid Mir, a senior journalist working with Geo TV, explained why Jamali cannot create problems for the President: “Jamali has prostrated himself before Musharraf. Jamali, a Baloch, is dependent on Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam) — a party of Punjabis. He has no base in Punjab or even in Baluchistan. He knows that Chaudhary Shujaat Hussain is the real leader of the PML(Q). Although Jamali has made him the leader of the House in the National Assembly, he knows that Chaudhary Shujaat can remove him at any time. So, I don’t think Jamali can afford to behave independently.”
There are some in Pakistan, however, who believe although there is little chance of a conflict between President Musharraf and his Prime Minister, he is likely to run into problems with parliament.
Gen. Musharraf perhaps knows that. He has refused to face parliament up to now. Although after the constitution of parliament he is obliged to address a joint sitting of the senate and the National Assembly, he has not done so.
A politician opposed to him said: “His problem is that he is still in uniform and does not know whether to address the joint Assembly in uniform or in civilian clothes.
“He is also worried about the reception he might get. What would happen, for example, if some people shouted slogans against him'
“There is a substantial presence of the Opposition in parliament, after all.”
Gen. Musharraf may overcome his immediate problem of addressing parliament relatively easily but perhaps a long-term issue will remain.
Thus, Aamir Mir, editor of The Independent weekly, felt that “there is bound to be a showdown with parliament. It will eventually assert its supremacy.
“Today people are politically much more aware than earlier. They know that whatever the military is doing is harmful for the nation.”
Imtiaz Aalam of The News, agreeing with this analysis, said: “This is not a stable situation. The conflict between the two power centres — the elected representatives and the military — will remain. This hotchpotch coalition government is fragile, cobbled through defections. Even if 10 members of the National Assembly come together against this government, it cannot survive.
“The crisis will emerge because the elected representatives have no power. The real crisis this time is that Musharraf has failed to evolve an acceptable public face of a civilian government.”
He argued that the General had left no political alternative in the country — the two major players, the PPP and PML (Nawaz), have been alienated; the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) cannot be kept happy because there is no limit to its demands; the members of the National Assembly have little power over resources for development and are bound to get restless sooner than later.
“This parliament, mark my words, will assert itself. But it will take time,” Aalam said.