Will President Musharraf Minus Uniform
Enjoy the Same Powers?
President Pervez Musharraf has won the much-criticized presidential election with part of the opposition (Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal and some smaller parties) resigning from the federal parliament and provincial assemblies and the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) abstaining from voting.
However, there is general expectation that the Supreme Court is likely to uphold the validity of the election despite the diminution in legitimacy caused by the dying assemblies and significant non-participation in the Electoral College.
Just the day before the election Musharraf issued an ordinance quashing and withdrawing all corruption cases against all politicians filed during 1988-1999 period. This was called a national reconciliation measure and that cleared all cases against self-exiled former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. With this ordinance, Bhutto will be able to return to Pakistan Oct 18 as announced earlier, without fear of being arrested.
The president has disclosed that a power-sharing agreement is being worked out between him and Bhutto with US mediation. His decision to shed his uniform and effect transition to democracy flowed from that. Exiled former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has not been allowed to return on the basis of the National Reconciliation Ordinance.
Under the present constitution, as modified by Musharraf, Bhutto is barred from becoming prime minister as a limitation of just two terms has been prescribed. But she has insisted that this ban should be lifted to enable her to become prime minister a third time. The US mediation should have secured this condition. Musharraf has declared that the army and intelligence will have no role in the government in future.
In Pakistan a common joke is that an army general usually stands behind or actually sits on the chair of authority irrespective of the nature of the regime. Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif as prime ministers had full experience of this and it was Sharif's attempt to assert his authority over the army that led to his overthrow.
Therefore, one wonders how the Pakistan Army, used to wielding power directly or indirectly over the last 49 years, will accept overnight a totally apolitical role.
Musharraf, after he doffs his uniform, will continue to be civilian president with most of the enhanced presidential powers and his nominee will be the army chief.
During the earlier two tenures as prime minister, Bhutto had to share power with a president who had powers to dismiss her and dissolve the National Assembly and the army chief.
The prime minister did not have much say on defence, nuclear policy, intelligence, foreign policy, especially towards India, Afghanistan and the US.
During the power-sharing negotiations Bhutto has been demanding that these subjects should come under the prime minister's jurisdiction.
Last time in 1988 when the Americans brokered a deal between the Pakistan Army and Bhutto they persuaded her to accept the limited powers and become prime minister.
This time Musharraf also has as much of their support as Bhutto. Therefore, the US should be facing a dilemma in devising a power sharing agreement that would effectively serve its interests, namely, effective counter-terrorism campaign.
The powers of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to engage in domestic intelligence gathering were vested in it by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir's father, at the height of his autocratic exercise of power. Given the history of Pakistani politics, one wonders whether Bhutto would be willing to abolish ISI's jurisdiction in this field and forgo an advantage over her political opponents.
The nuclear programme in Pakistan has been the army's sole prerogative since 1977. Even Sharif, while trying to assert his authority on the army chief, left the nuclear programme undisturbed in army control.
Bhutto had asserted that when she gained power she will allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to the notorious proliferator A. Q. Khan.
The US, which has promoted the Musharraf-Benazir rapprochement, would like to have access to Khan. Given the fact that all army chiefs from Mirza Aslam Beg to Musharraf were privy to Khan's proliferation it is a moot question whether the civilian prime minister will get jurisdiction over the nuclear programme.
In regard to command over nuclear arsenal the present nuclear command procedures vest it in a council presided over by the president. While the prime minister will be a member of the command authority, the real command chain will be the president to the army chief to the strategic force commander.
Bhutto was prepared to accept prime ministership with restricted powers in 1988 and the Americans encouraged her to do so.
Now Bhutto wants to get back to power and political mainstream and to get her husband freed from charges of murdering her brother. The US has much greater stake in securing the cooperation of the Pakistan Army and ISI. In these circumstances her bargaining power has severe limitations.
By the time power-sharing negotiations are to be finalized Musharraf will be the legitimate president of Pakistan still with the power to remove the bar on Bhutto becoming prime minister for the third time.
Bhutto's bargaining strength will depend upon the performance of her party in the elections. It is reasonable to expect that her party should do better than what it did in 2002. At the same time there have been fissures in her party and a number of her party men had moved over to support Musharraf.
Pakistan will have a new experience of an ex-general as a civilian president who had been in power as a military ruler for the previous eight years and who had selected and appointed all key functionaries of the state.
Yet free and fair elections in Pakistan and a prime minister even with limited powers will be an improvement over the present situation. What difference it would make to the war on terrorism and to developing Pakistan as a moderate Islamic state remains to be seen.
(K. Subrahmanyam is a well known strategic expert. He can be contacted at email@example.com)
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