Why I miss MusharrafJanuary 13, 2010
Tuesday, January 06, 2009 (Part-I)
Salman K Chima
When General Musharraf seized power, I was not among those who welcomed him – although with Justice Tarrar as the President and Shariat Amendment Bill to the Constitution awaiting approval by the Senate, Pakistan was on the verge of being a theocratic state. Why did I oppose Musharraf? Because his rule was undemocratic and unconstitutional.
Yet, today I willingly acknowledge Musharraf. The choice of his successor in the Presidency is reason enough to remember him. But I praise him for the freedom Pakistan breathed under him; for the fact that he did not feel entitled to extra reward for his services. Even his worst detractors do not accuse him of personal corruption. This in a country where rulers have chosen to place their hard earned money in Swiss accounts.
Despite my initial opposition, I would have set the following agenda for the general:
1 . Cleanse the army of the jihadi elements inducted by General Zia.
2. Free the media.
3. Initiate meaningful steps to emancipate women.
4. Bring the minorities into the mainstream of politics.
5. Implement balanced and across the board accountability.
Before we address whether the general delivered, there is an important preliminary matter that needs to be sorted out.
My initial opposition to Musharraf was based on his takeover being unconstitutional and undemocratic. These are of course compelling arguments to oppose a regime, but one must not forget that even Adolph Hitler was popularly elected and had a constitution of sorts. So there is surely a higher principle by which to judge a government – constitution and democracy cannot be the decisive benchmarks.
The decisive benchmark to me is the freedom a regime is prepared to extend to its subjects. Constitutions and democracies represent good forms of government only insofar as they are able to preserve the inherent right of all citizens to be free.
It is against this yardstick that 19th century America fails; as does Hitler’s Third Reich – despite being blessed with constitutional and democratic rule. Paradoxically, it is against this higher principle that Musharraf wins.
Reverting to his performance, my first agenda point was the cleansing of the Pakistan Army of jihadi elements. While the ‘war on terror’ was not visible in 1999, however Pakistanis were acutely aware of the growing Talibanisation around them. The Taliban were ruling Afghanistan and one could predict that a war would have to be fought with their way of thinking within Pakistan.
This war against Talibanisation could scarcely be fought without Pakistan Army. It is also axiomatic that the Pakistan Army inherited from General Zia and his successors was ill equipped to fight this war. So, the first agenda item: to rinse out the Taliban elements from the institution. This may sound an easy task, but remember that the generals who brought Musharraf to power were differently inclined.
Was the task accomplished? Consider: From the first day of Musharraf’s rule, General Hameed Gul has been his most vocal critic. Could this be attributed to Gul’s love for democracy and constitution or simply resentment at the restructuring of Pakistan Army — contrary to Gul’s desire? Could the present fighting in Bajaur and elsewhere have been possible without deep structural changes in the army? Do not the terrorist attacks afflicting Pakistan indicate the Taliban elements are no longer reacting to Musharraf but to the restructuring put in place by him? The profile of the Pakistan Army’s top leadership has been reformed in the last nine years but, the restructuring has virtually gone unappreciated since it took shape away from public eye.
Moving on to freedom of media, one should not have to recount evidence to establish how truly free media was under Musharraf. So let me address some unfair commentaries offered by the General’s critics. First, that he did not have a choice; with the advent of satellite TV (which can be beamed from outside the jurisdiction) Musharraf could not have shielded himself from media scrutiny. True, but why is the same freedom not witnessed in Singapore, Malaysia, Myanmar, Iran etc. The government has many ways of curbing media freedom, for instance, not only is the government an important client of all the media houses in terms of advertisement but also runs its own TV channels which can make lucrative offers to the more vocal critics.
Second, the aftermath of Nov 3, 2007: Critics allege if Musharraf believed in media freedom, he would not have curbed it after Nov 3. The argument is fair, but needs to be put in perspective. The period between November 3 and 13, 2007 is admittedly the ‘darkest period’ of Musharraf’s regime from the media freedom perspective. It would perhaps be unfair to judge Musharraf by reference to this period alone.
But how bad was this period really? Let us do a litmus test. Pick a day and newspaper of our choice during this period. Go through this newspaper and select one article which we feel is most critical of Musharraf. Now go through every publication in Pakistan between August 14, 1947 and October 12, 1999 to ascertain how many articles in this period match up to the one we just identified. What are the odds we will find even one?! Does that tell us something about Musharraf’s ‘darkest period’?
Coming next to emancipation of women, unlike media freedom it must be acknowledged that this did not witness any giant leaps during Musharraf’s time. But this task is going to require many generations – such being the state of affairs. Yet, one was entitled to ask for some acts (even if symbolic) to set the direction right. It is in this perspective that the following steps may be recounted.
There was a substantial increase in women’s representation in the assemblies. Women not only add value in the assemblies but also their representation gradually changes the society’s mindset. The ‘Sword of Honor’ was awarded by the Pakistan Air Force Academy to a lady cadet. The Women’s Protection Act – a long overdue amendment to soften a retrogressive law legislated by Zia- was passed as well.
One does regret the General’s statement before the American press regarding Mukhtar Mai case. But even here one must not be cruel in judging him.
A detailed study of the LHC judgement reveals that there is indeed another side to the story: Mukhtar Mai may have willingly married the main accused. She at least admitted before the court that she would have been prepared to marry him, in exchange for the main accused’s sister marrying her own brother. According to the defense version, this is exactly what happened and she only recorded the FIR once the main accused’s sister (contrary to the agreement) was married to someone else. The record also shows that no visible injuries (except a relatively minor abrasion) were seen on Mukhtar Mai during medical examination – which took place about eight days after the alleged incident. Mukhtar Mai also admitted that the accused were financially weaker than her own family. Fortunately the matter is before the Supreme Court, and they will put this controversy to rest.
Was not Musharraf advised that the defence version was not entirely baseless? As the country’s president, he may have felt agitated by the adverse publicity this case was getting outside Pakistan.
The next agenda point, the minorities: They have been relegated to second class citizenship, particularly since the times of General Zia. Musharraf introduced joint and yet separate electorates for minorities – giving them two votes, one in the general election and one for their own reserved seats. However, after the 17th Amendment, the minorities now only vote in the general election, and their reserved seats are filled by political parties according to their representation in the assembly.
Minorities are also particularly hard done by the Blasphemy Law. A person convicted of blasphemy must suffer (often the death penalty) because he has hurt the deepest feelings of the Muslim majority. But how can people’s feelings take priority over a man’s right to life or liberty. Musharraf only considered amending the procedural aspects of the law. He backtracked but only a person with the right orientation would even begin to conceive such a move. The other mentionable change (though subsequently reversed) was the removal of the religious column on the passport. He backtracked on this – but who else even made an effort.
Monday, January 12, 2009
by Salman K Chima
Coming then to the next point, accountability: Here the General’s performance was disappointing. The National Reconciliation Ordinance is a grotesque law. It is indeed difficult to find any redeeming feature in the NRO. However, attention must be drawn to the fact that the protection offered by the NRO extends only up to October 12, 1999. The General did not seek to protect his own acts. Also, may one ask, have the people of Pakistan done any better by electing the very politicians who are the primary beneficiaries of the law. Why blame Musharraf?
Justice Iftikar Muhammad Chaudhry was not the most popular judge, until he was manhandled by the Islamabad Police. In the ensuing mess, it is easy to forget what the reference was about. Simply put:
The President on the advice of the Prime Minister asked the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) to opine whether the chief justice (CJ) had committed misconduct. Certain specific allegations (most notably regarding the CJ’s son) were included in the reference. SJC was seized of the matter when a petition was filed by Justice Chaudhry in SC. The Supreme Court, having initially stayed the proceedings before SJC, after three months of hearing (by a majority of 10 against 3) quashed the reference. In doing so, SC decided not to look into contents of the reference.
The Supreme Court ruling is intriguing. One waited anxiously for the detailed judgment; but considering that that may not be forthcoming, one is now left to speculate on possible reasoning.
The honourable judges may have concluded that while a references can be filed against other superior court judges, it cannot however be filed against the Chief Justice of Pakistan. This is faulty reasoning, not sustainable in light of the Constitutional provisions. Also, what happens if a chief justice goes into coma, or is diagnosed with mental incapacity? How would such chief justice be removed?
The other argument that perhaps found favour with the Supreme Court is that the reference was filed with ‘malice’ and was therefore void. But this raises an important issue. If there was a case to answer (which of course could only have been determined by consulting the reference), was it then available to the President/Prime Minister to withhold the Reference — whether with good intentions or bad. Was the President/Prime Minister not under a constitutional duty to refer it to SJC?
It seems to me that there was only one issue that the Supreme Court could have adjudicated: was there a case to answer based on the material contained in the reference. If yes, the President was obligated to refer the matter to SJC. The President’s alleged malice was quite irrelevant to the equation. This was after all not an issue between two private litigants, or even between the President and the Chief Justice. This was rather an issue having to do with Pakistan’s constitution. The Constitution does not permit a chief justice guilty of misconduct to remain in office.
Incidentally, one issue the honorable SC did not decide was whether the reference made out a case to answer. They decided not to consult the reference at all. In my opinion, majority of the honourable SC may have erred in this regard.
Next the Lal Masjid case. The Lal Masjid danda brigade began by taking over the children’s library; then raided various shops that were renting out Indian and western movies (hence unIslamic); then kidnapped three women on the allegation of indulging in immoral activities; then kidnapped eight Chinese nationals on the pretext of indulging in immoral activities. All this while the government was engaging in dialogue with them, with the whole world as witness.
Ultimately, the government gave every occupant of Lal Masjid the option to leave (even to collect Rs. 5,000 per head as travel expense) or face action. This message was communicated loud and clear. And what did the Lal Masjid brigade do? They (in front of live cameras) shot and killed two personnel of the Rangers, and set a government building on fire, while also ceaselessly firing bullets at the law enforcement agencies. Even then the government showed restraint.
It is only when the Lal Masjid militants refused to allow people to leave and threatened to start suicide bombings that the government acted with full vigour. Musharraf and other government functionaries were repeatedly criticized by the ‘free’ media for not taking action, and ultimately the media stood by the Lal Masjid militants when action was taken. The entire responsibility for Lal Masjid episode rests with the Lal Masjid hooligans — and the media also acted highly irresponsibly.
Moving on to the Waziristan operation, international law does not permit Pakistan to allow its citizens or citizens of other countries residing in its territory to wage war against Afghanistan or USA or any other country for that matter. Pakistan therefore had only two options regarding the militants present in Waziristan and elsewhere – to take action, or face action from those threatened by such militants. Such action would have been totally consistent with international law. Musharraf opted for the first and managed to convince the powers that be not to intervene directly.
Imagine if the second option had been implemented — not only would Pakistan be crippled economically, but there would also have been a huge reaction to foreign intervention, and quite possibly the country delivered to Taliban elements. Of course, Musharraf employed the carrot and stick approach and there was at times collateral damage on account of the latter.
We move to the case of ‘missing persons’. Some pertinent questions:
Why has a person gone missing? Could it be that he has voluntarily gone on jihad; or was he picked up by agencies?
Were there more missing persons falling in the latter category, during Musharraf’s time than in earlier regimes?
Did anyone go missing because of his enmity with or criticism of Musharraf?
If these questions are answered, it may well transpire that there were in fact fewer missing persons in Pakistan during Musharraf’s time than ever before. Significantly, it may also be revealed that those who went missing at the hands of the agencies were not ones who opposed Musharraf – these were persons wanted with regard to the war on terror.
Dr. Afia Siddiqui’s case merits mention though. Human Rights groups seem to have concluded that she was kidnapped with her three children by Pakistani agencies in 2003. Consider this:
How come despite multiple meetings with Pakistani officials Dr. Siddiqui has not claimed that she was kept in detention since 2003?
How come her lawyer continues to advise her not to disclose the whereabouts of her detention and that of her kids? How come her son who recently arrived from Afghanistan, has also not made any statement regarding his detention?
How come the current government (with all its opposition to whatever happened during Musharraf’s time) has not blamed any member of any agency for having taken her into custody?
Are we aware of any person kept in detention by the US for five years with their kids?
Has anyone been shot by US Forces while in detention – are we aware of any other case of this nature?
Could it be that she voluntarily went on jihad, took her innocent children with her, and has only recently been taken in detention?
No one, not even Musharraf’s harshest critics, accuse him of personal corruption. An eminent industrialist recently told me that in eight years that Musharraf was at the helm of affairs, he repeatedly called the general, bringing various kinds of government inefficiencies or inactions to his notice. He insists that each such approach was made in the interest of the country, and each time the General took constructive steps to ease the situation. The gentleman then says that he is still waiting for Musharraf’s first call asking for a favour in return, whether for himself or a friend or a relative or anyone at all.
I listen when Musharraf says that every step he took was taken in best national interest. There are some who hold A.Q. Khan as their hero; and there is also the dwindling number of those who raise Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s hand as the saviour of Pakistan; one must not expect them to lend their ears to Musharraf’s voice.
God forgive him and forgive us all
Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall
The writer is a Lahore-based lawyer.