May 24, 2007

Pakistan: Shrinking Control

Source: CSIS
By Teresita C. Schaffer, Director, South Asia Program
May 18, 2007

As events in Pakistan press forward, it becomes ever more likely that the next few weeks and months will bring major changes in the country’s governance and political structure. Musharraf faces his most intense domestic challenge yet. Paradoxically, a strong push for democracy could be his best bet, though it is a long shot. Scenarios more in line with his past behavior involve more autocratic government, and could involve a change in government.

March 9, the date on which President Musharraf suspended Chief Justice Chaudhry, is now used as shorthand by many, in much the same way Americans speak of “9/11.” His appearances in cities in towns around the country, technically speeches to bar councils, have the look and feel of a political movement in the making.

Chaudhry’s trip to Karachi on May 12 represents another watershed, and that date too is going into political lore, as shorthand for a disastrous turn of events. While Chaudhry was confined at the airport by a tight barricade of containers placed across all access roads, riots broke out in the city. These pitted the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a party with a thuggish reputation based in Pakistan’s “muhajir” community, against the opposition parties and the local bar council. Political operatives are often armed in Pakistan. Violence involved many different parties, but the MQM seemed to have started things, and was especially heavily armed. People around the country watched in horror as the riots were broadcast live, continuously, for over four hours. TV stations were attacked, their staff appealed for help on camera, and fires broke out (and were set) in the streets. Dark rumors reported that supporters of Musharraf had instigated the MQM’s action. The fact that Musharraf is a muhajir and has had the MQM as a political ally (although he has never been personally connected with the party) gave an ugly ethnic tinge to these events. At the end, at least 38 people were dead.

Political violence is certainly not new in Pakistan, and Karachi has often been a lawless city. However, May 12 clearly represented another inflection point. At a minimum, it was a fresh instance of the government’s inability to keep order, this time on a grand scale, and it made the army look ineffectual. It further damaged Musharraf’s standing as a broadly accepted leader. And whereas Musharraf’s government has benefited from his critics’ passivity and fatalism, it now confronts opponents who are more passionate and more willing to act.

Musharraf must be concerned, but he is certainly giving no public acknowledgement of this. The reports on his meeting with his parliamentary party have him expressing full confidence, blaming the Karachi riots on “media hype,” and asserting that he will keep his “team” together (meaning both his larger ruling party and his MQM allies). The army too must be concerned; as an institution, it is jealous of its reputation.

Musharraf’s opportunities to pull a political rabbit out of his hat are shrinking. A deal with Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) seems less likely than ever. The religious parties are keeping their distance, and have associated themselves with the protests against suspending the Chief Justice. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, with whom no "deal" negotiations had been contemplated, was quoted on the front pages of Pakistani newspapers calling Musharraf "a gone man." The Supreme Court, which has before it a case challenging the validity of Musharraf’s decision to suspend the Chief Justice, must be acutely aware that all of Pakistan – and not just the government – will be watching its ruling carefully, and that there will be a public reaction.

Most of Musharraf’s options are not attractive. He can hope that things will calm down, and that the Supreme Court will delay a decision until passions have cooled. He can crack down on political parties and the press. He could, if disorder continues, declare a state of emergency or martial law, options he has publicly rejected in recent days. But none of these is a sure bet, and each of these brings its own potential complications, including fresh domestic upheavals and international pressure.

There is also a "democracy option," though it would be a reversal of much of Musharraf’s modus operandi. Musharraf could try to cast himself as the man who brings Pakistan its cleanest elections yet. He could announce that he was leaving the army before the elections, and make a major, visible effort to stage truly transparent elections in which he ran as a civilian and allowed the newly elected assemblies to conduct the presidential election. He would have a hard job making this credible, given the way he has prepared for the upcoming elections and the fallout from the judicial crisis. Paradoxically, however, this might give him his best chance to recapture the relative popularity he enjoyed in the past. But it involves taking risks – both with politics and with his relationship with the army – that he has shunned in the past.

Musharraf is still in power, but it is not the same Musharraf with whom the international community has been working for six years, nor the same Pakistan. His willingness and ability to put his full strength behind the anti-terrorism effort are reduced. He is vulnerable to domestic challenges. The United States needs to make policy with an eye on Pakistan’s long-term stability, not just on today’s working relationships. It also needs to be ready to work with alternative scenarios in Pakistan should they come about.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) is a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions; accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in these publications should be understood to be solely those of the authors.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The May 12 carnage in Karachi now seems from all the information available to have been orchestrated
by the authority now ruling Pakistan. There should be no doubt that this authority drives none of its powers
from the constitution; rather is a super-constitutional creature.
The fundamental need of this authority is to control the BUDGET of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, so
that it can maintain its existence - And, all this is done with the pretext of safeguarding the integrity and
Security of the country.

If we assume that all those Generals, Brigadiers, Colonels, Majors and Captains who receive medals on a
periodic schedule are indeed patriotic to the core, then the only reason to control the budget seems to be
to maintain a level of readiness to safeguard national security - In light of external and internal threats. But the
reality has been different; the budget has been used to augment the living standards of defense personal
far beyond the livings of an average Pakistani. No sane Pakistani will disagree with the notion that a credible defense
is essential for survival of a nation state. The only disagreement will ensue from the stand point of how one defines
National Defense: Collapse of the Soviet Union clearly shows that [simply] relying on a strong military machine is not
a guarantor of national solidarity. Plus the evolving phenomenon of asymmetric threats on a global scale are driving
transformation in the security arena - Negating the traditional military needs of deploying large land based contingents.
Historically, Pakistan’s defense needs have been linked to a single threat: India. The thawing of diplomatic tensions
between the two neighbors has considerably decreased the possibility of a future confrontation on the scale of 1965 and
1971. Furthermore, India’s status of a regional economic giant has placed it in a favorable situation with the developed
World, which now requires of India to show more maturity in solving regional disputes and establish a sustainable
security environment in the region.

To really understand the present national predicament one needs to analyze why the Authority allowed the passing of the
1973 constitution. Most probably attempts were made to derail the enforcement of the constitution from its inception,
but they failed, initially, because of half-hearted efforts. Another factor being the high level of unity displayed by the
political parties at the time. After the military coup of 1977, we have seen an overt mechanism to redefine the role and
power sharing within and between the three branches of the government; this has resulted in weakening of the democratic
forces, with catastrophic fallouts for the judicial branch - The end result being: the Authority has been successful in controlling
the National Budget. Therefore all actions taken on May 12 should be analyzed in light of this reality. The sadness of the
events in Karachi have taken the Nation by shock – Every Pakistani living in Karachi or outside the city is contemplating
whether a day will come when only people who call themselves Muhajirs will live there. Any declaration hinting towards such a
scenario should be condemned by whole of the civil society and a movement of unity should be established among the
diverse political forces to ensure that the Budget is brought under civil control.

What is the course of action left for the civil society? The clause related to defense related issues outlined in the
Japanese constitution is something to be studied for a possible implementation in the Pakistani set-up. Because of the
weakening of the Civil-Society in Pakistan, support for a justifiable sharing of the pie needs to come from the
International community – In particular, the International financial institutions and the regional unions like the EU and
ASEAN. The United States of American has a critical role to play for this endeavor to be successful.

Development of an economically stable and just society in Pakistan will increase geopolitical stability in South Asia and
the Arabian Gulf.