How Long Before the Military is Back at the Helm?
Pakistan After Musharraf
By TARIQ ALI *
Pakistan's military dictators never go quietly.
Field-Marshal Ayub was removed by a three-month long
popular insurrection in March 1969. General Yahya Khan
destroyed Pakistan before he departed in 1972. General
Zia-ul-Haq (the worst of the lot) was blown up in his
military plane together with the US Ambassador in
1988. And now General Musharraf is digging his heels.
There is a temporary stalemate in Pakistan. The Army is
in favour of him going quietly, but is against
impeachment. Washington is prepared for him to go, but
quietly. And last Friday the chief of Saudi
intelligence agency, Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz, had
secretly arrived in Pakistan and held talks with
coalition leaders and President Musharraf. He wants a
'safe exit' for the president. Sanctuaries in
Manhattan, Texas and the Turkish island of Bueyuekada
(Prinkipo) are being actively considered. The General
would prefer a large estate in Pakistan, preferably
near a golf course, but security considerations alone
would make that infeasible.
One way or another he will go soon. Power has been
draining away from him for over a year now. Had he
departed peacefully when his constitutional term
expired in November 2007 he would have won some
respect. Instead he imposed a State of Emergency and
sacked the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In
January, the latter wrote an open letter to Nicolas
Sarkozy, Gordon Brown, Condoleezza Rice and the
president of the European Parliament. The letter, which
remains unanswered, explained the real reasons for
At the outset you may be wondering why I have used the
words 'claiming to be the head of state'. That is
quite deliberate. General Musharraf's constitutional
term ended on 15 November 2007. His claim to a further
term thereafter is the subject of active controversy
before the Supreme Court of Pakistan. It was while this
claim was under adjudication before a bench of 11
learned judges of the Supreme Court that the general
arrested a majority of those judges in addition to me
on 3 November 2007. He thus himself subverted the
judicial process which remains frozen at that point.
Besides arresting the chief justice and judges (can
there have been a greater outrage?) he also purported
to suspend the constitution and to purge the entire
judiciary (even the high courts) of all independent
judges. Now only his hand-picked and compliant judges
remain willing to 'validate' whatever he demands. And
all this is also contrary to an express and earlier
order passed by the Supreme Court on 3 November 2007.
Now Musharraf will go in disgrace, threatened with
impeachment and abandoned by most of his cronies, who
grew rich under his rule and are now sidling
shamelessly in the direction of the new power-brokers.
The country has moved seamlessly from a moth-eaten
dictatorship to a moth-eaten democracy. Six months
after the old, morally obtuse, political gangs returned
to power, the climate has further deteriorated. The
widower Bhutto and his men are extremely unpopular. The
worm-eaten tongues of long discredited politicians and
resurrected civil servants are on daily display.
Removing Musharraf, who is even more unpopular, might
win the politicians some time, but not for long.
Amidst the hullabaloo there was one hugely diverting
moment last week that reminding one of pots and
kettles. Asif Zardari, the caretaker-leader of the
People's Party who runs the government and is the
second richest man in the country (funds that accrued
when his late wife was Prime Minister) accused
Musharraf of corruption and siphoning official US funds
to private bank accounts. For once the noise of
laughter drowned the thunder of money.
Musharraf's departure will highlight the problems that
confront the country, which is in the grip of a food
and power crisis that is creating severe problems in
every city. Inflation is out of control and was
approaching the 15 percent mark in May 2008. Gas (used
for cooking in many homes) prices have risen by 30
percent. Wheat, the staple diet of most people has seen
a 20 percent price hike since November 2007 and while
the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organisation admits
that the world's food stocks are at record lows there
is an additional problem in Pakistan. Too much wheat is
being smuggled into Afghanistan to serve the needs of
the NATO armies. The poor are the worst hit, but
middle-class families are also affected and according
to a June 2008 survey, 86 percent of Pakistanis find it
increasingly difficult to afford flour on a daily
basis, for which they blame their own new government.
Other problems persist. The politicians are weak and
remain divided on the restoration of the judges sacked
by Musharraf. The Chief Justice, Iftikhar Muhammad
Chaudhry, is the most respected person in the country.
Zardari is reluctant to see him back at the head of the
Supreme Court. A possible compromise might be to offer
him the Presidency. It would certainly unite the
country for a short time.
Over the last fifty years the US has worked mainly with
the Pakistan Army. This has been its preferred
instrument. Nothing has changed. How long before the
military is back at the helm?
Tariq Ali's latest book, 'The Duel: Pakistan on the
Flight Path of American Power' will be published on
September 15 by Scribner.
* Source: Counterpunch, August 18, 2008;
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