Sunday, December 02, 2007

Musharraf's Tailor

Byline by M.J. Akbar : Musharraf’s Tailor

Surely the most creative, lucrative and sensitive job in Pakistan is held by Pervez Musharraf’s tailor. Think at the number of objectives he has to meet: the internal and external security of his nation; the legitimacy of his country’s political system; the wooing of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif; and the awesome American strategic goal of short-term security and long-term stability that hinges on the cut of cloth. After all this, he still has to ensure that the President looks good. Not easy.

The tailor has had some practice. This is not the first time that President Musharraf has chosen civvies for public display. He put them on during his brief interventions into pseudo-politics even when in uniform, as when he chose to address a public rally in order to indicate the love and warmth that the Pakistani people had for him. He appeared then in a shalwar-kameez. His style was different from the precedent set by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who gave his party, the Pakistan People’s Party, a virtual uniform distinguished by a braid in the collar of the jacket. The other difference was that Pervez Musharraf did not look all that relaxed as he waved his arms in acknowledgement of the people’s cheers. Maybe the cheerleaders had exacted too heavy a price.

Thomas Carlyle, the 18th century British philosopher, argued that clothes make the man. He was discussing more than one nuance of this proposition, including the measure of appearance and folds of reality. He had the advantage of thinking within the confines of an ordered system.
Musharraf’s tailor may have changed his boss’ clothes. But has he changed his boss’ mind, or indeed his boss’ constituency?

Musharraf has imposed martial law, declared an Emergency, sacked 12 judges of the Supreme Court, imprisoned the non-compliant, and struck deals with America and Saudi Arabia in order to remain in power. Why should we imagine that he would suddenly surrender power just because he has surrendered his uniform?

That surely is a key question as Pakistan moves to the next act of a drawn-out tragi-comedy. An election will be held in January. A Prime Minister will be sworn in. Who will be in power? The old President or the new Prime Minister?

So far, there has been no confusion under dictators. All Prime Ministers appointed by Musharraf knew their place, somewhere in the middle of the food chain, after the Corps Commanders and preferred political heavyweights who had backed the President. Shaukat Aziz is not disappointed that his sell-by date has arrived. The job was a lottery, and like all windfalls it had a finite existence. He did what he could, to the best of his ability, and did not confuse his years in office with the sanction of popular support. He was a top bureaucrat in the banking industry; he became a top bureaucrat in the political industry. Good luck, and goodbye.

The queue of potential Prime Ministers for January 2008 is full of professional politicians who demand obedience rather than give it. Pakistan had enough problems with a single source of authority, an Army dictator who ruled by decree. How will it manage with a dual source of authority?

Whoever thought up this duality (one hears that the idea belongs to Washington) either had a facile brain, or had never visited Pakistan, or had just run out of ideas and could not think of anything else. The American plan aims, as we have noted, to achieve short-term security by pleasing both God and mammon, by partitioning governance into military and civilian departments in which the armed forces will continue to confront those who challenge America in Afghanistan, or indeed America in America, while the civilians get on with the business of economic growth, prosperity-management, foreign policy and doubtless madrasa-eradication. This can be dressed up as a democracy, and voila! All problems are hereby declared over!
Pakistan has had to pay a heavy price for the delusion of its dictators. To this we must now add the self-delusion of its advisers.

A conventional democracy draws very clear lines between a President and a Prime Minister; one of the two designations is assigned the power, and the second plays a secondary, complementary role. In France the President is the chief executive, and the Prime Minister is a subsidiary executive. In India, the Prime Minister is the undisputed authority. The Indian President is a creature of the government as much as the Constitution, whose every public pronouncement is vetted and cleared by the Cabinet. His — or, today, her — only moment of supreme authority is in the exercise of a Constitutional duty, in the selection and swearing-in of a Prime Minister and his/her government. The moment the government is sworn in, the President becomes, in effect, a Constitutional prisoner of his own government, a situation that lasts only as long as the government has a parliamentary majority or its term is over. The President is a Constitutional bridgehead.

Did President Musharraf become President in order to become a cipher? Anyone who thinks the answer is yes needs a long private chat with, possibly, Musharraf’s tailor.
A variation of the Turkey model, in which the armed forces placed themselves within the executive system as guarantors of the nation’s secularism, is being attempted. In Pakistan’s case, the armed forces are the guarantors of security. But there is no doubt about which finger is on the trigger. It is not a civilian finger.

I have no doubt that the January elections in Pakistan will be free and fair, since those who rig the elections have already been elected. The people are being asked to choose only one centre of power in a bipolar system.

This leaves us with some serious questions about both foreign and internal policy. Who deals with India in the diarchy that is envisaged for Pakistan from January 2008? Who deals with Afghanistan? Who makes the trips to the White House? Will every discussion have to be repeated to two centres of powers, and each agreement sold twice?

Internal questions can be even trickier. A Parliament elected the President. Can the next, elected, Parliament remove the President from office? The President of India can be impeached under Article 61, if two thirds of either House of Parliament prefer a charge, and then after investigation and a process of trial hold him or her guilty by a two-thirds margin. Is the President of Pakistan above any system of accountability, free to do anything he wishes? Will the President of Pakistan declare another Emergency, abolish Parliament, pack off judges of the Supreme Court if he feels threatened? This year’s repackaging of the Supreme Court was a pre-emptive strike, not a post facto decision. Is there any reason why it could not happen again?
You cannot get long-term stability if there are too many questions and not enough answers. There is a basic geological fault in the system if the directly elected portion of the diarchy is the weaker of the two poles in a bipolar polity.

When asked, recently, when he would step down, President Pervez Musharraf answered, "When there is no turmoil in Pakistan".

By that yardstick he could still be Pakistan’s President in 3007, if the Almighty gives him a long-enough life. And there could be more work for the tailor

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