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Political Crisis and the ‘Coming’ Election in Pakistan

Smruti S. Pattanaik is Research Fellow at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • November 27, 2007

    The imposition of emergency in Pakistan on November 3, 2007 highlights two significant points: the crisis of political legitimacy for Musharraf and the raging war in the tribal areas which has affected the morale of the Pakistan army. Musharraf highlighted the reason for emergency to save Pakistan from greater crises. He did not hesitate to name the judiciary as one of the problems that triggered the present action. The judiciary, which has been a pliant supporter of military takeovers in the past and has provided the necessary political legitimacy to the Army rule, this time, was encouraged by the civil society actors to play a more independent role while deciding the legality of Musharraf's re-election as President in uniform. The Provincial Constitutional Order (PCO), which has been constituted, is going to provide Musharraf with legal cover and legitimize its current actions. The emergency has also given Musharraf room to breathe and remodel his version of democracy. After dealing with the judiciary, the only institution that could have challenged the military, Musharraf is all set to rule Pakistan as its powerful civilian President armed with Article 58 (2b).

    The crack down on the media, political and human right activists under the emergency rule has been criticized by the world community. On the pressure of the international community, Musharraf announced the elections date for January 8, 2008. Having made the announcement, the General is now trying to engineer an electoral verdict that will give longevity to his position as the president. The US, in spite of domestic criticism, has extended its support to General Musharraf and his effort to conduct election. As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice puts it, President Bush’s first concern is “to protect America and protect American citizens by continuing to fight against terrorists…That means we have to be very cognizant of the counterterrorism operations that we are involved in, we have to be very cognizant of the fact that some of the assistance that has been going to Pakistan is directly related to the counterterrorism mission”. Under no circumstances the US would like to weaken Musharraf’s regime as Washington is fully aware of how dangerous the radical elements are to Pakistan’s stability. Musharraf and his Corp commander also know the indispensability of the Pakistan Army in the US war on terror. In helping bring back Benazir and Musharraf together and to create a semblance of democratic structure, the US has balanced its democratic credentials with strategic concerns.

    The opposition political parties have remained divided and their capability to challenge Musharraf remains doubtful. For example, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) under Benazir seems to be convinced of its participation in the election due to the larger understanding she reached with Musharraf. With Nawaz Sharif back in Pakistan, politics is going to take an interesting turn. There are reports that Sharif’s ‘home coming’ is with the blessing of Musharraf, Saudi Arabia and United States. With Nawaz’s entry, the PML(N) has got a new lease of life. The PML Q which had emerged as a dominant political group under Musharraf is now in a tight corner and it would remain to be seen how the Choudhury’s – Shujaat Hussain and Pervaiz Elahi-are going to negotiate their political future with Sharif. If the PML (Q), the JUI and the MQM have declared their intentions to contest the elections; the Jamaat i Islami (JI) and Imran Khan’s Tehreek Insaf Party are opposed to it under the emergency and have declined to participate. However, there is no unity among these two parties about their political goal and method. Cooperation seems difficult after the Jamait-ul Tulba, the Student organisation of the JI, handed over Imran Khan to the police in the Lahore University Campus. This also indicates the influence of religious organizations on the establishment. The announcement of the elections has also meant little time for the parties to work out a strategy. The amendment and insertion of Article 270 AAA indicates that Musharraf is preparing ground to lift emergency and this would allow other smaller parties of All Party Democratic Movement (APDM) to contest the elections.

    The recent fighting in FATA and NWFP has remained a major concern for Musharraf and the US. Since November 1, around 400 soldiers, security forces and paramilitary troops have been ‘captured’ by the militants. The morale of the security personnel are quite clearly low and the image of the army has taken a beating. Not surprisingly many in the army share the anguish and strongly feel that this overly-influenced US agenda has negligible benefits for Pakistan. Recent changes in the Army has strengthened Musharraf’s support base in the upper echelon. The Army as an institution continues to act as a cohesive organization and Musharraf’s legitimacy emanates from the institutional support. General Kiyani who is supposed to takeover from Musharraf as Chief of Staff is a close supporter. General Musharraf’s civilian term would help in protecting the Army’s interest and would give the institution an upper hand. It needs to be emphasized that with the restoration of article 58 (2b), the civilian government will be at the mercy of Musharraf. As Pakistan moves towards election, electoral politics would only give institutional support to the army and hold back Pakistan from a true representative democracy.