Pakistan: the power of the gun

Ayesha Siddiqa
7 November 2007

Pakistan is in the midst of yet another crisis. The country's general-president, Pervez Musharraf, imposed a state of "emergency plus" on 3 November 2007. Most sources persist in calling the announcement "martial law" - and for good reason, because it was in his role as the chief of the army that the "provisional constitution order" (which replaced the 1973 constitution) was issued last Saturday afternoon. Only the president has the authority to impose an emergency in Pakistan, and this does not appear to have happened in this case.

The fact that the general-president's regime, even at this late stage, seems to have engaged in a game of words with Pakistan's people in its choice of the term "emergency plus", matters: it is not mere pedantry. For it is classic Pervez Musharraf and an insight into a mind and way of operating that seems to need to evade or deflect responsibility. This was apparent early; in 1999, when he first seized power, the general chose to designate himself as "chief executive" rather than as administrator of martial law.

Ayesha Siddiqa is an independent political and defence analyst.

She is the author of Military Inc: Inside Pakistan's Military Economy is published by Pluto Press (15 April 2007)"Pakistan's permanent crisis" (15 May 2007) Musharraf has made strenuous efforts to convince the world of the need for an emergency. Although he did not appear confident during his address to the nation, his characteristic brashness was evident when he justified the need for such an extraordinary move. His logic was simple: the country and the armed forces were threatened by the growing extremism and the scourge of terrorism, and these trends were being further fanned by judicial activism.

The judges, according to general-president's line of thinking, had come to the rescue of the extremist mullahs of the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) by ruling in ways that gave them some relief from the state's action. The group and its supporters had resisted a siege in a way that for eight days in July 2007 effectively held hostage the capital city of Islamabad, yet the supreme court had ordered the government to allow it to re-enter the mosque after its lengthy resistance was broken. But the government did not reveal the fact that the very judge responsible for this (to it) unpleasant decision was one of only four (out of seventeen) supreme-court justices to take an oath under the new provisional constitution order.

Islamabad's options

Pervez Musharraf's bias against the judiciary is well established, yet even taking this into account Pakistan's civil society is convinced that the latest evidence of his vendetta was unwise - and that his action could only be undone by movement from within the military elite. By 5 November, Islamabad was rife with rumour that Musharraf had been arrested or replaced by the vice-chief of the army, General Afshaq Pervez Kayani. The logic of the speculation was that Kayani was becoming restless in the wait to succeed Musharraf and thus tempted to force the issue.

Many inside the army believe that there is no precedence of a junior officer in Pakistan's army removing his boss. The 1969 experience - when the army chief, General Yahya Khan, ousted Field-Marshal Ayub Khan - is the only time in Pakistan's history that a senior general has met this fate. But Ayub had consented to Yahya's act and in any case, was by then no longer head of the army. Pervez Musharraf is, unfortunately, far more dedicated to the preservation of his personal power - and he is prepared to take almost suicidal risks in the effort.

On 5 November, Musharraf sought to present a united military-political face when he met foreign diplomats along with General Kayani and prime minister Shaukat Aziz. But such images do not mean that there is genuine harmony in the military camp regarding his martial-law decision. Both officers and soldiers resent the way he has exposed the military to greater public displeasure. The army has already come under increasing criticism in recent years for taking over the government, the public sector and expanding its interest in the private sector as well; now it is charged with control of the state apparatus as a whole. Almost all Pakistanis, apart from the regime's cronies, are unhappy with this state of affairs.

Among openDemocracy's many articles on Pakistan under Pervez Musharraf:

Maruf Khwaja, "The Islamisation of Pakistan" (12 April 2006)

Shaun Gregory, "Pakistan on edge" (25 September 2006)

Ehsan Masood, "Pakistan: the army as the state" (12 April 2007)

Anatol Lieven, "At the Red Mosque in Islamabad" (4 June 2007)

Paul Rogers, "Pakistan's peril" (19 July 2007)

Maruf Khwaja, "The war for Pakistan" (24 July 2007)

Irfan Husain, "Pakistan's poker-game" (14 September 2007)

Shaun Gregory, "Pakistan: farewell to democracy" (29 October 2007)

Irfan Husain, "Pervez Musharraf's desperate gamble" (5 November 2007) Under Musharraf, all major government contracts have been awarded to military companies. To take but two examples: the contract for the construction of the 10.1-kilometre Leh expressway in Rawalpindi (worth Rs. 18.8 billion [$304 million]) was granted without normal tendering to the military construction firm, the Frontier Works Organisation; and the Karachi northern bypass bridge was given similarly without open bidding to another military company, the National Logistics Cell (the bridge collapsed on 1 September 2007, a week after its opening, killing seven people).

Such stories are endless. The senior generals and the military as an organisation have benefited mightily under Musharraf, which might be one source of his generals' (including Kayani's) reluctance to push him out of the way. In any case, Musharraf - mindful of the anxiety amongst his senior colleagues - may pre-empt them by removing his uniform soon after getting a favourable verdict from the reconstituted judiciary.

Musharraf's retention of the office of the president only would be a happy outcome for Washington too. The George W Bush administration is keen for him to give Pakistan a veneer of democracy by taking off his uniform, holding elections and renewing the interrupted partnership with Benazir Bhutto (whether Bhutto, facing her own political predicament, would consent for a second time is open to dispute).

Washington would not mind if the subsequent elections are rigged. American diplomats in Pakistan already have information about possible plans to ensure that Nawaz Sharif's faction of the Pakistan Muslim League will be denied victory irrespective of voting outcomes. Benazir's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q - that is, the pro-Musharraf faction in the ruling party) will then be allowed to battle against each other with the government intervening when this is to its advantage, leaving the leaders of these parties to fix the results themselves. For example, the Punjab regional government would ensure that certain constituency results produced enough seats in the national parliament to enable it to secure the prime ministerial position.

The army's choice

At this juncture, there are three possible immediate scenarios - with an outside chance of a fourth. The first is that the general will remove his uniform, pass on the mantle of service chief to General Kayani, and try to hold elections at the earliest opportunity (certainly by the mid-January 2008 deadline prescribed by the constitution, taking account of recent events).

Second, all of the above happens except that elections are delayed for a year - which might give the PML-Q (popularly know as the "king's party") enough time to acquire more seats when the votes are counted.

Third, the president could keep wearing his two hats and convince an ostensibly reluctant but in principle amenable United States that this is necessary to prosecute the "war on terror". Washington's discomfort with Musharraf's action notwithstanding, the Bush administration is not likely to support a major change in Pakistan. The removal of Musharraf by force - and any other routes are at present blocked - would mean even greater instability and potential trouble for the Americans.

This route would be Pervez Musharraf's preferred course, as the best guarantee that he could continue maximising his power. But this third option depends also on what his army and generals want to do. At present, their continued support of Musharraf both allows him to prolong his rule and indicates a deeper change in the character of Pakistan's military: it has become a predatory rather than professionalised institution, whose generals' main concern has become personal power and access to the resources which Musharraf continues to provide (see Ehsan Masood, "Pakistan: the army as the state", 12 April 2007).

There remains, however, a small possibility that senior officers will resist the latest imposition of martial law and that this would help facilitate a change at the top. If this - the fourth scenario - happens, it will indicate that professionalism has not deserted the armed forces and that its officer corps care about what remains of their good image. Any further deterioration in its the army's reputation will only result in Pakistan's military coming to resemble the coercive Latin American militaries of old.

Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData