by: Ershad Mahmud
Islamabad - The clean sweep by opposition parties in the
recently held national elections has uprooted President
Musharraf’s party, putting his future at risk. Asif Zardari,
leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Nawaz Sharif,
leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), surprised
everyone by joining together to form a new government in Islamabad.
This new alliance between the opposition parties may
re-orient Pakistan’s political future, empowering elected
officials to follow Turkey's example on the road to democracy.
This message of unity was well received by the people. Both parties’
leaders made a public commitment to adhere to the charter of
democracy (signed by former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and
Nawaz Sharif on 14 May 2006 in London), which calls for the
restoration of the 1973 Constitution – in place until the 1999
military coup, ensures the supremacy of parliament, limits the
role of the military in politics and imposes restrictions on
These key issues remain part of both parties’ electoral manifestos.
Apart from Musharraf supporters, no other political groups have any objection to implementing these political parameters. A broader
consensus among political parties has emerged to stop Pakistan’s
armed forces from indulging in the country’s political affairs,
guaranteeing that the parliament retains political control.
Currently, the president enjoys enormous powers – he can dissolve
the National Assembly and appoint military chiefs.
Pakistan’s civil society, led mainly by lawyers, is up in arms
against Musharraf and wants the reinstatement of deposed judges.
It seems that Musharraf is neither willing to restore the judges
to their rightful positions nor to quit the presidency. This stance
is likely to continue until Washington and Pakistan’s military
withdraw their support for him.
Pakistan’s army has become a key power broker in maintaining
corporate interests and has its own benchmarks for measuring
Pakistan-India relations, the Kashmir conflict and Pakistan-US
relations. It does not allow elected officials to have a say in
its internal affairs.
Unfortunately, the army’s influence is deep-rooted and widespread
not only amongst the lower classes, but also amongst certain political officials, making it difficult for it to change its ways. In order
to counter the military’s influence and power, the opposition needs
to work gradually but diligently.
It would be wise for opposition leaders to follow Turkey’s
example in doing so. Incumbent Turkish leaders made sure they never
gave the Turkish army an excuse to intervene in government affairs by safeguarding traditional Turkish priorities both domestically and internationally, apparent in the cases of Kurdish militancy and EU accession. Secondly, they made the public’s well being the
government’s top priority and introduced economic reforms to revitalise
the fragile economy.
As was the case in Turkey, Pakistan’s ruling party has remained close to public aspirations and kept its contact with the masses. If Pakistan’s elected leadership can prevent spiralling inflation, it will win people’s trust. Similarly, by combining negotiation tactics with military might, instead of just the latter, the new leadership may be able to isolate insurgents in border areas of the country.
Washington should lessen its expectations of Pakistan’s military
leaders and invest more in the country’s elected representatives.
The US strategic alliance with Musharraf has created the impression
amongst Pakistanis that it does not genuinely favour a democratic
Pakistan. Over the years, the United States has strengthened the
army’s rule over Pakistan by investing heavily in the military and by backing the country’s successive military coups. These kinds of
policies, combined with the country’s own actions, have led to a marginalisation of moderate forces in public life.
The West, and the United States in particular, must support
Pakistan’s newly elected representatives and encourage the army
to respect the public mandate and serve the country within Pakistan’s constitutional framework. Only then can Pakistan be truly
democratic, and only then can the United States forge a
meaningful relationship with the people of Pakistan.
* Ershad Mahmud is an Islamabad-based researcher focusing
on South Asia. This article was written for the
Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.
Source: Common Ground News Service, 4 March 2008, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.