Is civilian rule better than military rule?

Addressing a youth parliament, former President and army chief Pervez Musharraf said that under army rule Pakistan’s economy fared better than it did under any civilian government. However, he does not want the present democratic dispensation to be derailed, but seeks a constitutional role for the Army. He also said that National Security Council was meant to be a counter-check on use of the infamous Article 58(2) b (now erstwhile) used by Presidents to dissolve parliament and dismiss elected governments. Being a soldier, the General has been afflicted by a biased thought process. He conveniently forgets the contribution of the Western aid and loans that Pakistan received during the long years of martial law and the disastrous consequences of army rule. There have been four periods of martial law in Pakistan. The first was by General (later Field Marshal) Ayub Khan. He abrogated the 1956 Constitution – so painstakingly agreed between the Bengali leadership in the then East Pakistan and the leaders of West Pakistan. Since there was hardly any representation of Bengalis in the army – they rightly felt marginalized under an army rule. The squandering of resources to build Islamabad with a view to placing the capital near the General Headquarters (GHQ) and the misadventure in Kashmir in 1965, were two major direct causes behind the dismemberment of Pakistan. Placing the entire blame for the country break-up on Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto is wrong because the person at the helm was the then army chief General Yahya Khan. Ayub did not follow the constitution of 1962 that he himself crafted. Instead of handing power to Speaker of the National Assembly Abdul Jabbar Khan, a Bengali, Ayub chose to hand over the reins to his appointed C-in-C of the Army – General Yahya Khan. Western aid (under Ayub and Yahya) poured in Pakistan since the country was a member of two military pacts – CENTO and SEATO – to contain communism during the Cold War. Both Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf were able to perpetuate their rule because of protracted turmoil in Afghanistan. And, Pakistan’s willingness as well as Western need for Islamabad’s co-operation in their fight in a landlocked Afghanistan. Musharraf diluted in the last year prior to his re-election as President all the economic gains his government had achieved in the first three years of a seemingly technocratic rule. In fact, structural changes that Pakistan’s economy needed were consigned to cold storage by him following the inflows of Western economic aid pouring in the wake of 9/11 attack on USA.

Both the army generals as well as the politicians depend on civil bureaucracy. Civil servants in Pakistan are trained in colonial ways of a unitary government. They have failed to readjust and need to be retrained in operating a federation strictly in accordance with the stipulations of the 1973 Constitution. An army general is used to unity of command, he tries to weaken the governments in provinces by undermining provincial autonomy. Adding a paragraph to the Constitution for the setting up of local governments was not enough. The 18th Amendment to the Constitution needed to be done by Musharraf’s government. Despite a very strong position that Musharraf enjoyed, he could not complete police reforms as envisaged by his own appointed commission. Unfortunately, however, Musharraf like his predecessors felt that he was indispensable and therefore he was interested in prolonging his rule. Had he not resigned, a democratically-elected Parliament in 2008 might have impeached him.

Let us not grudge praise for the good that he did; but weighing the good against the bad would tip the scales against him. Forex reserves took a nosedive because he was not prepared to pass on the rise in international POL prices to consumers as PML (Q) leaders had successfully persuaded him that a price increase may cost them elections. He too needed the PML (Q) for his re-election as president. Pakistan had to rush to the International Monetary Fund soon after 2008 general elections. His justification for the Kargil misadventure is also implausible.

Musharraf did bite the bullet and indeed took some hard decisions in the first three years of his government. But once he failed to obtain a PML (Q) majority in 2002 elections, the good General turned democrat, made compromises with every corrupt politician. Musharraf could have delayed the 2002 elections and gone to the Supreme Court for more time for achieving the aims and objectives of the take-over instead of holding a cooked-up referendum to place himself in power in uniform.