Why I miss Musharraf
Tuesday, January 06, 2009 (The News)
Salman K Chima
When General Musharraf seized power, I was not among those who welcomed him – although with Justice Tarrar as the President and Shariat Amendment Bill to the Constitution awaiting approval by the Senate, Pakistan was on the verge of being a theocratic state. Why did I oppose Musharraf? Because his rule was undemocratic and unconstitutional.
Yet, today I willingly acknowledge Musharraf. The choice of his successor in the Presidency is reason enough to remember him. But I praise him for the freedom Pakistan breathed under him; for the fact that he did not feel entitled to extra reward for his services. Even his worst detractors do not accuse him of personal corruption. This in a country where rulers have chosen to place their hard earned money in Swiss accounts.
Despite my initial opposition, I would have set the following agenda for the general: 1 . Cleanse the army of the jihadi elements inducted by General Zia. 2. Free the media. 3. Initiate meaningful steps to emancipate women. 4. Bring the minorities into the mainstream of politics. 5. Implement balanced and across the board accountability.
Before we address whether the general delivered, there is an important preliminary matter that needs to be sorted out.
My initial opposition to Musharraf was based on his takeover being unconstitutional and undemocratic. These are of course compelling arguments to oppose a regime, but one must not forget that even Adolph Hitler was popularly elected and had a constitution of sorts. So there is surely a higher principle by which to judge a government - constitution and democracy cannot be the decisive benchmarks.
The decisive benchmark to me is the freedom a regime is prepared to extend to its subjects. Constitutions and democracies represent good forms of government only insofar as they are able to preserve the inherent right of all citizens to be free.
It is against this yardstick that 19th century America fails; as does Hitler's Third Reich - despite being blessed with constitutional and democratic rule. Paradoxically, it is against this higher principle that Musharraf wins.
Reverting to his performance, my first agenda point was the cleansing of the Pakistan Army of jihadi elements. While the 'war on terror' was not visible in 1999, however Pakistanis were acutely aware of the growing Talibanisation around them. The Taliban were ruling Afghanistan and one could predict that a war would have to be fought with their way of thinking within Pakistan.
This war against Talibanisation could scarcely be fought without Pakistan Army. It is also axiomatic that the Pakistan Army inherited from General Zia and his successors was ill equipped to fight this war. So, the first agenda item: to rinse out the Taliban elements from the institution. This may sound an easy task, but remember that the generals who brought Musharraf to power were differently inclined.
Was the task accomplished? Consider: From the first day of Musharraf's rule, General Hameed Gul has been his most vocal critic. Could this be attributed to Gul's love for democracy and constitution or simply resentment at the restructuring of Pakistan Army -- contrary to Gul's desire? Could the present fighting in Bajaur and elsewhere have been possible without deep structural changes in the army? Do not the terrorist attacks afflicting Pakistan indicate the Taliban elements are no longer reacting to Musharraf but to the restructuring put in place by him? The profile of the Pakistan Army's top leadership has been reformed in the last nine years but, the restructuring has virtually gone unappreciated since it took shape away from public eye.
Moving on to freedom of media, one should not have to recount evidence to establish how truly free media was under Musharraf. So let me address some unfair commentaries offered by the General's critics. First, that he did not have a choice; with the advent of satellite TV (which can be beamed from outside the jurisdiction) Musharraf could not have shielded himself from media scrutiny. True, but why is the same freedom not witnessed in Singapore, Malaysia, Myanmar, Iran etc. The government has many ways of curbing media freedom, for instance, not only is the government an important client of all the media houses in terms of advertisement but also runs its own TV channels which can make lucrative offers to the more vocal critics.
Second, the aftermath of Nov 3, 2007: Critics allege if Musharraf believed in media freedom, he would not have curbed it after Nov 3. The argument is fair, but needs to be put in perspective. The period between November 3 and 13, 2007 is admittedly the 'darkest period' of Musharraf's regime from the media freedom perspective. It would perhaps be unfair to judge Musharraf by reference to this period alone.
But how bad was this period really? Let us do a litmus test. Pick a day and newspaper of our choice during this period. Go through this newspaper and select one article which we feel is most critical of Musharraf. Now go through every publication in Pakistan between August 14, 1947 and October 12, 1999 to ascertain how many articles in this period match up to the one we just identified. What are the odds we will find even one?! Does that tell us something about Musharraf's 'darkest period'?
Coming next to emancipation of women, unlike media freedom it must be acknowledged that this did not witness any giant leaps during Musharraf's time. But this task is going to require many generations – such being the state of affairs. Yet, one was entitled to ask for some acts (even if symbolic) to set the direction right. It is in this perspective that the following steps may be recounted.
There was a substantial increase in women's representation in the assemblies. Women not only add value in the assemblies but also their representation gradually changes the society's mindset. The 'Sword of Honor' was awarded by the Pakistan Air Force Academy to a lady cadet. The Women's Protection Act - a long overdue amendment to soften a retrogressive law legislated by Zia- was passed as well.
One does regret the General's statement before the American press regarding Mukhtar Mai case. But even here one must not be cruel in judging him.
A detailed study of the LHC judgement reveals that there is indeed another side to the story: Mukhtar Mai may have willingly married the main accused. She at least admitted before the court that she would have been prepared to marry him, in exchange for the main accused's sister marrying her own brother. According to the defense version, this is exactly what happened and she only recorded the FIR once the main accused's sister (contrary to the agreement) was married to someone else. The record also shows that no visible injuries (except a relatively minor abrasion) were seen on Mukhtar Mai during medical examination – which took place about eight days after the alleged incident. Mukhtar Mai also admitted that the accused were financially weaker than her own family. Fortunately the matter is before the Supreme Court, and they will put this controversy to rest.
Was not Musharraf advised that the defence version was not entirely baseless? As the country's president, he may have felt agitated by the adverse publicity this case was getting outside Pakistan.
The next agenda point, the minorities: They have been relegated to second class citizenship, particularly since the times of General Zia. Musharraf introduced joint and yet separate electorates for minorities - giving them two votes, one in the general election and one for their own reserved seats. However, after the 17th Amendment, the minorities now only vote in the general election, and their reserved seats are filled by political parties according to their representation in the assembly.
Minorities are also particularly hard done by the Blasphemy Law. A person convicted of blasphemy must suffer (often the death penalty) because he has hurt the deepest feelings of the Muslim majority. But how can people's feelings take priority over a man's right to life or liberty. Musharraf only considered amending the procedural aspects of the law. He backtracked but only a person with the right orientation would even begin to conceive such a move. The other mentionable change (though subsequently reversed) was the removal of the religious column on the passport. He backtracked on this – but who else even made an effort.
(To be continued)
The writer is a Lahore-based lawyer.
Why I miss Musharraf-Part II
By Salman K Chima
Coming then to the next point, accountability: Here the General’s performance was disappointing. The National Reconciliation Ordinance is a grotesque law. It is indeed difficult to find any redeeming feature in the NRO. However, attention must be drawn to the fact that the protection offered by the NRO extends only up to October 12, 1999. The General did not seek to protect his own acts. Also, may one ask, have the people of Pakistan done any better by electing the very politicians who are the primary beneficiaries of the law. Why blame Musharraf?
Justice Iftikar Muhammad Chaudhry was not the most popular judge, until he was manhandled by the Islamabad Police. In the ensuing mess, it is easy to forget what the reference was about. Simply put:
The President on the advice of the Prime Minister asked the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) to opine whether the chief justice (CJ) had committed misconduct. Certain specific allegations (most notably regarding the CJ’s son) were included in the reference. SJC was seized of the matter when a petition was filed by Justice Chaudhry in SC. The Supreme Court, having initially stayed the proceedings before SJC, after three months of hearing (by a majority of 10 against 3) quashed the reference. In doing so, SC decided not to look into contents of the reference.
The Supreme Court ruling is intriguing. One waited anxiously for the detailed judgment; but considering that that may not be forthcoming, one is now left to speculate on possible reasoning.
The honourable judges may have concluded that while a references can be filed against other superior court judges, it cannot however be filed against the Chief Justice of Pakistan. This is faulty reasoning, not sustainable in light of the Constitutional provisions. Also, what happens if a chief justice goes into coma, or is diagnosed with mental incapacity? How would such chief justice be removed?
The other argument that perhaps found favour with the Supreme Court is that the reference was filed with ‘malice’ and was therefore void. But this raises an important issue. If there was a case to answer (which of course could only have been determined by consulting the reference), was it then available to the President/Prime Minister to withhold the Reference — whether with good intentions or bad. Was the President/Prime Minister not under a constitutional duty to refer it to SJC?
It seems to me that there was only one issue that the Supreme Court could have adjudicated: was there a case to answer based on the material contained in the reference. If yes, the President was obligated to refer the matter to SJC. The President’s alleged malice was quite irrelevant to the equation. This was after all not an issue between two private litigants, or even between the President and the Chief Justice. This was rather an issue having to do with Pakistan’s constitution. The Constitution does not permit a chief justice guilty of misconduct to remain in office.
Incidentally, one issue the honorable SC did not decide was whether the reference made out a case to answer. They decided not to consult the reference at all. In my opinion, majority of the honourable SC may have erred in this regard.
Next the Lal Masjid case. The Lal Masjid danda brigade began by taking over the children’s library; then raided various shops that were renting out Indian and western movies (hence unIslamic); then kidnapped three women on the allegation of indulging in immoral activities; then kidnapped eight Chinese nationals on the pretext of indulging in immoral activities. All this while the government was engaging in dialogue with them, with the whole world as witness.
Ultimately, the government gave every occupant of Lal Masjid the option to leave (even to collect Rs. 5,000 per head as travel expense) or face action. This message was communicated loud and clear. And what did the Lal Masjid brigade do? They (in front of live cameras) shot and killed two personnel of the Rangers, and set a government building on fire, while also ceaselessly firing bullets at the law enforcement agencies. Even then the government showed restraint.
It is only when the Lal Masjid militants refused to allow people to leave and threatened to start suicide bombings that the government acted with full vigour. Musharraf and other government functionaries were repeatedly criticized by the ‘free’ media for not taking action, and ultimately the media stood by the Lal Masjid militants when action was taken. The entire responsibility for Lal Masjid episode rests with the Lal Masjid hooligans — and the media also acted highly irresponsibly.
Moving on to the Waziristan operation, international law does not permit Pakistan to allow its citizens or citizens of other countries residing in its territory to wage war against Afghanistan or USA or any other country for that matter. Pakistan therefore had only two options regarding the militants present in Waziristan and elsewhere – to take action, or face action from those threatened by such militants. Such action would have been totally consistent with international law. Musharraf opted for the first and managed to convince the powers that be not to intervene directly.
Imagine if the second option had been implemented — not only would Pakistan be crippled economically, but there would also have been a huge reaction to foreign intervention, and quite possibly the country delivered to Taliban elements. Of course, Musharraf employed the carrot and stick approach and there was at times collateral damage on account of the latter.
We move to the case of ‘missing persons’. Some pertinent questions:
Why has a person gone missing? Could it be that he has voluntarily gone on jihad; or was he picked up by agencies?
Were there more missing persons falling in the latter category, during Musharraf’s time than in earlier regimes?
Did anyone go missing because of his enmity with or criticism of Musharraf?
If these questions are answered, it may well transpire that there were in fact fewer missing persons in Pakistan during Musharraf’s time than ever before. Significantly, it may also be revealed that those who went missing at the hands of the agencies were not ones who opposed Musharraf – these were persons wanted with regard to the war on terror.
Dr. Afia Siddiqui’s case merits mention though. Human Rights groups seem to have concluded that she was kidnapped with her three children by Pakistani agencies in 2003. Consider this:
How come despite multiple meetings with Pakistani officials Dr. Siddiqui has not claimed that she was kept in detention since 2003?
How come her lawyer continues to advise her not to disclose the whereabouts of her detention and that of her kids? How come her son who recently arrived from Afghanistan, has also not made any statement regarding his detention?
How come the current government (with all its opposition to whatever happened during Musharraf’s time) has not blamed any member of any agency for having taken her into custody?
Are we aware of any person kept in detention by the US for five years with their kids?
Has anyone been shot by US Forces while in detention – are we aware of any other case of this nature?
Could it be that she voluntarily went on jihad, took her innocent children with her, and has only recently been taken in detention?
No one, not even Musharraf’s harshest critics, accuse him of personal corruption. An eminent industrialist recently told me that in eight years that Musharraf was at the helm of affairs, he repeatedly called the general, bringing various kinds of government inefficiencies or inactions to his notice. He insists that each such approach was made in the interest of the country, and each time the General took constructive steps to ease the situation. The gentleman then says that he is still waiting for Musharraf’s first call asking for a favour in return, whether for himself or a friend or a relative or anyone at all.
I listen when Musharraf says that every step he took was taken in best national interest. There are some who hold A.Q. Khan as their hero; and there is also the dwindling number of those who raise Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s hand as the saviour of Pakistan; one must not expect them to lend their ears to Musharraf’s voice.
God forgive him and forgive us all
Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall
The writer is a Lahore-based lawyer.
Why I don’t miss Musharraf
By Samad Khurram
I have great respect for Salman Chima, whom I met in 2005 for my college interview, but I do not agree with his apologist defence of Musharraf in “Why I miss Musharraf” ( ).
Other factors notwithstanding, it was the Musharraf-gifted NRO which paved the way for our current dispensation. Without the NRO, many of those in power would be behind bars or in exile. To add to it, Musharraf also sent packing perhaps the only court that was bold enough to take action against official corruption. Though the NRO cleaned the beneficiaries’ slates, it has not altered their character, and hence our abysmal situation.
Mr Chima wrote that the NRO only forgave actions up until 1999, and that Musharraf did not want to protect his own self, and which proved his good intentions. This is wrong, because, firstly, the date was chosen to be such that Nawaz Sharif would not be extricated from the plane hijacking case. Secondly, Musharraf did not have anything to worry about as he was about to purge the courts of all those judges who could rule against him.
The writer suggests that there was no other option for the president on the Lal Masjid as the crisis had escalated beyond control. But why had the Lal Masjid brigade not been stopped immediately after they took the law into their own hands? Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain recently confessed that this was done so that it could become a diversion to the judiciary issue. Others have also confirmed the former president’s penchant for involving himself unduly in matters. Maj Gen Ehtasham Zamir has admitted that the ISI manipulated the 2002 elections. Jemima Khan wrote about her meeting with Musharraf where he offered many things to Imran Khan in return for support to the Presidency. And this newspaper has reported of allotment of military land to the JUI-F, obviously in exchange for its support to Musharraf.
As for the Lal Masjid siege, Gen Musharraf had said that there would be no negotiations with those who took the law into their own hands. This would have been fine had the president applied it consistently. However, a senior Taliban figure and 25 other comrades were released that same year in exchange for kidnapped Pakistani soldiers.
Secondly, what is suspicious is the large amount of alleged ammunition not used by the Lal Masjid militants. With conflicting claims from both sides, people did not know whom to trust. The arbiter in this case was the media, which was conveniently denied access to the area. An independent judicial inquiry into this issue would have helped set things straight, but that never happened.
As for the missing persons scandal, Mr Chima says that most of them are those who had voluntarily left their homes to join jihadi camps. The work of the Supreme Court on this subject, however, showed otherwise. Many of the missing persons had indeed been held in detention incommunicado and were not initially even produced before the apex court. The fact that the Supreme Court under Adbul Hameed Dogar has yet to take up even one missing person’s case does not mean that the problem has been dealt with.
And there are simply a whole lot of other misdeeds of Musharraf that Mr Chima has ignored. Who was responsible for the illegal “preventive” house arrest of the judges, the detention of thousands of political opponents and lawyers without any charge, the police brutality that was used to curb the protests, and the denial of basic rights to even minors in the families of political opponents, among others? According to the writer such acts can be condoned given the greater good that he has done. This only makes me smiles. It reminds me of a conversation I had with a Zia apologist who claimed that the late general should be forgiven for whatever wrongs he did, he as he had done more good for Islam than any other leader in Pakistan and had strengthened the nuclear programme.
Given what he did to the Constitution and the actions he undertook, the former president should have been prosecuted under Article VI of the Constitution of Pakistan.
The writer is a student at Harvard University. Email: skhurram@ fas.harvard.edu
Source: The News, 13th January, 2009
Why I (don't) miss Musharraf
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
This refers to several articles and letters in your newspaper under the two opposing titles "Why I miss Musharraf " and "Why I don't miss Musharraf". As an incorrigible cynic, frankly speaking, I find the ongoing debate and the subject under discussion an exercise in futility and nothing more than a childish squabble.
One misses a person when he or she has disappeared altogether from the scene, for good or temporarily. Pervez Musharraf has neither disappeared nor gone for good. He is very much there, where he is supposed to be, i.e., the presidency, in the guise of Asif Zardari, the beneficiary of the NRO, who is carrying on the good work of his benefactor-in-chief.
It is business as usual at the presidency, under presidential form of government, with a non-functional prime minister, immaculately attired a la Shaukat Aziz. Article 58 (2)(b) is still there and so is the 17th Amendment. Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry remains suspended, the Sharif brothers remain exiled, now living in Raiwind, the Chaudhry brothers continue to lend unflinching support to the presidency and the ever-green JUI-F), the PML-F and the MQM also are very much the part of the presidency.
FATA is still on fire, Fazlullah still controls Swat valley, Baitullah continues to rule Waziristan, and their FM broadcasts continue to spew poison -- unchecked. The US drones remain unstoppable, suicide attacks are still rampant and the economic problems are still very much there. So what has changed?
M S Hasan
I would like to congratulate Samad Khurram on his brilliant rebuttal of Salman Chima's articles titled "Why I miss Musharraf". Mr Khurram has eloquently and logically answered every point raised by Mr Chima. Pervez Musharraf committed nothing else but treason and destroyed state institutions just so that he could illegitimately cling on to power. He was the second worst thing that happened to Pakistan after Ziaul Haq. Mr Chima needs to read the constitution of Pakistan and Mr Khurram deserves our appreciation for setting the record straight.
Muhammed Umer Farooq
Dammam, Saudia Arabia
Friday, January 16, 2009
In a manner befitting a good advocate, Mr Chima's article (Why I miss Musharraf) provides a cogent defence of the retired general's actions when he ruled Pakistan. It is difficult to argue, based upon available information, against most points Mr Chima raises in his articles, whether regarding personal corruption or the Lal Masjid affair or the legal position and General Musharraf's strategy to keep the Waziristan issue internal.
However, the case for the defence falls with the closing statement: "Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall". The unpardonable sin for any dictator, whether benevolent or malevolent, is the original sin of usurpation of power by force. This means that the dictator would only be dethroned if a coterie of army officers decides it was time for him to go. To society it sends a powerful but corrosive signal of 'might is right'. Over the past 20 years particularly, manifestation of this doctrine in many spheres of Pakistani society has become apparent.
There have been others in the opinion columns of various newspapers yearning for the return of a dictatorial form of government, in less than one year after elections. Their yearning is based upon some spurious notion that Pakistan, under dictatorship, has been a more peaceful and prosperous society. Unfortunately facts do not support this perception. This is akin to the situation of an addict for whom just the next fix would achieve nirvana.
There are real problems facing Pakistan; they are not insurmountable, but require political solutions. To achieve lasting solutions, political institutions must be given time to grow. A total of 31 years of military rule demonstrably failed to provide such solutions. In the parable all humanity ends up doing penance for the original sin. Does it make any sense to keep repeating the same sin, over and over?
Salman K Chima and your newspaper deserve to be commended for publishing "Why I miss Musharraf" (Jan 6 and 12) which was a balanced, justified and brief analysis of the nine-year stewardship of Pakistan by General Pervez Musharraf. One may applaud or decry the 'unconstitutional' rule of Pervez Musharraf but the topic has been fairly dealt with by Mr Chima in his articles. Frankly speaking, his being a respected member of the legal fraternity (and that too from Lahore!) adds weight to his arguments. However, one cannot say the same as for Samad Khurram's riposte titled "Why I don't miss Musharraf" (Jan 13).
As for M S Hasan, in his letter of Jan 14 he dismissed the whole discussion as an "exercise in futility and nothing more than a childish squabble" which is in my opinion an incorrect judgement. As far as the NRO and Asif Ali Zardari's ascension to the presidency is concerned, he is there because of the mandate given to the PPP by the people in the Feb 18 election.
Brig (r) Mateen M Mohajir
The debate going on in your pages on the merits and demerits of the Musharraf regime is nothing more than a waste of time and tomfoolery. The bitter fact is that the current regime is an engineered product of the infamous NRO. And the only way to rid us of our present situation is to restore the judiciary to its pre Nov 3, 2007, status.
M Saleem Chaudhry
Source: The News
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Sunday, 18 January 2009
Why I miss Musharraf