nthposition online magazine

Democracy's 9/11 in Pakistan

by Abbas Zaidi

[ opinion - september 04 ]

In Pakistan the media has greeted Shuakat Aziz's graduation from finance minister to prime minister with euphoria. Newspapers and magazines have published editorials and opinions wishing him all the best. It was President-General Musharraf who wanted Shaukat Aziz to be prime minister in the first place. The Pakistan Muslim League - General Musharraf's political face and the ruling party - worked frantically to make it happen. General Musharraf and the Pakistan Muslim League have claimed that since taking over in 1999 as finance minister, Shaukat Aziz has turned around Pakistan's economy, and his performance as prime minister will be unparalleled. How many finance ministers become prime ministers purely on account of their good performance?

In Pakistan's history, no government's claim of having worked economic miracles has ever been disproved until it was replaced. Only in hindsight have Pakistanis been able to find out that previous governments' economic growth figures were but bagfuls of statistical sophistries. Shaukat Aziz's high economic performance - real or otherwise - can be put aside for a while because 28 August 2004 will be remembered as a sad day in the history of democracy in Pakistan. A day as sad as the one in 1979 when General Zia, General Musharraf's dictatorial predecessor, hanged an elected prime minister. It will be remembered as the day the "power troika" (president, [politician] prime minister the Chief of the Army) that Pakistan's journalists write about, died; a day when an imported bureaucrat - Shaukat Aziz of Citibank - joined hands with a general and compliant politicians, to symbolise the dismantling of whatever fragmented political structure Pakistan had. Now the President and the Army Chief are the same person, the politician is out, and the Prime Minister is a bureaucrat.

In Pakistan, democracy has been weak: politicians are certainly blameworthy; but it is the army, in collusion with the bureaucracy, which has always undermined it. No prime minister in Pakistan's history has been allowed to complete his/her mandated term, with the exception of ZA Bhutto, whom General Zia - Pakistan's President, Army Chief and Chief Martial Law Administrator, all at the same time - hanged.

It is not the first alliance of army and bureaucracy. In the mid 1950s, they joined hands, leading, in 1958, to Generals Ayub-Yahya martial law regimes which ended only in 1971, when Pakistan was dismembered. In 1972 Pakistan became a democracy, but years of martial law had rendered the politicians less than savvy in politics. In 1977, General Zia devastated Pakistan's polity by staging a coup and suspended parliament and constitution. His death in 1988 led to the restoration of democracy. But a politicised army and a Zia-groomed bureaucrat-president did not allow political institutions to flourish: from 1988 to 1999 Pakistanis, were entertained by seven prime ministerial appearances, two each from Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, and three from caretakers. Thanks to General Zia's anti-democratic policies, politicised army and bureaucracy, a partisan judiciary, and half-baked politicians (many of them retired army and air force generals), Pakistan is still unable to recover from the damage that repeated army-led coups and governments have wreaked on its political life and culture. Today, Pakistan is known as one of the most violent, intolerant, and dangerous countries in the world. It was nationally and internationally spoken of as a failed state till the United States came to its rescue after 9/11. Imagine what would have happened if 9/11 had not happened.

Although Shaukat Aziz's own political capital and contribution to Pakistan's politics and civil society are non-existent, his prime ministership is a message to the people that politicians are incompetent and unreliable, and that only bureaucracy and the army - two intrinsically anti-democracy institutions in Pakistan - are capable of running the government. General Musharraf has time and again ridiculed politicians and justified all martial law regimes in Pakistan's history on the grounds of national security.

The role of politicians has been regrettable. The majority are sophomoric; many are known for their cupidity and larceny. To them, staying in favour with the all-powerful army - known as "Pakistan's permanent government" - is more important than remaining loyal to the ideals of democracy and civil society; it is also a good means of dealing with their political rivals. But more significantly, no politician is allowed to take up an important office if he or she does not get a green signal from the Army. In 1988, Benazir Bhutto repeatedly met the then Chief of the Army Staff; she was allowed to take prime ministerial office only after she accepted that she would have no control of Pakistan's foreign affairs or nuclear programme. Her foreign minister was a retired general who had served General Zia in the same capacity. Nawaz Sharif was discovered and nurtured by the army, and later kicked out when he tried to assert his authority over the army chief. The role of the Army's "kept in store" politicians is interesting. Chaudhry Shujat, President of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League and a politician by all means and ends, was instrumental in prime minister Zafarullah Jamali's ouster to make way for Shaukat Aziz. General Musharraf had reportedly become sick of Shaukat Jamali failing to behave as he was told to. Chaudry Shujat's was the loudest voice claming that Shaukat Aziz would make a great prime minister. In Chaudhry Shujat, history repeated itself: In April 1979, when the world was mourning and protesting ZA Bhutto's hanging, Chaudhry Zahoor Elahi - a ZA Bhutto hater and popularly known as the army's best politician friend - was imploring General Zia to give him the pen that he had used to sign ZA Bhutto's execution order. Chaudhry Shujat is Chaudhry Zahoor Elahi's son. He is also known as the army's best politician friend. His personal dislike of Benazir Bhutto - daughter of ZA Bhutto - is no secret.