Pluses for the General
By Anwar Syed

I went to see an old friend during a recent visit to Karachi. After we were done with the “good old days,” we got to the present and, inevitably, to politics. He asked me to write in support of General Musharraf because, as he put it, men as good and capable as he do not come into this world oftener than perhaps once in a hundred years! I said I would think about it.
I asked others in towns I visited if they thought the general had done well by Pakistan. To my surprise, quite a few of them thought well of him. Another one of my old friends, a veteran politician who has won several elections and twice served as a federal minister, contended, apparently in all seriousness, that General Musharraf had been governing the country and serving the public interest much more wisely and effectively than any combination of politicians could have done. Similar assessments of his work appear from time to time in letters to the editor in newspapers.
In my own writing, I have not endorsed General Musharraf’s coup in October 1999 or the means he has since employed to keep power: particularly his referendum, his manipulations during the elections of 2002, his Legal Framework Order, the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution, his occupation of two offices at the same time, and his continuing exercise of powers and functions that do not lawfully belong to him. Other commentators have written in the same vein, but to no avail.
His position at the helm and his style of governance having become “ground realities,” which outsiders (including the MMA) are in no position to change, I suggest that we move on to another stance, namely, that we support such of his actions as appear to us to be in the public interest and dissociate ourselves from those which do not meet that criterion. Since we are stuck with him, we might as well help him gain a better understanding of the ways and means of achieving his goals when these are worthy.
Let us then look around to identify the courses of action he has adopted that we can, in good conscience, support. A distinction needs to be made here between his professions and his practice. With his declared aspirations and intentions we are not concerned, for they get to be the same from one ruler to the next.
Before setting out for her recent visit to the subcontinent, Condoleezza Rice, the American secretary of state, was asked if she intended to raise the issue of his uniform when she met General Musharraf. She said, no, and then went on to recount his accomplishments: (1) he was fighting, and subduing, the terrorists in Al Qaeda; (2) he had reduced extremist teaching in Pakistan’s madressahs; (3) he was carrying forward the peace process with India.
Terrorism poses a grave threat to Pakistan’s own stability and the fight against it serves our own interest as much as that of any outsider. Under General Musharraf’s overall direction the fight seems to be going well. The incidence of terrorist acts within Pakistan does appear to have declined. Bombings of the infrastructure in Balochistan are probably better understood as acts of rebellion than as plain terrorism.
The fight against extremism, the parent of terrorism, is much more difficult to organize, because here one is dealing with attitudes of mind rather than overt acts. Musharraf should get credit for his steadfast preaching of “enlightened moderation.” In a recent statement, he called for “crushing obscurantism,” and asked the moderates to launch a “wave” of mass participation to combat religious extremism.
I may not be the only one who has failed to understand what exactly he has in mind. Moderates, by the very nature of their disposition, are not the kind of people who come out to launch movements. Consider also that, because of the problems relating to the general’s acquisition and retention of power, his credentials as a preacher are not exactly impeccable.
But there are other problems which are within his power to handle. Enlightened is he who understands that diversity of opinions among humans is inevitable and must therefore be tolerated unless we want a war of every man against every man. Musharraf says extremism in Pakistan is religious and sectarian in its origin and impulses. The professional ulema are its purveyors. He must then make up his mind as to where he wants to stand in relation to them. He cannot have them as his partners and as his adversaries at the same time.
His government has adopted the tactic of setting up a bunch of relatively unknown “ulema and mashaikh” as a counterpoise to the Islamic parties. The ministry of religious affairs brings these gentlemen to Islamabad periodically, puts them up in fancy hotels, compensates them in several other ways and urges them to show the true face of Islam (peace, tolerance, equal rights, etc) to the world. They in turn praise Musharraf’s leadership and his services to Islam. Nobody outside their meeting rooms pays the slightest bit of attention to their utterances.
This exercise is entirely futile. These men are not enlightened. They know little of anything outside Islamic studies, and their education even in that area has most likely been superficial. They have never wondered about the veracity or reasonableness of the teachings to which they were exposed. Extremism in the realm of belief is the only attitude of mind of which they are capable. It is foolish to think of them as spreaders of enlightenment.
If the present government is serious about fighting extremism, it will have to stop playing games with Islam. Somewhere along the line it will have to leave Islamization to the people themselves and tell them frankly that it simply does not have the capability of enforcing it. Let us, for a change, be honest: send Ejazul Haq out as ambassador to the Sudan or Nigeria, shut down the do-nothing ministry of religious affairs, and locate the function of helping out the Hajis in a directorate elsewhere in the government.
General Musharraf is to be commended for his part in initiating the ongoing “peace process” between Pakistan and India. It is conceivable that, given patience and prudence, Pakistan will eventually wrest some concessions from India in the matter of Kashmir. Even if that does not happen in the foreseeable future, but mutually beneficial arrangements in other areas continue to be made, that may be good enough. It is clear that the people on both sides are eager to end hostility and move towards cooperation. The general’s policy would then appear to be not only the best that can be had in the present circumstances, it is also one that accords well with the wishes of his people.
The framework in which policy towards India is made should be kept in mind. First, Pakistan does not have the capability, military or any other, to impose on India a settlement of its own liking of any dispute between them. Second, while the outside powers would like to see peace and amity develop between these two countries, they have neither the capacity nor the inclination to compel India to make the concessions Pakistan might desire. Third, the cost of continuing hostility is enormous for both countries, but India’s ability to absorb it is greater than that of Pakistan. It may then be that Pakistan needs peace and amity even more than India does.
Many observers, including my friend (the veteran politician), maintain that General Musharraf’s devolution of authority and power to the district and sub-district level governments is his most significant contribution to our system of governance. Huge sums of money are said to have been made available to these governments and are being utilized to implement local development projects.
Devolution was potentially a great idea and the general is to be commended for it. But it was botched up in the process of implementation. Functionaries at the National Reconstruction Bureau sought to convert local governments into dependencies of the center, emasculating the provincial governments in the process. This has caused anguish and fury among provincial politicians, and made for confusion and incapacity at both the provincial and local levels. The head of the NRB has recently said that amendments to the relevant law are currently being considered.
At the same time, a larger measure of autonomy to the provinces is under consideration. One should hope that the two sets of considerations will result in taking the center entirely out of the business of local governments and returning them to the supervision of the provincial governments. Such supervision should have the purpose only of enabling the district and sub-district governments to meet the needs of their people as expeditiously and effectively as possible.
Even the general’s worst opponents do not accuse him of using his office to enrich himself and his family. His self-denial and rectitude in this regard are a boon for the country. The same goes for the man he has chosen to be his prime minister. Admittedly, he cannot abolish corruption at all levels of the government, but it should be possible for him to get rid of ministers whom one of his own trusted agencies, namely, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), accuses of misuse of authority and financial wrongdoing during their earlier tenures in public office. Such cleansing will surely solidify his own reputation for probity and enhance his credibility.
General Musharraf’s heart may be in the right place, and his intentions may be good. But the ways and means of implementing them, without spreading a whole lot of “collateral damage” on the way, are not likely to be found in a closed circle of cronies. He needs the input of a larger constituency, including that of critics. (I wonder if he reads Dawn.)
(The writer is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, USA.)

Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.