Buck will still stop at Musharraf’s desk after Dec 31

FROM December 31, 2004 onwards the buck will stop legally, constitutionally and morally at the desk of President General Pervez Musharraf. From the cut-off date he will be held solely accountable for everything that would happen in this country, as under the constitution and the law of the land he has been allowed to occupy the presidency in uniform.

By A Masroor

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Published: Mon 6 Dec 2004, 10:45 AM

Last updated: Tue 14 Nov 2023, 2:18 PM

Of course, even without these legal powers, he has been functioning as the omnipotent and the supreme leader of Pakistan. He has been fighting the war against international terrorism seemingly on his own and seemingly all alone. When it comes to announcing mega socio-economic projects or when it is the question of building dams or any major policy announcement, be it agriculture, industrial, health, sports etc, it’s President General Musharraf who would appear to have thought all of them through — from their concept to eventual framework. He was the one who changed three prime ministers, one after the other within a matter of two years without giving any reasons.

And again he was the one who had put together the king’s party and then early this year helped the various League factions and other splinter groups to merge into the ruling PML. He was the one who negotiated a new kind of relationship with the US and continues to be the only link between the US and Pakistan. He was the one who initiated the peace dialogue with India and continues to handle the process seemingly without any help from either the party or the cabinet or the prime ministers or for that matter from the elected parliament.

But then until the day parliament passed the act to allow the President to keep wearing the uniform of a serving Chief of the Army Staff, he was being seen in the technical sense as a straightforward usurper. Therefore, in the first three years of his rule he was criticised for governing without a popular mandate notwithstanding the Supreme Court ruling of the year 2000 giving him permission to rule under the doctrine of necessity until elections to be held within three years. And the referendum held early in 2001, which had given him a mandate to rule for five more years was rejected at the popular level as being too dubious to be acceptable.

And after the 2002 elections, he was being constantly criticised for not transferring power, as envisaged in the Supreme Court ruling, to the elected parliament and continuing to be taking all crucial decisions of national importance on its behalf. But after December 31, 2004 all this would be seen as history because he would then be fully and legally in command of the country. He would be a constitutional President in uniform.

The Legal Framework Order (LFO) which was made a part of the constitution through the 17th amendment had already changed to a large extent the very character of the constitution from the parliamentary to the presidential. And now the Act under which the National Security Council was established and the latest one of dual offices, have between them seem to have completely taken care of the parliamentary system and replaced it effectively with the Presidential one.

To justify the bringing of the Army in through the constitutional backdoor to keep it from walking in through the front door in future, Musharraf has manufactured a number of seemingly plausible arguments. He says his uniform guaranteed a successful war against terrorism, a victorious conclusion of the Indo-Pak peace process and continuity of economic policies. The fourth reason why Musharraf thinks he should continue with the uniform is his equally misplaced belief that it would help him build a consensus among the four provinces on the issue of building the Kalabagh dam.

And now what about the constitutional position of the opposition in a system of governance that is more Presidential than parliamentary? Well, the opposition parties do still have the right to continue to oppose in parliament the 17th amendment and debunk the two subsequent acts, which changed the character of the constitution. They can also continue to contribute to the legislative process, but their voice of dissent and their opposition to government policies would no more carry the weight that it did prior to November 30, 2004 when the deed was finally signed and sealed.

However, the MMA will surely have its voices heard as being the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the religious alliance can always claim back his seat in the NSC which functions directly under the President. And taking refuge under the plea of ensuring national unity even the MMA Chief Minister of NWFP, Akram Durrani would perhaps return to the NSC and make his presence felt.

And now that he seems to have acquired for himself the constitutional sanction to rule, Musharraf is trying to draw out the PPP and the PML (N) whom he had successfully marginalised during the last five years, to defuse their nuisance value as a political force.

It is perhaps in this context that many see the release of Asif Zardari on bail and the proposed elevation of PPP senator Reza Rabbani as the leader of the opposition in the senate, a post which carries many perks but has no place in the NSC.

The general impression is, between now and the end of next month Musharraf would likely offer many more similar carrots to the PPP and the PML (N), even release Javed Hashmi and Yousuf Reza Gilani to make it look as if a Grand National Reconciliation was being negotiated between the major political forces in the country and the president in uniform. And to make the uniform issue completely non controversial, many well informed political circles believe, Musharraf would even be prepared to dangle — only dangle — the bait of a general election in 2005 and enter into negotiations with the real opposition on the timing of such elections.

The writer is a senior Pakistani journalist

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