Pakistan has held its parliamentary elections and the creation of a new government is awaited. All this has the appearance of democracy in action, but there is little chance civilian rule will not be replaced by the military sometime in the future.
In the last fifty years there have been 33 years of military rule interrupted every now and then with civilian governments. Each time there has been a military takeover there have been justifications based on rampant civilian corruption and national insecurity. The civilian governments eventually would return to power, elections held, and soon the process of power grabs and corruption charges would begin again.
There is a tendency to view elections in a country as an indication of the presence of democracy. In the case of Pakistan this seeming democratic process is more a cover for the continuation of a feudal power class system based on tribal and eco/cultural allegiances, many of which have existed since before independence.
The recently announced coalition of the Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Moslem League really becomes a partnership of the late Benazir Bhutto’s husband, Asif Zardari, and Nawaz Sharif, respective heads of these parties. Short of a legislative majority in both legislative houses necessary to impeach President Musharraf, the way is open, however, for deals aimed at undoing Musharraf’s nine years of law making and judicial appointments.
Both Zadari and Shawaz have already been convicted of corruption in the past and most likely are looking forward to having these convictions overturned by a resumption of power by the deposed Supreme Court chief justice, Iftikar Mohammad Chaudhary. Apparently, though, Zadari is not so sure Chaudhary will come through as desired. At the moment, the behind-the-scenes negotiations and deal making are in full sway with intermediaries for the supposedly incorruptible judge.
This is essentially how Pakistani civilian politics works. It is expected that deals will be made no matter what the law is; that monies will be made from public office and distributed among loyalists; that privilege is provided to those families of traditional status; and that patronage and graft are the prerogative of those in power.
The all-volunteer military of Pakistan exists as a social and political entity in itself. The army is recruited mostly from the northern portion of Punjab Province and Northwest Frontier Province. Punjabis constitute the principal cadre of the officer corps. The personal friendships and loyalties built on this tribal cohesion last lifetimes.
The raison d’etre of Pakistan’s army, navy and air force is to provide the nation with protection against the perceived danger of an attack by India. The animosity toward and fear of their giant neighbor has driven the strategic existence of Pakistan’s armed forces. It is this organizational fact, and the lack of political will to alter it, that has inhibited Pakistan’s military ability to devote the appropriate resources to counter Taliban operations and al Qaeda training in the mountainous tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
Another factor, of course, is the diminished working relationship between elements of the Pakistan army and the mountain tribes on both sides of the border with Afghanistan. Unfortunately, this previously well-nurtured community of interest (so effective during the 1980s struggle between the mujaheddin and the Soviets) has not produced the same type of cooperation that American special operations advisers have sought.
If Pakistan’s civilian world operates on the feudal basis of familial allegiances, the military world’s arcane political/social structure dictates through its regimental and training class loyalties an equal, if not stronger, bond among its members.
Pervez Musharraf followed the unwritten rules of this tradition last September when he named his former military secretary, Maj. General Nadim Taj, head of the vastly powerful Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI). This key promotion preceded the appointment of the former ISI chief, Lt. General Pervez Ashfaq Kiyani, to take over Musharraf’s own role as chief of army staff. Both generals have since then moved up one rank, thus solidifying their command status.
The impact of these shifts will not be felt immediately. But whatever civilian leadership evolves from the recent elections always will be aware of the immense elephant in Pakistan’s political room. Importantly, no matter the eventual position of Pervez Musharraf, he already would have established the structure for the future control of his country.
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