Pakistan: Transition to Democracy?
Pakistan: Transition to Democracy?
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Pakistan’s Mass Deportation of Afghans Poses Risks to Regional Stability
Pakistan’s Mass Deportation of Afghans Poses Risks to Regional Stability
Report / Asia 3 minutes

Pakistan: Transition to Democracy?

As the national elections in Pakistan draw near, President, Chief Executive, and Chief of Army Staff General Pervez Musharraf has vowed to restore democracy and transfer power to an elected government.

Executive Summary

As the national elections in Pakistan draw near, President, Chief Executive, and Chief of Army Staff General Pervez Musharraf has vowed to restore democracy and transfer power to an elected government. Musharraf’s roadmap to democracy is in reality a blueprint for more military rule. If his political and constitutional reforms become the law of the land, any democratic transition will falter before it has started. The military government’s constitutional and political reforms will radically transform Pakistan’s parliamentary system, tilting the balance of power from elected representatives and democratic institutions to unelected leaders and organisations.

Negating the principal of parliamentary sovereignty, a powerful head of state will have the power to dissolve the National Assembly. Appointed by the President, provincial governors will have the authority to dismiss provincial legislatures. The President will appoint military chiefs, and the armed forces’ political role will be sanctified through a National Security Council (NSC). Chaired by the president, this military-dominated, supra-parliamentary body will oversee the conduct of elected governments and the functioning of representative institutions.

Having indefinitely extended his tenure as Army Chief, President Musharraf has also given himself a five-year extension of his presidential term. Assuming the right to dismiss parliament, Musharraf has warned future parliamentarians of the choice before them – to either accept his constitutional engineering or lose their jobs. Leaving little to chance, the military government has also revised electoral procedures to neutralise civilian threats. Newly devised rules and regulations have disqualified scores of politicians from standing in this month’s parliamentary election.

Pre-election rigging cannot be ruled out since the same Election Commission that oversaw Musharraf’s flawed referendum is overseeing the electoral process. Political leaders doubt that the elections on 10 October 2002 will be free and fair. The military government can, however, be reasonably confident that the judiciary will endorse them and the constitutional reforms. When it validated the October 1999 coup, the Supreme Court also gave Pakistan’s military ruler the mandate to amend the constitution, but only within the framework of federal, parliamentary democracy. Subsequent forced resignations, selective appointments, and inducements have, however, subordinated the judiciary to the executive.

Almost all major Pakistani political parties, civic groups, and media have rejected Musharraf's constitutional and political reforms as an undemocratic means for perpetuating military rule. These parties have vowed to reject the constitutional amendments in parliament. Hoping to control a future parliament through divide-and-rule strategies, however, the military is using pressure and persuasion on the politicians.

In the past, the political elite has succumbed to the military’s tactics, tempted by the spoils of power. From 1988 to 1999, Pakistan’s democratic transition first faltered, then stalled when elected governments failed to deliver, their credibility undermined by maladministration, corruption, and political vendettas. The political elite failed to work collectively in parliament to strengthen democratic institutions and norms. Instead, elected governments and their political opponents joined hands with military leaders to gain or retain power. As the democratic transition stalled, the military was given the opportunity and the pretext to disrupt the process.

Should civilian leaders once again succumb to the military’s pressures and incentives, Musharraf and his colleagues will retain absolute power. The political elite can revive the democratic transition only if they reach consensus within and outside parliament to correct the military’s political and constitutional distortions. A consolidation of the democratic transition would then depend on the political elite’s respect for democratic governance.

President Musharraf is not inclined to transfer power to civilians but could be persuaded to withdraw the military to the barracks by international pressure. Influential actors, in particular the U.S. and EU, could persuade military leaders to abide by their pledge to restore democracy. Musharraf and his military colleagues are hopeful, however, that the international community will accept military rule in civilian guise. The U.S. and its allies could indeed be tempted in misguided belief that the military is the only institution capable of governing the fragile state, holding back Islamic extremism, and combating regional terrorism.

It is in the international community’s interest to encourage the military to withdraw to the barracks and restore democracy. Political stability will elude Pakistan without representative government. Only a stable, democratic country is a reliable bulwark against Islamic extremism and guarantor of its own security and that of its neighbourhood.

Islamabad/Brussels, 3 October 2002

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