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> Free and Fair Election is imperative to make the transition from militarised democracy to civilian democracy
September 18, 2007
Hotel Marriott, Karachi


Karachi; September 18; Members of the Dialogue Group on Civil-Military Relations, a dialogue facilitated by PILDAT believed, that a free and fair election was needed to make the transition from the current militarised democracy to civilian democracy in Pakistan. Improving civil-military relations and instituting a system of free and fair elections in Pakistan is crucial for the democratic future of Pakistan.


The members of the Dialogue Group who spoke on the occasion included Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Abdul Qadir Baloch, Former Governor Balochistan/Corps Commander Quetta; Dr. Hasan-Askari Rizvi, Defence and Political Analyst; Mr. Javed Jabbar, Former Senator and Federal Minister; Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Moinuddin Haider, Former Governor Sindh; Mr. Mujib-ur-Rehman Shami, Former President CPNE; Mr. Shafqat Mahmood, Former Senator and Minister; Mr. Shahid Hamid, Former Governor Punjab and Mr. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, Executive Director PILDAT.


Initiating the proceedings of the Seminar, Mr. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob said that PILDAT believes that civil-military relations in Pakistan have a direct impact on democracy. PILDAT has been a firm believer that unless these relations improve, democracy can not take root in Pakistan. The Dialogue Group on Civil-Military Relations, facilitated by PILDAT since September 2004, includes serving as well as former members of the Federal Parliament, former Federal Ministers, former Governors, former Lt. Generals including two former Directors General of ISI, two academics, one former Vice President of Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) and one editor. Fifteen months ago, the Group had addressed a letter to the President of Pakistan advising him against combining the office of the President of Pakistan with the Chief of Army Staff because it politicizes the Constitutional office of the Presidency and the institution of the Armed Forces. Mr. Mehboob said that this was the first public seminar by the Group. The topic Civil-Military Relations and the Coming Election denotes that the Group considers it important to discuss what impact free and fair election will have on civil-military relation and how will the civil-military relations impact the prospects of free and fair elections in today’s scenario.


Dr. Hasan-Askari Rizvi said that two issues were crucial for Pakistan’s future in his views: firstly: what kind of civil-military relations exist in Pakistan and secondly what kind of elections will Pakistan be having. He said that unless we focus on these issues, it is difficult to have a meaningful future course of Pakistan. He said that today’s system in the country is a military dominated system with trappings of democracy where civilian institutions are largely overwhelmed by the military. For a democratic future of Pakistan, it was needed that civilian political institutions are autonomous and strong and that the military should be under civilian control and oversight. He said free and fair elections are meant to give a choice to people, but in a highly centralised military dominated system, free and fair elections can not take place. Under such a scenario, the political elite only play the game of election as determined by the Military Generals of Pakistan. Referring to Mr. Nawaz Sharif’s deportation, Dr. Askari believed that if the leader of a major political party is deported in this manner, the state apparatus is used to influence election balance to the incumbents’ favour. Dr. Askari stressed that free and fair election could not take place until the role of intelligence agencies was removed from the political arena. This role was a source of major friction in the civil-military relations, he held.


Mr. Shahid Hamid explained in detail the process of presidential election and key legal debates that surrounded it in terms of Gen. Musharraf’s candidacy. He explained that according to the Constitution, it is the members of the provincial assemblies and the National Assembly that constitute the electoral college of the President. Apart from the moral and political issues attached with opposition’s resigns from assemblies or dissolution of one provincial assembly, constitutionally the election of the President can still be held as there will be a sufficient number in assemblies to elect the President. He said, however, that there was a larger moral question whether the assemblies whose own term is expiring could give a new term to the President. Explaining the nuances of the Supreme Court case about the qualification of the incumbent-president to contest elections, Mr. Shahid Hamid said that whereas Article 62 of the Constitution dealt with the qualification for candidacy, Article 63 dealt with the disqualification of the candidacy. In its earlier decisions namely in Governor Altaf Hussain’s case and the Lawyer’s Forum Case, the Supreme Court has held disqualification clauses do not apply to the candidacy of Governors and President. He said that the Supreme Court can review its earlier decisions but explained that its earlier decisions are the basis of the ECP notification that Article 63 does not apply to the presidential candidacy. He further explained that to be qualified for election to a certain post such as the President, the person has to be qualified on the date of filing nomination papers. The Supreme Court may well decide to waive the disqualification clause in favour of Gen. Pervez Musharraf but ask him to take off his uniform to be able to file his nomination papers for the candidacy. Highlighting another issue, Mr. Shahid Hamid said that before the 17th Constitutional Amendment, the President was authorised to appoint only the Caretaker Prime Minister in his discretion, but according to this amendment, now the President is to appoint the entire Caretaker Cabinet in his discretion leaving little room for the Caretaker Prime Minister’s choice. Commenting on the issue of likely political deal between Ms. Bhutto and Gen. Musharraf, Mr. Shahid Hamid said that one hears that Ms. Bhutto’s main terms for deal has been to finish the corruption cases against her. Although she has not been charged in other cases, she has a standing conviction from court as an absconder and indicated that being an absconder is a disqualification in becoming a Member of Parliament.


Emphasising the deep fissures and crisis in prevailing civil-military relations in Pakistan, Mr. Javed Jabbar said that Pakistan faces an unprecedented challenge of lack of national cohesion in the spheres of civil-military relations and at political, judicial and societal levels. In many ways, this is a deeper crisis than 1971 as at that time at least there was cohesion in one unit of the country, namely West Pakistan, he held. Talking about the Dialogue Group on Civil-Military Relations facilitated by PLDAT, he said that he looks back at the working of the Group with a great deal of satisfaction. The Group is fairly large and despite having members from civil and from military backgrounds, the Group has enjoyed harmony on key-decisions even though during discussions, these backgrounds bring different perspectives into the dialogue. Referring to the letter addressed by the Group to the President and heads of major political parties in July 2006, Mr. Javed Jabbar said that he felt no consolation in saying that the Group was right in pointing out the dangers of polarisation 15 months ago. He said that the Group works largely for a framework under which the country has to have civilian control and oversight of the defence sector. Comparing the civil and military fields, he said that there was no parity between the two and it was unfortunate that the two sides came to be pitted against each other in the national arena. Military, with its armed capacities, is the sole legitimate user of violence while the civil side is not armed. The discipline of armed forces is both strength and weakness. Military is a cohesive force and has vast organisational and financial resources at its command. In addition, military has an elaborate surveillance and intelligence gathering capacity, he continued. With this uneven playing field, it is unfortunate that in a civilised society, military should be a contender of power as repeatedly and as permanently as it appears in the case of Pakistan. Reviewing the current scenario of the militarised set-up of governance in the country that should change through free and fair elections, Mr. Javed Jabbar cautioned that the Group needs to take into account 8 crucial factors which are in the favour of the current military-dominated set-up under Gen. Pervez Musharraf. These eight elements of support include support to Gen. Musharraf’s presidency from the Armed forces; support from PML and its allies; support from big business sector; support from some well-educated segments of the society that believe coming to power of political parties will be bad for the country; support from women who got higher representation in institutions of representation; support from United States and other Western governments and indirect support from cynical elements of the country and last but not the least, support from civil administration which is willing to obey any orders of Gen. Musharraf including manhandling the Chief Justice of Pakistan. He said that in comparison, democratic forces have some support from civil society strengthened by media and some occasional support from overseas that comes in the shape of such statements that urge General Musharraf to step down as Army Chief. Mr. Javed Jabbar believed that in such a critical scenario, the voices and actions of individuals can not be downplayed. He urged that it is not just the responsibility of the Group, but responsibility of each and every citizen to support the cause of democracy through every available platform and every faculty.


Sharing his views, Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Abdul Qadir said that military is part of the larger society and should not be separated. He believed that military has become a political party with sure chances of coming into power whenever it wants to. Military needs to learn that we have to be subservient to the civil and that military men need to behave as other single voters and not as arbiters of the political process. He believed that the earlier military learns that, the better it is for the country and its future as a whole. The system today is run by the military and not in accordance with the constitution. Under this set-up, holding free and fair elections depends on the will of the President-COAS. Already, he alleged, provincial governments in Sindh and Balochistan are run by uniformed people. For holding “free and fair” election, uniformed intelligence agencies are sorting out details and finding candidates of who will be contesting elections and rallying resources for that. For this purpose, such a large-scale rigging was done earlier to ensure that Q-League should form district governments. Identifying reform steps for free and fair elections, Gen. Qadir said that Local Governments need to be suspended during elections and it needs to be ensured that intelligence agencies should have nothing to do with the electoral process. Referring to the issue of extremism and terrorism, Gen. Qadir said that the country needs a free and fair elections as without a true representative government, it will be very hard to put the genie of terrorism and extremism back into the bottle. Frontier, he said has gone in many different directions. The Baloch youth today is thinking beyond the constitutional boundaries of Pakistan. There is no government in Pakistan and no law and order. He emphasised that even if one political party gets a land slide victory throughout the country as a result of free and fair elections, that part will need to go into coalition-building with regional political parties to strengthen federation.


Mr. Shafqat Mahmood said that polarisation in civil-military relations is at the crux of the failure of democracy in Pakistan so far. The military, he believed, after repeated interventions has reached a stage where Gen. Musharraf justifies his presence as the de-facto chief executive by what he called the “unity of command.” He said the situation has reached a stage where mainly US and Western thinking on the issue is that if there is a civilian government in Pakistan and elected Prime Minister gives an order, the military leadership would not obey that order. Although this Parliament is just a democratic façade but even in this Parliament, whenever Parliamentary committees have summoned a military head of a civil institution, those military heads have refused to appear. He believed that democracy in true spirit will remain elusive until there is complete civilian supremacy of the defence sector and the Armed Forces. He said that the general statement by military officers, even those who have retired, that if civilian governments “do well” military would not intervene in the future is symptomatic of the military mindset which believes itself to be in an oversight capacity of the civilian governments – a complete contradiction to democracy where the oversight role is with the civilian elected institutions.

Speaking at the seminar, Mr. Mujib-ur-Rehman Shami said that upcoming elections are crucial for civil-military relations. After the President’s lawyers’ statement in the Supreme Court, it is settled that that after these elections, there will not be a uniformed President in the country. The Supreme Court is reviewing whether Gen. Musharraf can contest as President or not. It is possible that he is not qualified; or that he is qualified but can not contest in uniform. Mr. Shami believed that if political parties are determined not to allow military intervention in the future that can happen. He believed that the Charter of Democracy was a good initiative in this regard and political parties should keep that as a central document to follow. Mr. Shami believed that even though completely free and fair elections do not take place in Pakistan, it is also true that there is a culture in political parties to cry more about rigging than is actually the case. Election 2002 stands testimony to that fact that despite using his complete military and intelligence might to rig elections in his favour, Gen. Musharraf’s PML-Q could not get the desired majority. Even after creating PPPP-Patriots, the first Prime Minister only had 1 vote majority in the National Assembly under the 2002 set-up. Mr. Shami believed that it should be taken into account that in the coming elections, Pakistan for the first time has a freer judiciary, and an independent media that are crucial factors towards free and fair elections.


Sharing his views and wrapping up the segment relating to Group members’ views, Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Moinuddin Haider said that military intervenes in politics when people are not happy by the performance of elected representatives. When a military ruler comes in, people recrive him with open arms, but that popularity wanes with time and towards the end of his rule, military leaders become very unpopular. The military, he said, has had its share of blame; sometimes for meddling into politics and for separating one segment of country. Civilian political leaders, for the sake of power, weaken the institutions of governance. He said that May 12, 2007 was a sad episode in the history of country where Rangers and Police, payed by taxpayers’ money, were silent spectators to the killing of people because they were ordered to do so. He said that he firmly believed that Military is part of the executive and that it should be subservient to the elected representatives. Speaking on the future scenarios, he said that we need to ask ourselves questions whether Gen. Musharraf will ultimately take off his uniform; whether politicians will give him willing shoulder to be re-elected; will he enjoy same powers after removing his uniform, etc. But the most important question was that would the power of extremism, illiteracy, inflation, etc. will go away by Gen. Musharraf being away from the scene and will a democratically-elected government be able to resolve these crises?

The seminar saw a lively Q&A/Discussion session. In responding to queries and comments, speakers believed that military intervention is not possible without the support of the people who distribute sweets after every military takeover. A balanced society demands to get rid of extremism and it is the responsibility of the society as well. They believed that political governments of the 1990s decade went into political alliances and coalitions, sometimes despite achieving numeric majority, which helped the federation. Comparing Pakistan’s experiences with those of Turkey’s vis-à-vis their civil-military equations, speakers elaborated that Turkish politicians have showed great maturity and flexibility in dealing with the Turkish military which is constitutionally empowered for upholding the secular vision of the Turkish Republic. It is this maturity which has avoided a recent impasse between the military and the elected government. The Speakers believed that a different version of the National Security Council was required in Pakistan than the one currently put in place by the Musharraf regime. Speakers also believed that when it comes to civilian political rule, military has this pristine notion of democracy where politicians should be angelic. Democracy is a messy process everywhere and is not regimented as is the training of the military. Political governments, good or bad, need time to strengthen the system and the only way these governments should be removed is through public vote and not through the use of guns by the military. For achieving civilian supremacy over the defence sector, it was needed that the Armed Forces are truly put under the command of the Dfence Ministry and the Minister. Defence budget has to be presented in detail for scrutiny by the Parliament just as all other departments’ budget is detailed before the Parliament. Parliamentary Committees on Defence should also have the power to freely and responsibly carry out oversight role over the defence sector.




Participants at the seminar