The General and His Plan for Pakistan
Power, Carla, Hussain, Zahid, Newsweek International
The standard props of politics--political parties, broadcast speeches and rallies--are banned by the military regime that rules Pakistan. So on the first day of her local government campaign, 28-year-old Sughra Hussain Imam resorts to the Pakistani tradition of paying condolence calls. She stops off at the village homes where relatives have recently died, sips tea, chats and says fatiha, the Muslim prayer for the dead. Two bodyguards trail her around Jhang district, her ancestral home in southern Punjab.
Politics is regarded as a dirty, dangerous business in Pakistan. Most of Imam's peers have either fled the country or gone into the private sector. But the Harvard-educated Imam wants to stick it out. She'd been elected head of the district council, but was "coup'd out," as she says, by the takeover of Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Now she wants to give the people of Jhang roads, electricity and clean water. Imam comes from a prominent political family. She's a descendant of a local Shia saint whose purported miracles included making a mud wall gallop. "My personal jihad," she says, "is maintaining a sense of morality in a time of immorality, and a sense of honesty in a sea of corruption."
Good luck. When Musharraf took power in October 1999, he promised he'd put an end to "sham democracy" and build a real one. If he succeeds, political power will devolve to fresh and determined politicians like Imam. Last week the general's regime said it would uphold a Supreme Court ruling mandating national parliamentary elections by October 2002. Most Pakistanis reacted with indifference to the news. Who can blame them? Since the last martial government under Zia ul-Haq ended in 1988, Pakistan has spiraled into a serious identity crisis. Four elected governments have collapsed on corruption charges, and the promises of an Army cleanup sound spookily familiar. "Every 10 years, when there's some kind of democratic upheaval, the Army comes in and says they will set everything right," says M. Ziauddin, the Islamabad bureau chief for the Dawn newspaper.
There's the question: Can Musharraf, a 57-year-old career military man, set Pakistan right? Can anybody? Musharraf is an old-school Pakistani general--meaning relatively Westernized--in a looking-glass world. In Pakistan, Army generals talk earnestly of building a civil society. Leading political leaders live in exile and stand accused of massive corruption. Religious militants oppose modernity and obscure the fact that Pakistanis are an overwhelmingly moderate Muslim people.
Musharraf's immediate goals are profoundly practical. Like the leaders of many debtor nations, the general must play to two crowds--one at home, the other the international community--with different agendas. That makes running Pakistan a challenge. He's got to pay off $38 billion of foreign debt, and build a tax base in a country where, traditionally, less than 1 percent of the people pay tax. He also has to explore ways to reach a settlement with India on the Kashmir dispute, a huge financial and psychological drain on his country. Finally, there is the turmoil in Afghanistan, which has spilled into Pakistan in the form of refugees, drug smuggling and gunrunning. Out of the turmoil of Afghanistan has come a new breed of Muslim--one who is orthodox, highly politicized, hostile to the West. "Militant organizations have been training people, acquiring arms, and now are threatening to dictate to the state in almost all spheres of life," says I. R. Rehman, director of Pakistan's Human Rights Commission. "This is a major threat."
Many Pakistanis feel let down by the country's secular ruling elite. In Karachi and Lahore, elegant housewives hide their jewels behind veils and go to listen to lectures on Islam from the Al-Hoda, a Muslim educational organization. High-level civil servants send their children to schools to memorize the Qur'an. Even Junaid Jamshed, one of Pakistan's biggest pop stars, has recently been inspired by Tabligh-i- Islam, an Islamic social organization. "I was the West," he says. "I knew more about Shakespeare than I did about [Pakistani poet] Iqbal. But now I've discovered Allah."
What's been called democracy has done little but sap the country of its money and morale. Benazir Bhutto, currently in exile in London and Dubai, is suspected of stealing as much as $1 billion from the national treasury. The ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif, whom Musharraf sent into exile last December, stands accused of skimming off millions of dollars in kickbacks. Corruption is endemic. In recent years, for example, the government has discovered thousands of "ghost" institutions--schools, mostly--in rural areas that had been set up (on paper) by corrupt politicians to bilk the government. District health departments paid doctors who never showed up for work. "It was as though the whole elite were hellbent on enriching themselves," says Pakistan's former president Farooq Leghari.
Musharraf says he wants to rebuild the country's frame. He has set up the National Accountability Bureau to root out corrupt politicians, business people and bureaucrats. But how far should accountability extend? Not to the Army, the military regime has argued. It's got its own system of discipline. And it has its own sensitivities. The Pakistani Army is a microcosm of the country's schizophrenia. Inside the ranks there is both a secularized faction and a conservative Islamist group. "Musharraf has been straddling two horses--a modern agenda, wanted by one section of the Army, and an Islamic agenda, wanted by another," says writer Ahmed Rashid. "Without a power base of his own, sooner or later he's going to fall through the middle."
That risk is clear. In December Musharraf angered many when he allowed former prime minister Sharif to turn over $8.3 million in funds to Islamabad, and then to seek exile in Saudi Arabia. Mindful of international opinion, the generals were haunted by the history of another deposed prime minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who was hanged by the Army in 1979. "If Sharif had died in prison, they would have said, 'They hanged one prime minister and poisoned the next'," says Maj. Gen. Rashid Qureishi. But after letting Sharif go, the general may have lost the high moral ground. Asks one former civil servant: "How many other corrupt people are now going to get away?"
The centerpiece of Musharraf's reform plan is political devolution. It aims to democratize and empower local district councils, which have long been political kingdoms for the "feudals"--the large landowners who dominate the rural economy. The general hopes to shatter this colonial legacy, which, the generals assert, allowed national and regional politicians to steal funds earmarked for the provinces.
The new system is supposed to be people-friendly. It reserves council- position seats for women and minorities. But the revolution got off to a rocky start. Last December, 18 of the country's 106 districts held the first batch of rolling elections. Turnout was low, with the government claiming 40 to 50 percent; the opposition, 15 percent. Of the 3,822 spots allotted to women, only about half were contested. Christians, angry that they had no choice but to vote for the "non- Muslim" candidate, boycotted the exercise. There were not many new faces, either; a majority of the candidates came from the same old powerful clans and parties that have long dominated elections.
Musharraf's economic reforms have met with similarly mixed results. To boost revenues, he's downsized the government, cut expenditures and tried to get Pakistanis to declare their income--and pay taxes. The government's hope is that 3 percent of the population will pay taxes by June. That would be a major success. Last fall, exports grew by 9.6 percent. Lending institutions are cautiously optimistic. In November the IMF agreed to lend Pakistan $596 million over 10 months--the first loan it's given the country in two years. Even as Pakistan attempts to bolster its balance sheet, Islamabad may soon adopt what could be a disastrous policy for foreign investors. In July a law banning the use of interest rates in financial transactions goes into effect. Passed by the Supreme Court, it's a concession to conservative groups pushing for the further Islamization of Pakistan.
If that happens, it won't be through the ballot box: the Jamaat-i- Islami, the country's oldest and largest Islamist party, has never won more than 3 percent of the vote. But that underestimates the radicals' influence. Militia groups have provided a cheap and expedient proxy army for the Pakistani "freedom fighters" in Kashmir. Beyond that, many view religious conservatives as Pakistan's cultural glue. The Lashkar- iTaiba, one of the largest jihadi groups, runs a network of mosques, madrasas (religious schools), hospitals and schools from its headquarters in a leafy suburb of Lahore.
In a poor country that until recently spent only 2.4 percent of its GNP on education (compared with 60 percent on loan repayments and around 30 percent on the military), it's not hard to see why the madrasa system is popular, especially in outlying regions. Boys get free education and food, and if they want to fight in Kashmir, sometimes even a stipend. Moreover, a Qur'anic education fires them with moral certainty. The vast majority of the nation's estimated 50,000 madrasas are benign. A few, like Madrasa Haqqania near Peshawar, are associated with jihadi groups waging war in Kashmir, Bosnia and beyond. "The madrasas speak the people's language," says Imran Khan, the Pakistan cricket captain turned politician. "Those people who [use] Westernized jargon are unable to provide cultural leadership."
In December the Tanzeemul Ikhwan, an Islamic movement with hundreds of thousands of followers, threatened to march on Islamabad if the government didn't implement Sharia (the Muslim legal system). Instead of taking them on, Musharraf's government sent a minister to talk with them; the group has now moved the deadline for Sharia to March.
The military has so far refused to crack down on such strident Islamist groups. One reason is that there are so many believers within its own ranks. The entire top leadership of Tanzeemul Ikhwan is drawn from retired senior Army officers, and hundreds of current officers and soldiers attend its ideological training sessions. "Pakistani Army soldiers have always been religious, but now growing numbers of officers have turned Islamist," says Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul, former head of the Inter-Service Intelligence, the secretive military group that is Pakistan's government within the government. Gul, now closely aligned with Islamist groups, advocates a "soft Islamic revolution." Will he get it? Seventy percent of the people are rural, and they're far more comfortable with the saints, shrines and music of the Sufi mystic tradition than they are with the strict Saudi-style Islam. But says Nighat Said Khan, head of a women's aid group: "There's not a single [secular] political party that exists today with any ideology at all. The Islamists have a vision for Pakistan, and they've been working, slowly, to execute it."
However well-intentioned the general may be, his coup exchanged a fragile elected government for a military dictatorship. "A stumbling, fragile democratic process it may have been," acknowledges Asma Jahangir, founder of the Women's Action Forum, "but it was a process." Musharraf has his own, and vows to step aside next year. It took the West hundreds of years, a religious reformation and a couple of revolutions to build its democracies. Pakistan is a young country by comparison. It needs stronger institutions--and leaders who will hew to them. Until Pakistan gets both, its identity crisis will linger.
With Zahid Hussain in Karachi…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: The General and His Plan for Pakistan. Contributors: Power, Carla - Author, Hussain, Zahid - Author. Magazine title: Newsweek International. Publication date: February 19, 2001. Page number: 26. © 2009 Newsweek, Inc. All rights reserved. Any reuse, distribution or alteration without express written permission of Newsweek is prohibited. For permission: www.newsweek.com. COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group.
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