Musharraf Makes Grab for power.(LETTERS)(FORUM)

Article excerpt

Byline: THE WASHINGTON TIMES

When Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, cited the need to "create a suitable environment for holding elections so that a real democracy is introduced in the country," he appeared to hedge on his promise made upon seizing power three years ago that he would reform and restore democracy in Pakistan.

But recognizing the need to maintain the backing of newly formed Western allies in the war against terrorism, Gen. Musharraf is wisely giving his backers the elections they need to legitimize their continued financial and political support for his military regime. Though before the Oct. 10 vote, Gen. Musharraf is brazenly pushing through a series of constitutional amendments that ensure any plebiscite, no matter how free and fair, is rendered operationally moot. Regrettably, his efforts are being met with little to no U.S. or international resistance.

Gen. Musharraf's most creative invention is the establishment of a 10-member national security council, created to consider "all matters pertaining to the country's sovereignty, governance and security." Chairing the council will be the general himself with two votes - one as president and one as chief of the army staff. The other service branch appointees will give the military a total of five seats, with Gen. Musharraf controlling them all.

The remaining seats will be awarded to the civilian regional governors of Pakistan's four provinces, along with the prime minister, providing for a civilian check on the entrenched military power, it is argued. But this too may be only an illusion. As president, the general has further empowered himself to appoint and dismiss regional governors, along with the prime minister, thereby leaving the country's chief administrators without a popular mandate to govern. Their council votes will assuredly reflect Gen. Musharraf's will.

The only hurdle remaining in the general's effort to redefine parliamentary democracy in Pakistan is ensuring that an amenable group of parliamentarians is elected to rubber stamp his constitutional revisions. Gauging the public condemnation these provisions have met with so far, one might imagine just the opposite.

A new constitutional provision requiring that anyone running for national office have a college degree, in a country with more than 60 percent illiteracy, precludes nearly 98 percent of the country's population from running.

Additionally, a financial provision disqualifying all persons and their dependents who may have defaulted on bank loans or utility bills for more than six months will bar this and a future generation of potential leaders from holding national office. …