‘If politicians deliver, the army has no chance of toppling an elected government.’
Lt-Gen. (R) Moinuddin Haider, former Governor of Sindh and Interior Minister, speaks to Javeria Shakil in this exclusive interview.
Pakistan has been ranked among those countries where a military takeover is highly likely in 2014. Given the country’s history of being ruled by the military for half of its existence, is there really a possibility of yet another military takeover?
I don’t think so. The reason is that there is a strong elected government in the country. Why does the military overthrow a civilian government in Pakistan? It is not always because of the ambition of a general or the thinking of the army. It happens when politics fail and there’s a vacuum. If the politicians deliver, the army has no chance of toppling an elected government. But when there is corruption and people see that their leaders are fooling them in the name of democracy, then they become disenchanted. It is under such circumstances that the army steps in.
If we take a look at past military rules, we’ll learn some fundamental facts.The military had its first taste of power when a serving chief, Gen
Ayub Khan was made defense minister. He attended cabinet meetings in this capacity and saw firsthand how our politicians behaved. He was also given two extensions in service and, in 1958, when the country was passing through a tumultuous time, Ayub Khan was in the eighth year of service. When a man is made to feel so powerful, he is inclined to take matters into his own hands, especially if he starts to believe that he can save his country. When Ayub Khan overthrew the civilian government, people hailed it. Ayub’s decline began when he started hobnobbing with politicians.
Ziaul Haq’s martial law could be avoided. There is no doubt that people were unhappy with the way Bhutto ruled the country. His arbitrary style made him unpopular among many quarters and the last nail in the coffin was the massive rigging in elections which had the religious parties in an uproar. Even then they had settled the matter among themselves and an agreement was about to be signed but Bhutto decided to delay it for reasons best known to him. By doing so he gave a chance to Ziaul Haq to derail democracy. Zia’s rule was good for the economy but the jihadi culture that we see today is also a result of his policies. He gave too much latitude to religious parties.
As for the next martial law, that was also avoidable. The Kargil episode was indeed a misadventure but the way Mian Nawaz Sharif dealt with the situation was not an ideal way to solve such sensitive issues. He could have simply asked Musharraf to resign; he had the authority to do so. That would have been the proper way of dealing with the situation. But what he did instead was not liked by the army.
When Musharraf took up the reins of office, he performed well despite the difficulties the country faced on the economic front. His first three years were largely appreciated by the general public. He put together a reform agenda, put in place the local government system, empowered women and had a water vision for 2015. Musharraf, too, started failing when he started bringing politicians on board which led to poor governance and increased corruption.
In the current government’s case, it is true that it is not performing as people would like it to. In spite of this, there is less corruption today as compared to the previous government. The PML-N government has also taken steps to improve the law and order situation in the country and has come up with a national security policy – albeit belatedly. The economy is on the path to recovery and there is talk of massive investments from China. So people are hopeful that the government is moving in the right direction although very slowly. Hence, there is no possibility of a military takeover.
Do you think that in the last few years of the Musharraf government, there was a case for the army to move in again and take over civilian power?
In its last two years, the government of Pervez Musharraf had
‘When Musharraf took up the reins of office, he performed well despite the difficulties the country faced on the economic front. His first three years were largely appreciated by the general public.’
come under severe criticism. People were not happy; there was unrest in Balochistan, the religious elements were furious at the handling of the Lal Masjid case, and the general public was angry at the rampant corruption, poor law and order situation and rising inflation. While disenchantment with his rule was growing, Musharraf was trying to prolong his stay in power by all means. Even the army was unhappy as it became a target of terrorists because of Musharraf’s policy of siding with the U.S. in the war on terror. So the army allowed a civilian setup to take power through the NRO and went back to barracks.
Democracy, however, did not deliver. Even then the army did not derail the democratic process because it did not want to be accused of stunting the growth of civilian institutions. So it refrained from interfering in civilian matters although many people criticized it for not arresting the decay.
What factors would really force the military to overthrow an elected government in the context of Pakistan?
When people are disappointed with the political setup and when the government fails to give them relief, they look for a savior who can alleviate their sufferings. In such a situation, if there is a force that is highly organized, disciplined, follows rules and can carry the burden of governance, it comes forward to fill that vacuum.
While it is generally believed that military rule weakens political institutions, we have seen just the opposite in Pakistan where military rulers devolved powers to the grassroots level. How do you explain this?
There is no doubt that when the army takes over, it weakens political institutions. During the army’s rule, democratic institutions such as the National Assembly or the Senate are either not functioning or, if they are, they work under the thumb of the military ruler. There may be elections but sometimes they are engineered. Even if a federal parliamentary system is installed, it is the military president who calls all the shots.
In all democratic societies, there are three tiers of governance. There is a federal or national government, then there is a state or provincial government and the third and the most important tier is the local government. All politics is local and the majority of problems of the common man lie at the local level. What does a common man living in a city or a village want? He wants clean water, uninterrupted electricity supply, good education and healthcare. These services are