Pakistan’s Musharraf boosts military rule


Military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s ascension to presidency has raised hopes of continuity of reforms in Pakistan, but many fear it will further consolidate military rule in a nation that has struggled for decades to give democracy and civilian rule a chance.

“It will lead toward sharing of the power between the army and the parliament,” political analyst Mohammed Wasim said Wednesday. The elected government will not control the army, but the army will oversee the performance of the parliament, he said.

Musharraf dissolved the suspended parliament and four provincial assemblies Wednesday in addition to declaring himself Pakistan’ president. The move came 20 months after he toppled the elected government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless coup.

Musharraf will also keep the powerful slots of the country’s chief executive and army chief of staff.

Though he promises elections by October 2002 — in line with a Supreme Court ruling — few believe the army will end its involvement in politics.

Pakistan has been mostly ruled by the army since British rule ended on the subcontinent in 1947. Democratic institutions and political parties are weak and four successive elected governments have been thrown out of power amid corruption charges since 1990.

“The government is paving the way for controlled democracy,” Ameerul Azeem, a spokesman for the right-wing Jamaat-e-Islami, or Islamic Party, said. “This is against the principle of a free and vibrant democracy.” Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto declared Musharraf’s rise to the presidency a “dark chapter” in Pakistan’s history. “He still remains unelected and unrepresentative,” she said in a statement.

“The professionalism of the Pakistan army will also be affected by combining the two offices of president and the army chief,” she added.

Western countries, including the United States, have also expressed deep concern.

The U.S. State Department said the decision suggests Pakistan is being ruled by decree instead of democratic processes. “we’re very concerned and we’re very disappointed that Pakistan has taken another turn away from democracy rather than, as we had hoped, a step toward democracy,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

On Wednesday, none of the Western ambassadors attended Musharraf’s swearing in ceremony at the grand white marble President House in Islamabad — signaling their unhappiness over the change.

But analysts say the move strengthened Musharraf’ position ahead of a crucial summit next month with Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to discuss the protracted dispute over Kashmir, the Himalayan region claimed by both nuclear rivals.

Riffat Hussain, another political analyst, said as president, Musharraf is in a better position to negotiate with Vajpayee. “It has given him more credibility and strengthened his position to deal with India.” He added that the move has decreased widespread uncertainty about Musharraf’s free-market reforms, which many had feared could end prematurely if Musharraf leaves office.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said the change means that Pakistan will face another period of “indefinite arbitrary rule.”

Yet there is likely to be little domestic pressure on Musharraf as the political parties have so far failed to effectively challenge military rule.