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Musharraf, Mullahs And The 'Uniform'

Musharraf, Mullahs And The 'Uniform'

By Iftikhar Qureshi

The most popular thing in Pakistan, nowadays, is General Pervez Musharraf's 'uniform'. The opposition parties particularly Muttahida Majlis-e-Ammal (a mixture of various religious parties) are insisting that General Musharraf should become President Musharraf after taking off his uniform. On the other hand, General Musharraf prefers to stay in uniform for the larger interest of the country and its people. One can ask here, what on earth the opposition wants to achieve by depriving General Musharraf of his uniform?

After going through various statements of the opposition politicians, news reports and comments by some analysts I understand that the opposition believes that true democracy in the country can only be established once President Musharraf resigns as Chief of the Army Staff at the end of the year.

President Musharraf on the other hand argues that democracy would not be threatened by his remaining in army uniform.

Thus, it looks the issue is not of 'uniform' but of 'democracy'. Here, a question arises why we need democracy? The answer is easy. Because democracy ensures prosperity, progress, freedom and equality for the people. The Western world is a living example of miracles of democracy. (I'm afraid religious leaders would not like this example).

This argument in favour of democracy is sound but can be challenged. In fact, no system of government is good or bad. A good system is the one, which fulfils all the basic needs of its people it doesn't matter whether one label it as democracy, authoritarian etc., etc. A bad system is the one in which majority of the people are deprived of the basic amenities of life. Nobody cares whether the system is run by democrats, communists, army generals or priests as long as the majority of the people are happy.

Look at Singapore. Since its independence in 1965 only one party Peoples Action Party (PAP) is in power. The country has seen only three prime ministers in its 39 years history. The third Prime Minister Lee Hsien-Loong took over the reins of the government in August this year. He is the son of the founding father of the Singapore Lee Kwan Yew.

Can one call it democracy? I'm afraid not. Now look at the other side of the picture. Despite being under a so-called authoritarian rule Singapore has been making miraculous economic progress. According to current estimates its GDP is growing by 10%, which is the highest among the ASEAN members.

Of course, there will be some sections of the society in Singapore, which would be unhappy with state of affairs in the country. But it's the majority, which counts. Singapore has not been facing any political upheavals and law and order situations at home, which reflect that majority of the people are satisfied with government and its policies. Singapore leadership has achieved political and economic stability without opting for liberal democracy.

In case of Pakistan, we see that Musharraf government has performed well on both the international and domestic fronts. On domestic level particularly in the field of economy the government's record is very good. The real GDP growth rate in 2003 was 5.4 per cent as compared to 3.1 per cent in 1999.

Moreover, there has been increase in the country's exports while it has been steadily reducing the foreign debt. The government is taking bold steps to root out fundamentalism and extremism. Although there are reservations among some quarters over government's military operation in tribal areas and Baluchistan, yet a majority of the people still believe that as tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and Baluchistan are part of Pakistan so it's the duty of the government to establish its writ there.

On an international level, Pakistan now is one of the closest friends of US. Musharraf's government has started and continues dialogue with neighbouring India over the issue of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Commonwealth has restored Pakistan's membership to the organisation. All these international developments are not only a stamp of approval for the policies of Musharraf government at the international level but also of its recognition. I'm afraid a 'true' democratic government run by Maulana Fazalur Rehman or Qazi Hussein Ahmed wouldn't enjoy such a respectable status at international level.

Coming back to the issue of 'uniform' I would say that it has nothing to do with the betterment of the country and its people as the Musharraf government has already put the country on the path of progress.

Musharraf of course, was not exaggerating when in a recent interview in the US he said, "Pakistan was already enjoying the fruits of democracy."

It's a bunch of power hungry clergymen who in the past shared beds with the army generals without hesitation who are now trying to make an issue out of a general's uniform in the name of democracy. Only thing, which they want to achieve through this whole exercise, is power.

They are fully aware of the fact that the only way to grab power is to make the current government toothless by snapping the 'uniform' away from President Musharraf. After depriving Musharraf of his 'uniform' they would start agitational politics of 'Dharnas' (sit ins) against the government and a civilian president in order to lead the country towards a political turmoil thus making the life easier for the Islamic extremists and terrorists who are hiding in their holes in various parts of the country. I don't think any Pakistani would wish for that nightmarish scenario.


Iftikhar Qureshi is an Australian citrizen and a former Pakistan based journalist presently studying International Studies at the University of Sydney.


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