Tuesday, December 12, 2006

PAKISTAN: MUSHARRAF'S MANOEUVRING could see persecution escalate through 2007

Date: Tuesday 12 December 2006
Subj: Pakistan: Musharraf's manoeuvring.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal

Pakistan's presidential election is due in late 2007 and national and provincial elections will be held soon after. As such, 2007 will be a year for election campaigning and maneuvering.

In mid-2002 Musharraf, who seized power in a military coup on 1999, announced that national and provincial elections would be held on 10 October 2002. He also announced that there would be changes to the constitution. The proposed constitutional amendment, known as the Legal Framework Order (LFO), would entrench military supremacy over the parliament.

All opposition parties were united in their opposition to the LFO. Musharraf was in desperate need of a partner who could be convinced to enter a marriage of convenience and support his LFO and thus end the political crisis, as Musharraf's PML-Q could not rule outright.

Musharraf also needed to cultivate a climate of fear, a sense of impending peril, in order to legitimise his military rule and secure US support. He knew the Islamists, who are closely linked to the military, could be both a partner and a perceived threat. And so the 2002 elections were rigged to ensure the Mutahida Majlis Amal (MMA: an alliance of six hard-line Islamist parties) would be available as a force in parliament which could be both manipulated and portrayed as a great Islamist threat.

So before the elections Musharraf issued a series of presidential decrees that would all but seal the outcome of those elections. Most significant was the decree that only university graduates would be eligible to stand as election candidates. By this decree he effectively ruled out around 98 percent of the population, including half the previous parliament. Even opposition leaders Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were disqualified on this ground, although that was the least of their problems. However, a madrassa education was deemed equivalent to a university education, and there was no shortage of mullahs and Islamists ready to fill the void.

Further to this, electorates were divided to give the desired result. Musharraf's PML-Q won 24.81 percent of the vote and 77 seats, while the secular PPP won 25.01 percent of the vote and only 62 seats. The PML-N won 11.23 percent of the vote and 14 seats, while the MMA won 11.1 percent of the vote, 53 seats and the balance of power. (Link 1)

The sense of horror over what appeared to be a tsunami of political Islam sweeping over strategic Pakistan in the midst of the War on Terror was enough to secure US support for the military regime despite its undemocratic measures.

After the elections Musharraf immediately began negotiating with the wonderfully flexible MMA to secure their support for his LFO. The Islamists agreed to a quid pro quo deal with Musharraf. They supported Musharraf's LFO in exchange for his support of their Islamisation package which advances the Islamisation of Pakistan.

In short: Musharraf secured US support by promising to fight Islamism and promote "enlightened moderation". However in reality he did neither. For four years Musharraf's left hand has presented challenges and offered gifts and incentives to secure US support, while his right hand has been making deals with Islamists and consolidating military control of Pakistan.

The situation in 2007, five years on, will however be quite different. Musharraf will need to play different cards to retain US support for his military dictatorship this time around.

For Musharraf to retain US support now he needs to distance himself from the apocalyptic (oops - I mean apoplectic) Islamists, and legitimise his claim to being an enlightened and moderate reformer and progressive by starting - after four years in office - to make some positive moves in the direction of "enlightened moderation".

However, to remain on as military dictator Musharraf would also need to make sure there is enough insecurity and threat to justify his remaining in military uniform and in power.

Musharraf has begun to distance himself from the Islamists with moves that also provoke their wrath. He no longer needs their support in parliament now the LFO is enshrined in the constitution and military supremacy is entrenched. But that is not to say the Islamists no longer have their uses. A military regime that is prepared to use sectarian violence as an electoral
tool could actually benefit greatly from Islamist agitation, protest, radicalism, persecution and even terrorism.

On 1 December Musharraf signed the Women's Protection Bill (WPB) into law. This law makes minimal but beneficial amendments to the Hudood Ordinance. By this act Musharraf not only won praise from the international community, he also split his opposition! The secular PPP voted for the Bill while the PML-N sided with the MMA and voted against it.

However, Musharraf's signing of the WPB was not primarily about women or de-Islamisation, it was primarily about domestic politics. Had Musharraf been genuinely concerned for women's rights and genuine in his pursuit of enlightened moderation he would have accepted the findings of his own National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW, founded by Musharraf in 2000, http://new.ncsw.gov.pk ) which in 2003 recommended that the Hudood Ordinance be repealed.

The Islamists are unashamedly parading their medieval and misogynistic nature in loud protests against women's rights by decrying the Women's Protection Bill as un-Islamic, thereby alienating virtually all women and all modern, progressive Pakistani men. They have not however resigned from parliament en masse as they threatened to do. They enjoy the perks of power too much for that and they are not ready for early elections.

Further to this, Musharraf is making peace overtones regarding Kashmir. His proposal that Pakistan would forgo claims on Kashmir can be nothing other than absolutely unacceptable to Islamists. This will force the Islamists to protest loudly against peace!

Musharraf's manoeuvres make it more difficult for the PPP to challenge or criticise him and impossible for the PPP to form an opposition alliance with the PML-N. Musharraf is presenting the choice as being between radicalisation (Islamists) and enlightened moderation (himself).

Musharraf's manoeuvres may even provoke the Islamists to increase terrorism and protests - actions that can only work to the benefit of a military dictator seeking to be elected president, in uniform.

While Musharraf's manoeuvres might not signal any genuine commitment to de-Islamisation, they may indicate that 2007 could be a strategic year for advocacy on the blasphemy law. Should Musharraf repeal (or at least amend) the blasphemy law, he would widen the chasm between the PPP and PML-N from crack to crater and further promote himself as an enlightened and moderate reformist worthy of US support. What's more it would send the Islamists ballistic!

There are two main dangers ahead. One is that the US and human rights organisations will doubtless be pressured to make an unofficial (or official) quid pro quo deal with Musharraf: de-Islamisation or at least "enlightened moderation" in exchange for tolerance of Musharraf's military rule and suppression of democracy - a democracy that could provide Pakistanis with a means to pursue genuine reform, progress and liberty. If this sounds like a familiar scenario it's because it is! This would be exactly the same as the understanding struck in 2002.

The other main danger is that if Musharraf does choose to exploit sectarian violence and Islamist unrest and radicalisation for personal political gain, then persecution of women and Christians at the hands of Islamists could seriously escalate.


1) Carnegie Papers
Islam, militarism, and the 2007-2008 elections in Pakistan
By Frederic Grare, August 2006.