Drawing parallels and lessons
Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan and Moeen U Ahmed in Bangladesh
Mahmud ur Rahman Choudhury
Source: The Bangladesh Today
August 26, 2008
What happens in Pakistan ought not to overly concern us here in Bangladesh but it does because we were once part of Pakistan and have inherited some of the worst aspects of that Country's politics and governance. The four core institutions of our State - the Judiciary and system of Justice, the system of law-enforcement and Police, the system of administration and Bureaucracy and the Military - are all direct descendents of and still display many of the characteristics of the Pakistani system. Military involvement in politics is one of these awful legacies which we in Bangladesh are still tolerating and living with.
I don't know General Pervez Musharraf personally but I have read his very interesting auto-biography, "In the Line of Fire" and I happen to know one of his very close friends from whom I heard quite a bit about the General. As for General Moeen Uddin Ahmed, I have a passing acquaintance with him, having served for 25 years in the Bangladesh Army. Both of these individuals have catapulted themselves into politics in very critical moments in their respective countries' histories and therefore deserve a closer scrutiny of their characters and their deeds so as to draw appropriate lessons for the immediate future. The Pakistani General had to let go of power when he was forced to resign from his presidency on 18 August 2008 while the Bangladeshi General still holds a firm grasp of political power or so he believes.
Starting with the Pakistani General, Pervez Musharraf was a "Muhajir", that is a person who migrated to Pakistan after the partition of the sub-continent in 1947. In Pakistan, his family made good; he joined the Army and was commissioned in 1964. Through dint of his intelligence and hard work he rose through higher ranks in the Army. As he attained higher ranks and responsibilities, he carefully choose his mentors and friends both within the Army as well in political circles. On the way to the top, he earned respect of both his under-command and his seniors for his courage, integrity, determination, hard work and patriotism. In 1998, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Miah Newaz Sharif choose him as the Chief of Staff after the powerful Army Chief General Jehangir Karamat resigned. Some independent commentators suggested that General Musharraf's promotion came precisely because he did not belong to the Punjabi officer class and that Musharraf's ethnic background would leave the general unable to build a powerbase but by that time Musharraf had already built a powerbase. Barely a year later, on 12 October 1999, the aircraft carrying Pervez Musharraf from a visit to Sri Lanka was denied permission to land in Pakistan. When the plane ultimately landed with fuel for 10 minutes flying left in it, Pervez Musharraf had mounted a coup to oust Newaz Sharif. Supporters of Pervez Musharraf claim that Newaz Sharif intended to murder him while his detractors claim that the whole thing was a well planned ploy to capture state power. Pervez Musharraf ruled Pakistan for 9 crucial years during which time the Army went along with him by default.
General Pervez Musharraf assumed or more appropriately usurped political power some 9 years back on the contention that the political, economic and social systems in Pakistan have gone so corrupt that the Country's integrity and sovereignty is threatened. Moreover, the Taliban problems in Afghanistan and the Kashmir issue had serious spill over effects in Pakistan in terms of law and order situation and internal stability or so it was contented. All in all, excuses for Military intervention in politics were not lacking and this tendency towards military dictatorship was actively encouraged by the US who saw in General Pervez Musharraf and the Pakistan military a bulwark against the further spread westwards of radical "Islamic terrorism". In the 9 years that Pervez Musharraf "ruled" Pakistan, he brought the Country to near ruination until the people were near revolting. In an election about a year back, acceded to reluctantly by Musharraf, the people gave their verdict overwhelmingly against what the General stood for and now with the forced resignation of General Pervez Musharraf from the post of President that "ballot-box revolution" is complete. Whether the people of Pakistan can enjoy the fruits of their "democracy" will depend entirely on their determination to continue the process of democratization of their polity inspite of their politicians who are as corrupted a lot as there can be and who have betrayed the confidence of their people more than once.
In a sense Moeen U Ahmed is a Muhajir too; he was a cadet in the Pakistan Air Force College, Sargodah when the War of Liberation of Bangladesh was going on and only returned to Bangladesh a couple of years after the country had gained its independence. In 1974 he joined the Army and was commissioned with the 1st batch of officers of an independent Bangladesh. Like Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan, Moeen U Ahmed in Bangladesh is intelligent and hard working and he too selectively cultivated friendships both within the Army and political circles as he proceeded upwards in rank and responsibility. Unlike Musharraf, Moeen U Ahmed is an introvert who is not much liked or respected by either the rank and file or fellow officers but he does know how to command obedience. When in July 2005, Lt General Hasan Mashud Chowdhury was about to retire as the Chief of Staff, Moeen U Ahmed pulled his political connections in BNP through his course mate Major Syed Iskander, the brother of the then Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, to get to the top Army slot bypassing a dozen or so equally competent senior candidates. In December 2006, when political conditions in Bangladesh turned critical, Moeen U Ahmed supported by Major General Masud Uddin Chowdhury ( the brother-in-law of Major Syed Iskander), the GOC 9infantry Division based in Savar, made their bid for power. On the early morning of 11 January 2007, Moeen U Ahmed and Masud Uddin Chowdhury escorted by troops of 9 infantry Division invaded the Bangabhaban and forced the President to sign a Declaration of Emergency. A civilian façade was created by the formation of a council of 10 advisors with a Chief Advisor to head it; all advisors being retired bureaucrats, government servants or military officers. The excuses for this blatant grab at power were similar to those enunciated by Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan. "All the evidence of Bangladeshi politics, point to the compelling conclusion that the political parties divided the Nation to a dangerous threshold that had no recourse but to confront a civil war" contented General Moeen U Ahmed in an interview with Global Bangladesh on 01 August 2007.
Much like the Pakistani Army with Pervez Musharraf, the Bangladesh Army went by default with Moeen U Ahmed. In the days after the military coup, there was a sense in the armed forces that they were all in this together. Much of it has evaporated in the past 20 months, and the current activities by Moeen only make clear that he is very much following his own agenda, and any collectivist goals have been discarded a long time ago, if he ever took them seriously at all. A lot of people had a lot of things in mind when they signed up for the military coup, but no one really visualized Moeen as another dictator.. It had taken all of 9 years for Pervez Musharraf to get his Country to the point of ruination but Moeen U Ahmed has managed to ruin Bangladesh within just 20 months; it only remains to be seen how he goes and what lessons we derive from these events.
The lessons than are:
Lesson # 01: Corrupt politicians, divisive politics and weak political institutions readily invite military interventions. Military dictators come to power with messianic goals which they rarely implement, instead breaking down existing institutions without being able to replace them with better ones further aggravating social, economic and political problems thereby initiating a cycle of conflict which in extreme cases leads to complete disintegration of the polity itself. Therefore, principled representative politics and strong political institutions are the "preventive medicines" against military dictators.
Lesson # 2: Weak political institutions lack control mechanisms of all sorts, most tellingly in the control of the Military. War, the preserve of the military demands rigid, hierarchal structures of command, control and communication for the military so that they can respond instantaneously to single commands at different levels emanating from the top and ending at the bottom. Surprise, shock, fear and dislocation - the stuff of successful warfighting can only be employed through such a system. Military dictators employ the same system when taking over the State. As long as Military dictators retain the uniform, the rank and the command goes along with it by default, they are impossible to remove even through massive public agitations and protests. It is only when they discard their uniforms and ranks, that they loose command and are vulnerable to removal and that too not immediately as the case of General HM Ershad in Bangladesh and Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan prove. Therefore, strong political control of the military at strategic and operational levels is the only way to prevent military dictators from taking over the State.
Lesson # 3: Military dictators are elitists. The military decision making process depends on a few selected lot of highly trained specialists called Staffs, who analyze all situations and work out courses of actions for the commander to select from. The Staff-Commander relationship is almost symbiotic with the commander responsible or answerable to no one for his decisions except the next higher commander. The highest military Commander is only accountable and answerable to his political master, whoever that is; in the absence of strong institutional political control, the highest military commander is accountable and answerable to no one save himself. Thus, when military dictators take over the State they aim for absolute control, often suspending or truncating existing core institutions of the State to establish that absolute sway. So, Military dictatorships are inimical, even hostile to institutional developments. The only way out of this is to keep on insisting on broadening the decision-making base, increasing the number of participants in the decision making process, not with the purpose of seeking solutions to problems but aimed at overwhelming the military dictator's decision making process with contradictory and conflicting inputs, finally paralyzing the decision process. This is a gradualist approach, demanding patience and determination on the part of the civil society wanting to get rid of a military dictatorship. This is the process through which the Pakistani civil society and politicians got rid of Pervez Musharraf and this is the process Bangladeshi civil society and politicians have to master, if they intend to get rid of military dictatorships.
Lesson # 4: The first thing military dictators do on taking over the State is to suspend or severely curtail existing laws and legal systems replacing them with such legal devices as emergency power rules, ordinances, special tribunals etc. One consequence of this is that military personnel who are paid just enough by the State to lead a life of "genteel poverty" create and use opportunities to enrich themselves by all sorts of corruption and since the military in State power is not answerable and accountable to anyone except themselves, military personnel often get away with such corruption. The regime itself indulges in corruption by buying up collaborators in politics, business, media and academicia by providing money or other privileges. This coterie of vested interest then supports the military dictator in perpetuating his hold on State power. Such regimes can sometimes be so rapaciously kleptocratic as to reduce the polity and its populace to abject penury or poverty. At the least, corruption is endemic in military dictatorships as is evident from Pakistan under Musharraf and Bangladesh under Ershad and now under a military-backed Emergency. The only way to get out of this is to ensure that democratic movements and governments which often replace military dictatorships do not post-facto legitimize such dictators but declare them unlawful and punish dictators and their collaborators.
This has gotten a mite lengthy and I have to end it here today but stay tuned as next Monday we will continue with our dissection of military dictators and see why and how they rely on foreign powers to shore-up their regimes.