Pakistan’s Democrats Win the Power Struggle | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 18.08.2008
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Pakistan’s Democrats Win the Power Struggle

In the end, it was the people of Pakistan who drove out their authoritarian president, says Thomas Bärthlein:


Pervez Musharraf has finally conceded that the game is over. In the end, nobody was willing to stand up for him -- neither the lawmakers of his own party, nor the army, which he headed for over ten years, nor his long-term allies in Washington, Bush and Cheney. Let alone the Pakistani population, 80 percent of which, according to the latest polls, were calling for his resignation.

For almost a decade, Musharraf’s tactics served him well and he was able to position himself successfully in the political power game. His tour de force was to offer himself to the West as an indispensable ally in the “war against terror” after the September 11 attacks. In Pakistan too, where many had enthusiastically welcomed his coup, he remained popular for a long time, especially among the liberals of the middle and upper classes, who considered him a moderate reformer -- someone who would keep the radical Islamists under control. Naturally, the influential army also profited from the general’s reign, especially in financial terms.

However, in March 2007 his game started to collapse like a house of cards. It became increasingly clear that Pervez Musharraf had only one political programme and that was Pervez Musharraf. In that month, the president took on Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, who was becoming too independent for him, bothering him with his insistence on legal principles. Not only the judges and the lawyers but also the media, civil society, political parties and hundreds and thousands of citizens took the part of Chaudhry. They forced Musharraf to resign as army chief in the autumn and to hold free elections in February 2008.

In the end, this was a pro-democracy movement and this is what gives Musharraf’s resignation on Monday its historical dimension. Pakistan’s democratic parties have won a dramatic power struggle. Pakistan’s constitution is contradictory in the sense that it, on the one hand, allows for the impeachment of the president and, on the other, also gives the president powers to dissolve parliament. However, this did not help Musharraf because he had become so isolated.

This was not only a power struggle between the democrats and Musharraf. What made the president so powerful had a lot to do with the political role of the army. Musharraf’s resignation should also serve to sustainably strengthen civil institutions against the military.

What remains? On balance, Musharraf’s time in office will probably end up looking better than it does now. He did, sometimes against his will, allow for a unique process of liberalisation to take place, especially in field of the electronic media. Pakistani society also underwent a process of modernisation, thanks in part to long-term economic growth. The moderate forces in Pakistan are considerably stronger today than they were before Musharraf’s 1999 coup. He also played an important role in the peace process with neighbouring India, where he is significantly more popular than in his own country.

But on the negative side lies an authoritarian and often contradictory line of politics, especially with regard to the “war against terror”. Under Musharraf, the secret services “disappeared” hundreds of Pakistanis. At times, the air force bombed military bases; at others, when it seemed to serve the domestic political game, the impression could not be avoided that the secret services were supporting extremism again.

This attitude towards extremist ideologies and militant insurgents such as the Taliban proved extremely counter-productive for the government. In the eyes of many, the Islamists were considered as martyrs; and most Pakistanis had the impression that the fight against the Taliban was only being conducted on orders from Washington.

Real democracy is the only way out. The parliament and the independent judiciary have to be strengthened effectively in order to act against the strong domestic and foreign forces, which are used to pulling the strings in Pakistan from behind the scenes. Musharraf’s political successors have a great challenge ahead.

  • Date 18.08.2008
  • Author Thomas Bärthlein (act) 18/08/08
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  • Date 18.08.2008
  • Author Thomas Bärthlein (act) 18/08/08
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink