Musharraf Can Learn from Indonesia

By Ali Dayan Hasan, published in The Jakarta Post

April 26, 2005

On his visit to Indonesia this week, President General Musharraf, the Pakistani strongman who came to power in a 1999 coup and the post-Sept. 11 darling of the West, has much to learn from Indonesia's success at pursuing a secular political culture and marginalizing militant Islam from the mainstream political domain.

President Musharraf would undoubtedly agree with these goals, but his actions often belie his words. Musharraf loves to say that his government operates on the principle of "enlightened moderation." On the one hand, this involves putting the genie of Islamist politics and militancy, unleashed by the Pakistan Army in the 1980s and 1990s, back into the bottle.

On the other, Musharraf will tell anyone willing to listen that he replaced a "sham democracy" with a real one (though, unlike in Indonesia, he has refused to hold a presidential election).

Last week, both "enlightened moderation" and the "real democracy" were in action.

From April 14-16, thousands of supporters of Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) were arrested in a country-wide crackdown. The mass arrests were conducted in order to prevent a public reception for Bhutto's husband Asif Zardari on his return from a trip to Dubai to meet his family. Zardari, was released on bail last November after spending eight years in prison on corruption charges, though he was never convicted.

PPP supporters who managed to reach the Lahore party headquarters near the airport and the airport itself were dragged away by the police. Many, including women, were manhandled by police officers and beaten when they attempted to chant slogans or protest police brutality. At least three women were severely injured and have been hospitalized.

Journalists were detained at the airport for several hours and their cell phones and camera equipment were snatched and footage destroyed. Other reporters faced intimidation in attempting to cover events in a city effectively cordoned off by thousands of police personnel.

This was not, however, a crackdown against Islamist militants. The PPP had made it clear that the event was not even a protest rally.

The PPP, the single largest political party in Pakistan, avowedly liberal and secular -- and with a long record of corruption and poor governance -- finds itself in an unusual situation. The stated foreign and domestic policy aims of Musharraf's military government now echo its own manifesto. It thus seems that a marriage of convenience between the PPP and Musharraf is all but inevitable.

This would bring the PPP back into a power-sharing arrangement with the Pakistan Army -- the most any civilian political group can aspire to in the context of a hyper-militarized state. It would provide Musharraf with real, meaningful political support, enabling him to pursue "enlightened moderation" full throttle. So what's the hitch?

Political observers believe the crackdown resulted from a deadlock in negotiations between the Musharraf government and the PPP. While Musharraf has now started acknowledging publicly that the PPP is the principal secular political force in the country and a party he must deal with, the reality is that Pakistan's military is dedicated, above all, to the preservation of its monopoly on power.

Consequently, it is simply not interested in real power-sharing with a legitimate civilian power-block. To that end, the military wants the PPP to accept Musharraf's continued dual role as president and army chief. Fearing Bhutto's popularity, the military also insists on her "non-participation" in the political process, including in elections due in 2007. Thus far, Bhutto has refused. Hence the crackdown.

So if this is how the Pakistani military treats those who share its alleged vision, how does it treat its stated enemies? It is instructive to consider the military's relations with the Muttaheda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), an alliance of Islamist parties that controls the North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan and polled 10 percent of the national vote in the 2002 election.

The MMA does not appear to believe in basic freedoms such as equal rights for women, freedom to worship according to one's conscience, and freedom of expression. Its members schooled and trained the Taliban and it wishes to impose Sharia, Islamic law, as the basic law in Pakistan. In many ways if is the enemy of enlightened moderation.

Presumably, a military committed to enlightened moderation would oppose such a party. Well, not quite. The reality is that the MMA is a virtual creation of Musharraf. In 2002 Musharraf and the military needed an outlet for popular anger at Pakistan's post-Sept. 11 alliance with the United States.

So the military took steps to ensure a featured political role for the Islamist alliance. To ensure MMA candidates could stand, Musharraf issued instructions that Madrassah certificates be recognized as equivalent to a university degree.

In contravention of parliamentary practice, the government appointed Maulana Fazlur Rahman, an MMA leader, as leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, even though the PPP-led Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy had more members of Parliament. The MMA then joined hands with Musharraf to pass a constitutional amendment that ostensibly legalized Musharraf's 1999 coup and made him an "elected" president.

Indonesia still faces many challenges, not least in reining in its military in places like Aceh and Papua, ending the massive corruption in the TNI that fuels human rights abuses, and holding TNI members accountable for their actions in places like East Timor and Aceh. There are still tensions between secular and "green" forces in the military and in the wider political culture that have yet to be fully resolved in favor of a tolerant and rights-respecting political culture.

Yet Indonesia offers a valuable lesson that the Pakistani military establishment has yet to learn — that decades of authoritarian rule and the military's political and economic predominance ultimately failed to thwart the desire of average citizens for a more inclusive politics that respects basic rights and limits the power of men in uniform.

Perhaps most important, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a former general, can explain to President Musharraf, a current general, that there is life after military rule and that Pakistan, like Indonesia, would be better off with an elected president in a suit instead of a uniform.

Rashid Ghaznavi

Rashid Ghaznavi
Vice President PPP - USA.
created this website, and has provided his adult life to the benefit of the party... (more)

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