Asharq Al Awsat, London – Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was sworn in for a second five-year term as a civilian leader last Thursday 29 November, a day after he stepped down as army chief. Musharraf has announced that the state of emergency will be lifted on 16 December of this year and that the elections will be held 8 January 2008.
These events follow in the wake of the Pakistani president’s decision to dissolve the state’s Supreme Court and the constitutional courts, which puts his political opponents, including the extremist trend that seeks to oust him, in a difficult position.
President Musharraf has become a civilian president after eight years of military rule following the military coup that brought him to power in 1999.
Asharq Al-Awat interviewed Abdul Ghaffar Aziz, foreign affairs officer and official spokesman of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Pakistan’s largest opposition party.
Following is the text of the interview:
Q: What happens after Pervez Musharraf becomes a civilian president?
A: In theory, the authority must transform from being managed by the military to become a civilian government; however, in practice, everything continues to revolve around the axis of Pervez Musharraf. He was the one who introduced these new elements to the post of army chief.
The most important of the characteristics that are used to describe the new army commander general [Ashfaq] Kayani is that he works under Musharraf’s authority and rule. Musharraf is the one who seeks to introduce new elements to the political map in the future. He wants to gain wide public support so as to delude the world that he has become a civilian president and that Pakistan has entered into a phase of elected democratic life.
Q: After taking the oath to extend his presidency for a second term and after relinquishing his military post, are there any doubts surrounding Musharraf’s political future?
A: General Pervez Musharraf insisted on electing Mr. Pervez Musharraf as the president of the state prior to the upcoming parliamentary elections, and also to re-elect himself through the same parliament that he both formed and dissolved. This insistence only came about as a result of him being plagued by doubts and despair about his political future.
Today, after the retired general has rearranged his cards, he believes that things will calm down and that a new democratic political era will begin. But the truth is that this will remain to be a false dream so long as Musharraf remains in power; he must confront serious challenges. The political parties have unanimously agreed to boycott the elections and most of the civil society trade unions continue to protest against his regime and believe that his position as president means that he will have the final word in the upcoming elections, and also in the elections to follow them.
Pakistan today, after Musharraf was sworn in, is witnessing many demonstrations in various cities staged by lawyers, and there have been bloody clashes between them and the security forces where both hands and sticks were used.
Q: What impact has Musharraf’s appointment as a civilian president had on his political opponents?
A: The political parties and civil society trade unions are fully certain that the election results will be predetermined beforehand. These parties lived through a bitter experience two years ago when they held the local elections and President General Musharraf changed the results weeks after the electoral process was over.
There are hundreds, possibly even thousands, of candidates who succeeded in the local elections and who were banned from entering the municipal councils because the results had been rigged. The results were tampered with and their victory was a gift that was handed over to the pro-government candidates and those running from the ruling party. As for the real winners, they are pacing through a maze of courts and around the electoral commission stands.
These parties are still embroiled in the nightmare of the rigged elections that took place under Musharraf’s patronage, and they know that they will regret participating in such elections [the forthcoming ones]. The opposition parties believe that the only real peaceful democratic option is to boycott the elections or the other option is for the government to answer to the opposition’s demands.
The most important of these demands is to validate the constitution and to reinstate the Supreme Court and the regional courts to their former status quo before the state of emergency. This means that Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and some 60 judges could return to office.
Q: What will be the outcome of Mushrraf having eliminated the judges who disagree with his opinions?
A: It is common knowledge that Pervez Musharraf banished the judges and dissolved the Supreme Court because he was afraid that these judges would adhere to the law. Everyone knows that the law prevents the general from being head of the army and state simultaneously, in addition to preventing him, or any official, including those who have been dismissed, to hold any political post for two years after having stepped down from a given position.
From a logical standpoint, Musharraf wants things to calm down for his own benefit; however, in practice, he has just entered a new stage laden with difficult challenges after losing military support. The political opposition and the general public that were unable to remove him because of the military ‘magic wand’ in his hand may effectively be able to achieve this after he has lost military support.
Here it should be noted that the ceremony in which Musharraf was sworn in [as president] coincided with the bloody demonstrations between security forces and the lawyers protesting in various Pakistani cities.
Q: Is the interim government, headed by chairman of the senate and caretaker, Mian Muhammad Sumro, accepted by the Jamaat-e-Islami?
A: An interim government preceding the general elections is a legal stipulation, elected governments must be dissolved 90 days before running new elections, and this interim government must be impartial. However, if we examine the structural makeup of this government we would find that Mian Muhammad Sumro, who is also the chairman of the senate, is the head and that he was selected by Musharraf. Musharraf chose him after being assured that he did not have a strong political personality and that he was incapable of carrying out his [Musharraf’s] orders and did not possess the effective authority.
As for the ministers, all the political parties, not only the JI, believe that this interim government was chosen to implement what Musharraf dictates and what the various Pakistani security and foreign institutions dictate. The interim government is only a useless puppet in the hands of Musharraf that is simply a tool to execute his decrees. As such, it is not Mian Muhammad Sumro’s government that will provide the basic requirement to conduct free and just elections.
Q: Can external pressure, whether from Britain or the US, lead to fair general elections or reduce Musharraf’s role?
A: In terms of limiting Musharraf’s role, these foreign pressures are in fact trying to restrain him and aim to weaken his role to the greatest degree; however, they do not want to get rid of him. Rather, what is intended is to keep a weak Musharraf that they can make a lion over his people.
External pressures certainly play a role in the elections, but they will not help in holding just elections. It is about running the elections in accordance with plans and ambitions of the US. It is common knowledge how Benazir Bhutto returned to the country and how she and Musharraf forged an agreement that frees her of all corruption charges and embezzlement cases.
Q: In your opinion, what are the opportunities for the Islamists in the next elections?
A: If elections were held, fair and honest elections, then the Islamic forces would surely gain a large portion in the states on the northern border and in Balochistan, as well as Punjab; that is, after coordinating with other political parties. However, most of the political and religious parties do no view that there is an electoral process in the real sense of the term. Thus, boycotting the elections is the way to cancel these elections and pave way for elections in the near future that would not be under Pervez Musharraf’s presidency.
Q: How do you view Musharraf’s actions and the way he went back on his word, such as when he released the political detainees so that they may be able to participate in the elections, in addition to his abdication of the post of army commander?
A: Following the release of the political prisoners and by stepping down as army chief, even by lifting the state of emergency, Musharraf will have gone back to square one from which he started. The general took an oath before the Supreme Court, which he dissolved, that he would renounce his position as army chief if he was re-elected as president. Thus, the real question is: Who insists on remaining in power even after giving up the army command? And why is it only Musharraf for president? Why does he insist on depriving the next parliament of the right to elect a president of the state? Why this adamancy to re-elect himself before holding the general parliamentary elections, which is against all the laws and national political traditions in Pakistan?
The only real goal Musharraf seeks through all these games is to remain in power for as long as he can regardless of the circumstances. This is the reason why all the political parties have lost their confidence in Musharraf, even after he stepped down as army chief.
Pakistan will continue to live in an escalating state of fear. The time bombs which he has planted in all the state’s body organs could explode at any moment. This situation that resembles a civil war in the tribal areas will not be easy to quell just by sending someone over or by replacing him with someone else.
The retired general has led Pakistan into a dark tunnel and the state needs a strong, democratic, free and just leadership that is publicly elected not imposed by this internal party or that external one.
Q: What is the slogan raised by Jamaat-e-Islami in this coming stage?
A: The main slogan that was approved by the Majlis-e-Shura (Consultative Council) in the last emergency session is to restore the authority of the law and constitution and to spread justice in the land. To re-establish a safe, democratic and free life and to reinstate Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and the judges to their positions. To safeguard the military institution and restore its standing as well as restoring the public’s confidence in it by getting rid of military rule in every sense of the word.
Our community also feels that national issues need to resolved through negotiations and dialogue, not through the use of guns and destruction. We believe in opening up the doors of dialogue to all citizens and all the popular, political and national parties, and the preservation of all national interests and respect for all. We also stand for the fair distribution of wealth and the reduction of exorbitant prices and the rampant unemployment and the collapsed state of security. Moreover, we believe in resolving the nation’s issues in accordance with the principles of justice and equality.
Q: How do you view the national scenario to come?
A: Musharraf has exerted every effort to ensure that the elections go according to plan and in accordance with the tailored scheme set by some foreign forces; however, from another angle, there is a strong likelihood that the political parties will adopt a united approach towards the boycott. These parties are attempting to coordinate with Benazir Bhutto’s party [The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)]; however, since it has become deluded by dreams that Washington convinced it of, it believes that it will get a slice of the next government’s pie.
There are fears that it [the PPP] will not join the opposition in its boycott. Two fundamental possibilities stem from this point: First; the government will insist against all odds and regardless of the circumstances to run the elections. By doing that it would claim to have gained [the support] of the majority, after which Bhutto will join to be part of the formation of the next government.
The second possibility is if the political parties succeeded in effectively boycotting [the elections], thereby rendering them ineffectual. In both cases, Pakistan will bear witness to a new phase of political struggle if the government seeks to control the situation whilst the opposition strives to remove the parliament that does not represent the public opinion.
There is no doubt that the result of such efforts will mean the end of Musharraf and his government. All the national parties and the social classes, such as lawyers, journalists, politicians and students want to restore political life to the right track, to a track that is far removed from military intervention and where it can enjoy an atmosphere of dialogue, negotiation and peaceful coexistence instead of this civil war, fighting, bombings and armed attacks.
There is a third alternative, which is to postpone the entire electoral process to at least a year or more.