Leading Article: There must now be no return to military rule

Share
Related Topics

The Pakistani general elections have had a more positive outcome than many inside and outside the country dared to hope. With most of the votes counted in the world's sixth most populous country, the opposition parties have registered a sweeping victory. President Musharraf's coalition of supportive parties performed atrociously, despite a campaign of intimidating rival supporters and attempted vote-rigging.

Meanwhile, the two biggest parties to emerge from the vote, Nawaz Sharif's Muslim League and the People's Party of the late Benazir Bhutto, are ready to do a deal, which would give them control of a majority in Parliament. The new government will have a strong democratic mandate.

This could be ominous for President Musharraf. Neither party is his friend. It was Mr Musharraf's coup nine years ago that ended the premiership of Mr Sharif. And Ms Bhutto's widower and interim leader of the People's Party, Asif Zardari, has all but accused Mr Musharraf of being involved in her assassination. If the two parties were able to muster a two-thirds majority in Parliament, they could call for the president's impeachment. But impeachment is not easily achieved and would be constitutionally messy. Mr Musharraf is under no obligation to resign, and is now making conciliatory noises, claiming he wants to work with any new government. If he means it, this could, paradoxically, be the best outcome.

Mr Musharraf's rule hitherto has been little short of a disaster for Pakistan. For all his notional support for the United States and its "war on terror", Islamist militancy has grown, some say with the tacit support of the state intelligence services. The western tribal regions have provided a cross-border safe haven for the Taliban, which has helped to destabilise neighbouring Afghanistan. Meanwhile, all Mr Musharraf's lavish spending on the military has left little for education. The result has been the growth of the madrassas, many of which are run by militant preachers and little more than factories for brain-watching.

It is true that not all of Pakistan's maladies can be blamed on Mr Musharraf. It is also true that the president himself has been a prominent target of the militants. And any government would have struggled to impose order on the tribal regions and police the border with Afghanistan. But he cannot escape responsibility for the retreat from democracy during his period in office. He has wantonly undermined the independence of the judiciary by sacking members of the Supreme Court. And his decision to place civil rights activists and opposition leaders under house arrest last year also exposed the hollowness of his democratic credentials.

Politically, President Musharraf now looks to be a spent force. With both his rivals prepared to countenance power-sharing only if the role of president is reduced to little more than a figurehead, this could be an opportunity for Pakistan to develop a system of proper checks and balances.

All this assumes, of course, that another ambitious army general does not exploit Mr Musharraf's weakness to mount a military challenge to his rule – and that no foreign government would repeat the mistake of backing another "strongman". What Pakistan requires is a return to the rule of law and multi-party democracy. If the past decade in Pakistan has taught anything, it is that dictatorship does not stifle extremism, but nourishes it. Military rule provides only an illusion of stability. It is in all our interests that it does not return to Pakistan.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - North West London, £35-40k

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant (ACCA / CIMA, ...

Recruitment Genius: Female Care Team

£11 - £12 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A 10 year old girl who has profound an...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Manchester - Urgent Requirement!

£30000 - £35000 per annum + 20 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Marketi...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Development Manager ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Mr Osborne’s Economic Experiment: William Keegan’s new book

John Rentoul
EastEnders needs to review its take on Cockney life  

Ending the watershed is crossing the line of our TV culture

Jane Merrick
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore