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WITH TURKEY ON HIS MIND –PRESIDENT MUSHARRAF KEEPS ON THE UNIFORM

Paper No. 1147                                                                      19/10/2004

by K. Gajendra Singh. 

General Kenan Evren, now living retired in Antalya, western Turkey, must be chuckling at his putative disciple Gen. Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, who has emulated him so closely. After the 1980 military take over, Gen Evren stayed as Turkey’s head of state for 9 years, two years as head of the ruling military National Security Council and 7 years as the President of the Republic, ‘elected’ in a referendum in 1982, which also approved the new Constitution and institutionalized further military’s role in politics. When Gen Musharraf visited Ankara, Turkey’s capital, in November 1999, he was very keen to meet with Gen Evren but his hosts dissuaded him from doing so. Musharraf had come on an earlier invitation from the Turkish Chief of General Staff, who was then away abroad. 

Gen Musharraf took over as the Chief Executive in a bloodless coup in October 1999, when Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who had become unpopular, tried to dismiss the former, unwisely. Gen Musharraf anointed himself President in 2001, when under US prodding, Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee invited him for an abortive summit meeting to Agra. It was futile to expect any concessions from Gen Musharraf. As a Mohajir, he had to first establish his credibility, within the Pakistan armed forces, its people, Kashmiri secessionists, and the jihadis in Pakistan, which he did by making Kashmir the core issue.

After agreeing last year with the opposition parties in Pakistan to shed the uniform at the end of 2004, Gen. Musharraf has now ‘persuaded’ the Pakistan National Assembly to pass a law enabling him to retain the all powerful post of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS). The opposition parties called 14 October, “the blackest day”, in the parliamentary history of Pakistan, when the Assembly passed ‘The President to Hold Another Office Bill’ allowing President Gen Musharraf to also hold the office of COAS in the “supreme national interest”. “It was done to safeguard the national interests in prevailing national and international situation to combat terrorism and subversion, and keep the economic reforms on track.” In legal hair splitting, while the opposition described it as violation of the Constitution as it allows a soldier to hold the political office of the president of the country, Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, a seasoned parliamentarian and an eminent constitutional expert, pointed a subtle difference between presidents  holding the office of COAS and a COAS holding the office of the president. The opposition pledged to launch a countrywide campaign as a last resort to oust Gen Musharraf. "The civilian forces are now totally pushed into the wall, into the corner and the military supremacy has been now completely established," stated Fauzia Wahab, an opposition lawmaker. 

When questioned on 14 October after the Assembly vote, the State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, “President Musharraf regularly affirms his vision of Pakistan’s progress toward democracy. That’s a vision that we share and we’ll continue to encourage him to move in that direction,” and added that “it would be good” if Musharraf hung up his uniform “but (which) it’s not the full indicator of progress toward democracy.” "We want these (2007) elections to meet international standards, and we want to see Pakistan in the meantime strengthen judiciary and parliament to enable political parties to operate freely and increase transparency." 

Joel Kibazo, a spokesman for the Commonwealth, said that the decision to allow Musharraf to retain two offices beyond December 31, was a matter of Pakistan’s parliament, but the world body would look into it. After the 1999 coup d’etat Pakistan was suspended from the Commonwealth and rejoined only last year. Gen Musharraf, treated almost as a pariah and sternly lectured to by President Bill Clinton during his stop over in Pakistan in 2000 became a US ally after 9/11, when he joined the U.S.-led war against terrorism. Billions of US dollars in aid shored up Pakistan’s tottering economy. Much to India’s chagrin, recently USA declared Pakistan as one of its non-Nato strategic allies. 

Christine Fair, a specialist on Pakistani affairs at the conservative U.S. Institute for Peace, comparing rules of Gen Musharraf and President Gen Zia-ul Haq said, "Throughout the 80s, we had this very utilitarian relationship with Zia where we basically let him do whatever he wanted to do internally to buttress his power, provided that we had his cooperation in Afghanistan." She did not add that Pakistan was allowed to develop its nuclear weapons program too, which with black market proliferation is now a cause for major US concern. Taking the cue, even Pakistani political commentator Hussain Haqqani, opposed to army rule, said that the military's political role continues because the military rule in Pakistan has never been particularly heavy-handed. "Pakistan has always had a relatively benign military rule. It's what I would call selective military rule," he said. "And the trick is simple: they don't do acts that are very repulsive in public view. People are allowed to speak a little bit so that there is an air of freedom, without freedom actually being there."

Gen Zia was a deeply devout Muslim, who put Pakistan on the path to Islamization and with support from Saudi Arabia, USA and others in the struggle against the Soviet threat in Afghanistan, sowed the seeds for today's radical Islamist terrorist movements. Agile and alert , Commando Musharraf is urbane, equally comfortable in a business suit and draws support from liberal, secular society. Haqqani continued that "In the final analysis, the only political force within Pakistan that is consistent in its support of the military is the religious political parties. They may not like Musharraf, but they like the army as a whole. They have consistently supported military rule, going back to the days of General Yahya Khan in the late 1960s and early 1970s."

To remain in power, Pakistan’s rulers must nurture two constituencies, its armed forces and the USA. Two of the three Generals, who stood with Gen Musharraf during his stand off with Sharif and were also close to Jihadi outfits, were retired in 2001.The last one, Gen Mohammad Aziz Khan, Joint Chief of Staff retired recently. Most of the key positions are now held by Lt Generals appointed by Gen Musharraf. He has kept USA happy with his cleverly calibrated crackdowns on Al Qaeda members and Islamic militants. So, Washington also mutes official criticism of his military rule. USA, proclaims itself a promoter of democracy, but in practice always supports military rule whenever it suits it.

Musharraf, Turkey and Pakistan

When Gen Musharraf spotted some journalists from Turkey at his very first press conference in 1999, speaking fluent Turkish, he told them that he was a great admirer of Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic and its first president. "As a model, Kemal Ataturk did a great deal for Turkey. I have his biography. We will see what I can do for Pakistan." This is because Musharraf spent his most impressionable school years in the early 1950s in Ankara, where his father was posted as a junior diplomat at the Pakistan Embassy. Ataturk's legend of forging a new, vibrant, modern and secular Turkey out of the ashes of the decaying deadwood of the Ottoman Empire left an indelible mark on young Pervez.

 

Even Benazir Bhutto praised Musharraf’s Turkish as the latter used to interpret when ever Turkish delegations called on her when she was Prime Minister .No wonder he said recently that he was impressed with the Urdu spoken by the Indian Foreign Minister, because after Ankara, studying in English medium schools, Musharraf joined the Military Academy .The writer, who spent in all 10 years in Turkey, and has listened to most of Gen Musharrafs’ TV interviews finds that his Urdu has improved and he has become very media savvy since taking over .He amply proved it when he had India’s leading journalists for breakfast at Agra in 2001.

 

Turkish political model 

 

Gen Musharraf also admires Turkey's generals and the country's political model .The attraction of the Pakistani military for the Turkish military's institutionalized role in politics through a body such as the National Security Council is old and abiding. It stems from the days of general Zia ul-Haq in the late 1970s, if not earlier, because of close interaction between their military brass as Cold War allies of the US. Many senior Pakistani generals have been posted as ambassadors to Ankara. Gen Zia wanted to create an NSC and in 1985 Zia did introduce a proposal, but the parliament was strong enough to Reject it. President Farooq Leghari, under military prodding, issued a decree in January 1997 creating an NSC on the Turkish pattern, but Sharif, on being elected in 1997, allowed it to lapse. It re-emerged on November 6, 1999 by the National Security Council Ordinance 2001 issued by Gen Musharraf.  

Following the Turkish coup in 1960, the 1961 constitution transformed the earlier innocuous National Defense High Council into the National Security Council. The president of the republic, instead of the prime minister, was made its chairperson, and the "representatives" of the army, navy, air force and the gendarmerie became its members, apart from the prime minister and four other ministers. The council became a constitutional body and offered "information" to the Council of Ministers (cabinet) concerning the internal and the external security of the country. After the constitutional amendments following the 1971-73 military intervention, it submitted its "recommendations" to the Council of Ministers.

The 1982 constitution, a less liberal product and the result of the 1980-1983 military intervention, further strengthened the NSC's role by obliging the Council of Ministers to give priority to its recommendations. Threats from the military members of the NSC had made premier Demirel resign in 1971, and the first-ever Islamist premier, Necmettin Erbakan, was forced to leave in 1997, thus avoiding direct military takeovers.

The Turkish armed forces enjoy total autonomy in their affairs. The Chief of General Staff (CGS) ranks third after the president and the prime minister, and the three form the troika that rules the country. Since the 1960 coup, Turkish politicians have slowly worked out a modus vivendi with military leaders, with incremental assertion of civilian supremacy. Since 1923, except for President Celal Bayar (ousted in the 1960 coup), all Turkish presidents were retired military chiefs. But first Turgut Ozal (1989-1993) and then Demirel (1993-2000) strengthened civilian ascendancy by getting themselves elected as president. The current President, Necdet Sezer, is a former chairman of the Supreme Court.

In Pakistan, the position of the army's CGS, originally based on the British colonial pattern but modified after 57 years of experience since independence in 1947, during which the military has directly governed for more than half the period, is even more decisive and certainly more arbitrary than the Turkish equivalent. After the 1971 Turkish coup, with the top military command channeled into the NSC, putsches by colonels, tried a few times in the 1960s, disappeared in Turkey. The 1971 intervention was a result of pressure from middle level officers. Like Turkish politicians, Pakistanis will have to slowly work out a modus vivendi with military leaders for an incremental assertion of civilian supremacy.

But there is a major difference, the Turkish armed forces intervene reluctantly and after cleaning up the mess return to the barracks, while as a wag put it, when a young Pakistani enters the portal of the military academy, he aspires to end up in the President’s Palace. The Turkish military considers itself the guardians of the secular republic and custodians of the legacy of Ataturk. It annually expels officers suspected of any Islamic proclivities, where as Pakistan's armed forces and the ISI have become "Islamized" at the lower and middle levels, and even higher. For Musharraf, who survived two serious assassination attempts last year, the toss up would always be Takhat or Takhta.

Musharraf and Gen Evren

In the short term, Gen Musharraf has followed General Evren's "Qaeda" (primer).  So soon after becoming the Chief Executive he created the NSC, heavily weighted in favor of the military, and formed a cabinet of technocrats. Before the 1980 Turkish coup, political leaders such as premier Prime Minister Suleiman Demirel and the leader of the opposition, Bulent Ecevit, and others, had totally abdicated their political responsibilities.  They went though over a hundred round of voting without electing a new president. Nearly a thousand Turks were killed in six months in left against right violence prior to the coup.  So General Evren barred Demirel, Ecevit and others from politics, and closed their parties. 

 

When Gen Musharraf went to Ankara in 1999, Suleiman Demirel was the President and Bulent Ecevit was the Prime Minister, They were most embarrassed when Gen Misharraf expressed desire to fly to Antalya to meet Gen Evren, who had jailed them.

Similarly, Musharraf has kept Benazir Bhutto out of politics on corruption charges, and in a deal exiled Sharif to Saudi Arabia in 2000.  To turn around the decrepit economy, Gen Evren had appointed Turgut Ozal, an engineer –economist, who had worked with the World Bank, as Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the economy, which he did, more so after his party won the 1983 elections and he became the Prime minister. Gen Musharraf  appo Inted Shaukat Aziz, a former Citibank executive as the Finance Minister in 1999. He led the turnaround of Pakistan’s economy from the verge of bankruptcy over the past five years, and was made the Prime Minister in August.

Turkish politicians roll back the role of armed forces

Ironically in Ankara, taking advantage of Turkey's desire to join the Europe Union (EU), Turkey's parliament passed a "harmonization package" last year to bring the country closer to EU norms for joining the EU. It rolled back the hitherto decisive political role of the Turkish armed forces, almost to the level of the 1950s. The NSC is now an advisory body only, with no executive powers. The number of times that the council meets is also limited, and a civilian now heads its secretariat, unlike a General. Further, greater parliamentary scrutiny of military expenses was introduced. 

While the armed forces could not oppose openly, the move left them very agitated. The diminution of military’s role carries the seeds of political turmoil later. Ironically, and perhaps dangerously, these drastic changes in the Turkish political system have been introduced by the Justice and Development party (AKP), a  party whose leadership has emerged from Turkey's openly Islamist parties, which were banned in the past. For the first time in the secular republic of Turkey, the AKP won a massive two-thirds majority in November 2002  elections, receiving 34 percent of the votes cast. It was perhaps because of this roll back that during his visit to Turkey in January, Gen Musharraf replied when asked if Pakistan perceived Turkey as a model country: "No, Turkey is a brother country to us, but not a model country.  Political facts of the two countries are very different.  Turkey's model doesn't work in Pakistan. We may take some lessons from Turkey but we adopt these lessons to our own conditions. "

Conclusion

 

As for Ataturk as a role model for Gen Musharraf, at best, he has instead  succeeded in emulating his publicly undeclared model Gen Evren and that too not that well. Ataturk ruthlessly crushed religious revolts led by feudal Kurdish tribal chiefs and others. He then eschewed foreign adventures and boldly and ruthlessly carried out westernising and modernizing reforms against religious obscurantism and dogma to build up a secular republic. But Gen Musharraf, who mid-wifed Jihadi organisations, uses them against India to maintain his credibility with the armed forces, Jihadis and people of Pakistan, and to keep himself in power. He keeps USA happy by calibrated suppression of the terrorist groups. He has done quite well. Gen Musharraf has succeeded in sidelining many unreliable generals. Now, most of the Lt Generals in key posts are his appointees. September 11 and December 13 had provided him with a golden opportunity to go the whole hog in the fight against the virus of fundamentalism and usher a new era in Pakistan on the lines of Ataturk’s reforms.  He would have got unstinted support from US led West, India and others. Musharraf's childhood Ataturk-inspired dream is unlikely to come true. Perhaps he is not ruthless enough, determined and single minded like Ataturk, or maybe there are just too many complex problems to handle. 

 

It is common in USA to suggest glibly that democracy be ushered in the Middle East and other Muslim countries, it is now described as the Greater Middle East Initiative. "The war in Iraq is the most important liberal, revolutionary US democracy-building project since the Marshall Plan [for rebuilding Europe after Word War II]. It is one of the noblest things this country has ever attempted abroad," wrote Thomas Freidman  in the New York Times. How much more cynical can one get! Turkey's zig-zag on the path of democracy and Pakistan's regression shows how difficult it is to establish democracy in Muslim nations.

 

(K Gajendra Singh, served as Indian Ambassador to Turkey and Azerbaijan in 1992-96. Prior to that, he served as ambassador to Jordan (during the 1990-91 Gulf war), Romania and Senegal.  He is currently chairman of the Foundation for Indo-Turkic Studies.  The views expressed here are his own.- Email-Gajendrak@hotmail.com)

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