peghamThe constitution of Pakistan is not just a ‘piece of paper’, it is a document and a guide to rule the country in accordance with democratic values. Whether our rulers followed it accordingly or not is a different debate. Military dictators treated it as a ‘piece of paper’ and tore it apart whenever it became a hurdle in their ‘misrule’.

The 1973 Constitution has been torn into pieces more than once despite specific provisions for those who abrogate it. First, on July 5th, 1977, and then again on October 12th, 1999, and thus committing ‘high treason’ under Article VI of the Constitution, but they knew that the civilians would never be powerful enough to enforce it.

There are lessons to be learnt for both the civilian and military leadership, but are we ready to learn?

Military doctrine for democracy has improved and civilians have also learnt few lessons, due to which we have witnessed two uninterrupted elections and are getting ready for the third, if all goes well, in 2018.

October in Pakistan has its own significance. On Oct 8th, 1958, the first martial law was imposed, and on October 12th, 1999, another military rule had been enforced. In between, we saw General Yahya Khan’s brief military rule and one civilian ruler followed by another long martial law, and then four unstable civilian governments.

It is October again and there is also a political crisis creeping up with Imran Khan’s threat to siege Islamabad from October 30. There are some speculative stories in circulation regarding discomfort between civilian and military leaders, but no signal of extraordinary developments yet.

Some 17 years ago, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and then-Army Chief General Pervez Musharraf were not even on talking terms. In October 2016, the Prime Minster Nawaz Sharif and Army Chief General Raheel Sharif – despite difference of opinion on certain matters which have nothing to do with chief’s retirement or extension – have a cordial relationship.

General Raheel Sharif has already created history by announcing his retirement nine months ago and will go into history as one of the most popular army chief.

The situation today is much better and so are civil-military relations as compared to 1999. One man is common in both the crises i.e. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Therefore, it is also a test for Sharif’s political sagacity, as sources say “the army has decided to remain neutral” and keep itself away from political developments.

Imran Khan, who is currently challenging Sharif’s rule, was a junior political leader in 1999 and supported Musharraf on the pretext that he would make both Sharif and Benazir accountable. In 2016, his main opponent is Sharif again and so is PPP, but today he has much more public support as compared to 17 years ago.

The question is as how history would remember General Musharraf and his nine years in power. He has certainly usurped power and thus would be called a military dictator and usurper.

When Musharraf staged a coup, he knew he had no legal and constitutional authority to rule. Thus, no national anthem was played before his first speech as it was purely an address as army chief and not as Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA). His team of generals had grabbed power from an elected prime minister on ‘gun-point’.

So, on the night of Oct 12, veteran lawyer Sharifuddin Pirzada, the man who had completed a PhD in turning illegal or unconstitutional actions into legal measures, was approached by Musharraf who sought his advice. Mr Pirzada was quoted as saying, “I did not know the man when I first got his call. He said I am General Pervez Musharraf calling. Can we meet tomorrow?”

He went on to say, “my first advice to him was not to impose martial law as the world would not accept it. I also told him that he cannot become the president at the moment and asked him to use the title of Chief Executive.”

General Musharraf’s personality and rule was well defined once to me by his old friend and neighbor in Karachi, Lt. General retired Moinuddin Haider. “I had a long association with him. When he took over power he used to listen to his close friends’ advice, both civilian and military, and used to take decisions accordingly. Then he started taking decisions on his own, but still used to listen to us. In his last few years, he had even stopped taking advice and went on his own,” he said.

Had he listened to some of these advices, he would have saved himself from the lawyers’ movement, the Lal Masjid incident, the November 3 emergency, and dealing with Benazir Bhutto. Had he listened to them, he would have stepped down and honoured his commitment with the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal in 2004.

Had he listened to his friends, he would not have gone for referendum in 2001, and instead, after holding general elections, retired as army chief.

Had he considered the public appeal of ten of his closest friends which included Mr Javed Jabbar, Lt. General Tanvir Naqvi, and Lt. General Moinuddin Haider, he would have been remembered in a different way. The appeal was made through a letter published in all the leading newspapers.

Musharraf opted for the way of a military dictator but with two major reforms due to his urban background – one in local bodies and second in police through the Police Order 2002. He also opened up the corporate media culture in the country after learning experience of media war India fought during Kargil. However, in the 2007 emergency he banned all news channels—GEO was the worst affected as its other channels, particularly GEO Sports, were also banned.

Like any other ambitious leader, General Musharraf in a bid to prolong his rule, attacked the judiciary and political parties. He kept both Benazir and Sharif out of the electoral process.

He created a split in the PPP and PML-N, struck a deal with the MQM, and promoted Imran Khan, who initially thought he would accept his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) as a third alternate. But, Musharraf wanted to weaken Sharif and Benazir, so he created PML-Q, led by Ch. Shujaat Hussain, and PPP-Patriots after late Makhdoom Amin Fahim refused to become the prime minister.

From a hero of ‘jihadis’ till Kargil, he become their ‘villain’ after September 2001, when he joined hands with the US-led international coalition in the war against terrorism and banned all sectarian and jihadi outfits.

He tried to win over the Pakistani liberal and secular, but no liberal or secular party supported him. On the contrary, religious parties’ alliance Muttahida Majlish-e-Amal contributed in his prolonged rule.

He suppressed the judiciary and before bringing the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO), used all kinds of power tactics against the judges who refused to take oath under PCO. Once he did not even allow a sitting chief justice of Pakistan to come out from his house.

Politicians learnt their lesson when both Benazir and Sharif signed the historic Charter of Democracy in 2006. But, when both tried to deviate from their own commitments made in the COD, they paid the price.

Her assassination also saw the departure of General Musharraf and his controversial era of nine years when he was replaced as army chief by General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. While Musharraf quit as army chief, he wanted to continue as president but was surprised when Kayani refused to involve the army into politics and announced that it would remain neutral during the elections.

This led to Musharraf’s fall as president too. He was replaced by Benazir Bhutto’s spouse Asif Ali Zardari as president, who kept the commitment of giving Musharraf a safe exit and not to make him accountable for his nine years or even be tried in Benazir’s murder case.

In return, the PPP created history by becoming the first party to complete its full-term, although constitutionally, even the party’s first government of late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto also got a full-term as he himself held early elections a year earlier in 1977.

When Nawaz Sharif become prime minister for a record third time after PML-N won elections in 2013, and this country witnessed a smooth transfer of power from one civilian government to another, his government took the risk of putting Musharraf on trial for high treason under Article VI.

But his arrest and trial became the center point of confrontation in the civil-military relationship. Musharraf himself put his own institution, the Army, in a difficult position when against the military’s advice, he returned in 2013 to take part in elections.

Ultimately, Sharif’s government scrummed to the pressure, removed Musharraf’s name from Exit Control List (ECL), and paved the way for his second safe exit in seven years. Thus, neither Zardari nor Sharif became even powerful enough to put an ex-chief on trial.

How can one remember October 12, 1999? Was it martial law, a coup, or an emergency bid like 2007? No matter how you see it, it would be remembered as the era of a dictator who treated the constitution like a piece of paper.

It is now the responsibility of the politicians to protect and save the Parliament and its supremacy, and it is a prime responsibility of the elected government led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to respect the Parliament and get himself and his family cleared from charges of corruption.

No one would support any extraconstitutional action, but at the same time the government also needs to ‘clean’ itself, this time from the Panama papers allegations. If one opposes military dictators treating the Constitution as a piece of paper, we also want the elected prime minister not to take shelter behind this very Constitution and the Parliament.