Exit Musharraf

Exit Musharraf

Weekly Bang-e-Sahar August 23—August 29,2008

IT came at 2.02pm. Three quarters of an hour into a speech that kept the nation on tenterhooks President Musharraf bowed to the inevitable and announced his resignation. Here at last was the moment the overwhelming majority of the country’s politicians had been hoping for. Most will wonder why it took the president so long; some will rue the lost opportunity to impeach him. What is incontestable is that the country must move on from this crisis quickly. The four-party coalition at the centre told the country in no uncertain terms that governance would be impossible in the shadow of President Musharraf. Now that that hurdle has removed itself, the field is open for the politicians to address the most pressing problems facing the nation.
Determining what the priorities ought to be is not difficult: militancy, the economy and relations with India and Afghanistan need to be addressed urgently. Solutions, however, may prove more elusive. Indeed the nature of the problems is such that they may get worse before they get better. But at the very least the politicians must show the same purpose and focus in dealing with these problems that they have demonstrated in taking on the president.
Immediately, however, two issues will need to be addressed. First is the restoration of the non-functional judges of the superior courts. The judicial crisis, which was the catalyst of the president’s downfall, needs to be resolved clearly, unambiguously and quickly. Second is the election of a new president.
According to the constitution the president has enormous powers that reach deep within the institutions of the state which makes it a highly coveted post. The coalition must quickly nominate and elect a joint-candidate as president and avoid lengthy political bargaining.
At this point it is inevitable that attention will also turn to a preliminary assessment of President Musharraf’s legacy. Indeed the ex-president spent a significant portion of his farewell speech recounting his economic, social and political record. The economy was a central plank of the Musharraf era and the president emphasised the strong macroeconomic figures that existed as recently as last December. Undeniably the country’s economic indicators improved dramatically on Mr Musharraf’s watch over the anaemic, dangerously low levels of the 1990s. It is also true that the downturn over the last year has an international element which has buffeted the economies of other developing, non-oil-producing countries. However, economists point out that the economic model adopted by Mr Musharraf’s handpicked technocrats was a consumption boom that relied on easy credit fuelled by the inflow of dollars and global liquidity. When the spigot was shut off, Pakistan found itself much more economically vulnerable than it would have been if headline growth had not been the focus of economic policy. There is also the question of the stagnation of the rural economy, which supports over 40 per cent of the labour force, on the president’s watch.
The spectacular increase in taxation revenue (from Rs350bn in 1999 to Rs1 trillion last year) is another achievement of the Musharraf era. However, it has been achieved by indirect taxes, which disproportionately affect the poor, and meaningful tax reform has remained elusive. Pakistan’s tax-to-GDP ratio of 10 per cent is still one of the lowest in the region and the tax base is abysmally small.
On the development side, the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) registered a manifold increase but the capacity to utilise the funds remains poor.
The space for women and minorities to participate in the political process has been enhanced over the last eight years, but no meaningful legal reform to improve their plight took place. The Women’s Protection Act was a watered-down version of its original draft; however, it did have the salutary effect of initiating a national debate on the right to amend the Islamic laws on the books, which were strictly off-limits before. The media has broken new ground in the Musharraf-era, unwittingly demonstrating this by its vociferous criticism of the president’s attempts to muzzle it late into his rule. On all these counts President Musharraf’s record has been mixed.
However, Mr Musharraf was an unqualified failure when it came to developing the non-economic institutions of the state. Few could argue that on the general’s watch parliament, the judiciary, the bureaucracy or the police improved. In the end it is perhaps this failure more than anything else that led to his downfall.—Dawn


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