Army spared public cynicism

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 October, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 October, 1999, 12:00am

The pleasure and relief expressed by many Pakistanis after the army took power on Tuesday says as much about Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's popularity as it does about the struggle that democracy is enduring in this 52-year-old country, say observers.

They were quick to point out that Mr Sharif, by trying to sack General Pervez Musharraf, was responsible for the army's actions.

But they also said the Prime Minister's authoritarian actions - ousting a president, a chief justice and an army chief, cracking down on the press and weakening the opposition - reflected the shortcomings of Pakistani politics as a whole.

'Democracy is seen by far too many people as a means of acquiring power. You become prime minister and you become a monarch,' said Hussain Haqqani, spokesman for the Grand Democratic Alliance of 19 political parties, united under a one-point 'Sharif Out' agenda.

While politicians are seen as tainted, the army is seen by the Pakistani public as being somehow less corruptible.

The Government allowed the army to assist the Water and Power Development Authority to control power theft by launching a nationwide drive against rigged electricity meters, which had even involved government officials.

The army has also helped to build roads and it ran the military courts intended to combat sectarian violence in Karachi before the Supreme Court ruled them unconstitutional.

'By and large, as an institution the army is slightly more egalitarian. There are corps commanders' meetings, decisions are taken, there's a method by which things happen, even though the army is not supposed to be like civil institutions,' Mr Haqqani said.

'Unfortunately we have the reverse. We have certain civilian leaders that don't allow people to express any opinion, don't take advice, don't do anything.' Lawyer Akram Sheikh, immediate past president of the Supreme Court Bar, said Pakistan's paradox was that civilian governments acted like the military and the military acted like civilian governments.

'I've always opposed martial law,' he said, 'but I would not blame the army for over-reaction, because when you breach the law [as Sharif did] and the response is a breach of law, you can't blame them.'


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Army spared public cynicism

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