All countries have armies, but here army has a country, even under a civilian rule.'
This old joke in Pakistan seems particularly apt at a time when the country's national assembly is about to pass a Bill asking President Pervez Musharraf not to shed his uniform in the 'national interest.'
Two provincial assemblies, Punjab and Sindh, have already passed bill. This is called 'democracy in uniform.'
But the government in North West Frontier Province, bordering Afghanistan, opposed the bill, while it was withdrawn from the Baluchistan assembly, after the ruling PML-religious party combine ruling these two provinces failed to reach a consensus.
The constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973, had fixed a five year tenure for an elected government. In practice, it has been always less than three years except in case of late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (1972 to 1977).
Military dictators fixed their own tenures. Field Marshal Ayub Khan ruled for a decade, General Zia-ul Haq ruled for 11 years, while Musharraf completed five years on October 12, and remains 'unbeaten.'
Since assuming office, Musharraf has strengthened his grip on power through one amendment after another. He is a President of Pakistan, head of the National Security Council, Chief of the Army Staff, Commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
He has also regained the power to dismiss parliament or sack the government, which was abolished by the government of then premier Nawaz Sharif.
He recently promoted two three-star generals into four-star, including the vice-chief of army, a post only created when the army chief also decides to hold the government office.
Defence analysts believe that the appointment of General Mohammad Yusuf as vice chief for three years is an indication that Musharraf has no intention to quit Pakistan's most powerful post.
But if at the last minute he does decide to quit, the vice-chief will take over and the post will be abolished.
Until October 2001, Musharraf used to attend functions, went to restaurants and even paan shops with his friends.
He still wants to live a normal life, but the mujahideen of yesterday and the terrorists of today won't let him.
The 'Hero of Kargil' for thousands of mujahideen in 1999 before the fall of Nawaz Sharif, is now their number one enemy, and their 'prime target.'
They hate him, describing him friends of infidels, an American puppet. He blocked the jihad in Kashmir, is shaking hands with India, is responsible for the overthrow of Taliban regime and killed hundreds of Islamic extremists, they say.
Musharraf survived two deadly attacks on his life in December last year near the well guarded army headquarters in Rawalpindi.
Musharraf's new Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, also considered an American agent by the extremists, survived a suicide attacked on his life earlier this year, when a man blew himself up near his car as he left his election rally in Attock near Punjab.
'Let us see who will go first, me or him (Musharraf),' said Omar Ahmed Sheikh, who was released from Indian jail after the hijack drama in Kandahar and now faces the death penalty for the kidnapping and slaying of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl.
The security expenses of the president and prime minister are estimated at around Rs 2 billion annually, and involve hundreds of policemen, paramilitary and army men.
Musharraf has partially succeeded in the reversal of General Zia-ul Haq's legacy within the army of producing pro-Taliban or Islamic militants.
But Zia's son Ejaz ul Haq is not only federal minister of religious affairs, he endorses his father's policies, some of which directly affect women's rights.
The main jihadi parties hope to bring in a new army chief by creating major disturbances in the country after the holy month of Ramzan.
The sectarian outfits have already created a wave of terror through suicide bomb blasts and other acts of terrorism in which over 200 people have been killed so far this year.
Musharraf portrayed himself as a modern and liberal person from the very first day in office. When his first photograph was published he had two puppies in his hand, and he described Turkey's Kemal Attaturk as his ideal.
But he ultimately failed to satisfy the liberals and secular class as well, though he promised 'enlightened moderation' and pursued his peace efforts with India, softened his stance on Kashmir, and cracked down on Islamic extremists.
He tried to rally civil society behind him through his promises to amend the Hudood ordinance and blasphemy and other anti-women laws, but retreated to avoid further confrontation with the Islamists.
Zia's son Ejazul Haq announced the other day that these laws would not change.
Musharraf did increase seats for women in the national and provincial assemblies, resulting in a large number of women legislators. But given his five years in office, that is not enough.
After assuming power, the general has opened too many fronts, but failed to convincingly close a single one.
His hard line against Nawaz Sharif is quite understandable as the latter humiliated him by sacking him before he himself was sacked on the night of October 12, 1999.
But his continued confrontation with former premier Benazir Bhutto forced the two most popular leaders to come close to each other. As Musharraf celebrates his fifth year in power, the two former rivals have also forged ties with the religious parties alliance, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal.
Musharraf may have put the brakes on exporting militancy to the Afghanistan and Kashmir fronts.
But every year, some 20,000 students, including women graduate from the 10,000 madrassas after completing their 12 year course, completely brainwashed and prepared for 'jihad.'
These madrassas, whose annual budget runs into billions, provide meal, clothes and even accommodation for students. Most students belong to the lower income class, who feel that theses schools ease their burden.
The majority of these madrassas were not involved in jihad until the US paid for and led the 'jihad' against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
The Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan and US withdrew itself from the jihad, but left behind hundreds and thousands of trained mujahideen.
Whether you call it jihad or terrorism, the fact remains that it has now become a growing culture.
Musharraf knows the power of the 'uniform' in Pakistan, and has indicated that without it he may not be able to address major issues.
These include 'peace with India,' 'the nuclear issue,' the alarming shortage of water as well as economic issues. Though he insists he has instilled financial discipline during his five years in power, his critics question these claims.
As some of them put it: "There are two Pakistans. One belongs to rich class, which has really prospered as they become more rich, but the Pakistan of the poor has not progressed. They still not getting basic rights like education, health, justice, equality."
We have a Parliament, legislatures, opposition, free press, a civilian government under a civilian prime minister. All under the sword of a powerful military ruler.
Democracy in Pakistan still dependent on the 'uniform.' Even after 57 years, the nation is still in search of a system.
Image: Uday Kuckian