General Musharraf: A fine specimen of bravery and stupidity
Having never liked the former military dictator-cum-politician, it is not very easy to present an unbiased case for Pervez Musharraf.
Thinking back to the days when he assumed power after overthrowing Nawaz Sharif in a military coup, he had been hailed as Pakistan’s saviour for delivering it from a ‘corrupt and autocratic’ regime and from preventing Sharif from ‘declaring himself Ameerul-Momineen’.
As a young boy, my firm distrust of the military man never went away, even after witnessing grown-ups close to me staunchly standing by the mentioned narrative – and myself being too politically naïve at the time to counter it.
Generally speaking, the young generation today – 18 and above – might be demographically united in its liking for Imran Khan (as suggestive of recent polls) or on vital (but, diverse) issues like education and terrorism. However, the case of the General remains, perhaps, the most hotly debated and problematic among the youth.
His American and Saudi aid fueled economic progress and Kemalist tendencies won him support among the upper and upper-middle classes, while others were critical of his dictatorial measures, anti-democratic repression, and later the decision to join the ‘War on Terror’.
The first major debate became the Army operation against Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, after which Musharraf had triumphantly declared his success and now faces a murder charge in the Supreme Court. Much like most of the similar events that occurred under his rule, many important details about the operation were never made public and remain scanty, even today. Though, his role in the 1998 Kargil conflict, clampdown on media, and unlawful jailing of many politicians and hundreds of political workers were early instances of his high-handedness, it was Bugti’s killing that led to the polarising among the youth that we observe today.
At the same time, Pakistan was witnessing economic growth and stability (very rare in the country’s 66 year history), taxes and tariffs were low, the stock market became lucrative, and investment from all over the globe came to the country. The fact that his ‘successes’ are often measured by the value of the Pakistani rupee during his government highlights how much economic factors had swung the public’s support in his favour. Both Bugti’s killing and the end of the economic upsurge were to occur in 2006 and, so, the year became the turning point for General Sahab’s fortunes.
The Lal Masjid operation and increasing occurrences of terrorism started to slowly turn public opinion against him. The freedom he gave to the media – though, intended to gain favour for him and counter the fall in popularity – resulted in the exact opposite outcome. The media houses became a vocal critic of Musharraf and by doing so started influencing the previously constructed public-opinion.
The co-option of political parties which supported his rule that came in the shape of ‘controlled democracy’ after the 2002 general elections was never approved of by his original support base and by the time D-Day was approaching for Musharraf, at the end of 2007, in the aftermath of the judiciary movement and emergency rule, had lowered his supporters’ morale to an unsalvageable level, who to this day blame the move for all of the his failures. Of course, there is absolutely no truth to this claim; the military establishment has always remained in the front seat when it comes to policy-making in Pakistan and Musharraf had its reins all to himself.
Now, disenchanted about his political future, General Sahab faces as many charges against him in the courts as he could count.
His decision to return to Pakistan can be termed both brave and stupid, considering the long list of threats against his life and court cases resulting from his own misdeeds. There won’t be a National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) to bail him out; neither will there be any major public outcry.
The once cigar smoking, blackjack playing, devil-may-care General Sahab now lies arrested at Islamabad Police Headquarters – becoming only the second former Chief of Army Staff to meet this fate after the infamous (late) General Tikka Khan.
As much as I would hate to admit, the ‘justice’ being dealt out to the ex-Chief of Army staff today, with retrospect of justice dealt to political leaders and army generals of yesterday is discrepant to say the least.
Although, nothing can be said about the judiciary’s own resolve to go ahead against him bearing in mind its unpredictability in recent times and it’s too soon to make any predictions, but Musharraf might have finally met his match.
Meanwhile, conspiracy theorists have found themselves another venture; from terming today’s Supreme Court proceedings an attempt to divert attention away from the May 11, elections to making it a pretext for the military to intervene, all has been said and heard.
Whatever the agenda may be, justice should be carried out- but it appears that the word justice is as variable as the political framework of this country.
As the outcome unfolds and whichever side the youth is on, the genuine voice of this demographic can only be perceived through electoral participation and only by doing so realise the claims of “Saving Pakistan” made from both sides.
Follow Dawar on Twitter @dawarnauman
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.