Monday, August 18, 2008

Musharraf 's Last Exit

The nine year rule of Pakistani President Pervez Musharaf finally came to an end today after he submitted his resignation to Parliament. This surely is an end of an era, which for many of us was our first conscious political experience. General Pervez Musharraf was one of the longest serving leaders of the country and for much of his tenure he remained a highly respected, admired and popular leader who guided Pakistan through a tumultuous period gaining a great deal of national and international respect on the way. However, things changed drastically for him some 18 months ago when he decided to sack the Chief Justice and enter into an ill planned battle with the entire judicial system. Since then it’s been one bad move after another, leaving him with no better option than a safe and honourable exit.

There can be little doubt that had the Chief Justice debacle not taken place and / or Benazir Bhutto not been assassinated, Musharraf would still very much be in power. This is not to say that he should have continued to stay in power. I think Musharraf lost his way much earlier, perhaps around the time that Chaudhry Shujat was appointed the acting Prime Minister of Pakistan, followed by Shaukat Aziz as PM. (By the way it’s telling that Shaukat Aziz took the first flight out of the country while Musharraf is fighting to remain in the country.)

It is essential to remember that when Musharraf seized power he was regarded as a saviour who had ridden Pakistan of the menace that is Nawaz Sharif. The disastrous reign of Nawaz Sharif had resulted in the public losing all confidence in the political leaders of the country and when Musharraf stepped in, as an all-powerful military dictator, he was greeted with near unanimous support; a support that stayed with him for much of his time in power. This allowed him to take some very bold steps and Musharraf will always be remembered for his role in laying the foundations of a vibrant media, not to mention his role in the development of the economy. Though, I guess his security and foreign policies will always be a point of debate. But policies weren't all that Musharraf was about. He was a leader with whom a large number of Pakistanis, especially Karachiites, shared an ideology with – before Enlightened Moderation became a catch phrase, it was a symbol that urban Pakistanis had been searching for years and readily identified with. Moreover, Pakistanis hadn’t seen a leader they could look up to in quite some time; in Musharraf they found a person they could respect and admire. But then the wheels came off and he was stuck; he was a man who lost friends and was now short on ideas.

The one thing that he was sure about was that he had to remain in power. Musharraf always held the belief that destiny drove him to power and he was the last savior of the Pakistani people so he needed a way of remaining in power. He knew he couldn’t keep hold of the military forever, thus he needed other means of remaining relevant. It would be idiotic to say that Pakistani politicians were the main force behind Musharraf’s decision to shed his uniform. Such a statement undermines the internal political pressures that he must have felt from within the army.

The armed forces of Pakistan are the last remaining [relatively] meritocratic institution in Pakistan. To be a General, you have to be a good soldier and a great commander. To be the Army Chief, you must also be supremely ambitious and have maniacal self-belief. So if you imagine yourself to have all these qualities and want to be the next Army Chief, you’re not going to be happy sitting around for years and years only to retire in the process, you’re definitely going to start knocking on the door and after seven years of knocking you may just think of breaking that door open. If Musharraf knew that he couldn’t hold on to the uniform for ever, he also knew that becoming a civilian President was perhaps his only hope.

Unfortunately for Musharraf he did not have the time to master the political game. It was just his luck (and the short sightedness of some of his policies) that his segue into a primarily civilian domain was accompanied by a resurgence of violence in Baluchistan, the emergence of the Pakistani Taliban, Benazir’s assassination, an idiotic Chief Justice, Lal Masjid and the rise of Islamist militancy and a bunch of scheming, vengeful politicians. To borrow a term from NB's mother, 'he was a lonely lion being chased out by a pack of hyenas'.

Today’s public address was Musharraf’s last hurrah. His speech was a rather balanced and conciliatory affair, which says a lot about the man (as well as the deal that he may have struck!). Musharraf’s speeches have always fascinated me. He manages to command an audience while lacking key oratorial skills such as the ability to form complete sentences. Today’s speech was no different. He was commanding and strong, never unsure of himself even as he mumbled his words or shot out a short, excited bunch of words that sounded exaclty like an order. Much of what he said was measured, and balanced but elusive. He emphaisised the economic gains that were made during his tenure and reminded the country of how well he had guided Pakistan through security issues post Kargil and post 9-11. He stated that his reasons for leaving office were not guided by a need to protect himself but by a need to protect the institution of the Presidency. He was respectful towards the government and wished them well, reminding them that they had a great responsibility to the nation. There was no mention of the judges, except a subtle parting swipe at the Chief Justice (‘a man who was willing o jeopradise the country’s economy for personal benefits’ or something like that). There was similarly no mention of Lal Masjid, the Talibans, Baluchisan or Kashmir. Most strange of all was his aviodance of the term “Enlightened Moderation,” (he chose to employ his new catch-phrase “Pakistan First” instead).

Musharraf came off as a man proud of his achievements, a patriot who was sincere with the country; this farewell speech will certainly help in remedying Musharraf’s lately tainted reputation. It is a shame though that he devoted so much of his speech to his achievements rather than his ideals. He is a man who truly cares about this country and wishes to see it prosper economically and socially. He believes in a socially progressive Pakistan and hopes for a tolerant and just society; that he failed to achieve these goals must haunt him.

Musharraf's departure has created a massive vaccuum and only time will tell us how effectively this is filled. In the mean time, we (by that I primarily mean GEO) must desist from rushing to deliver a judgment on Musharraf's rule. It's time for Musharraf reflect on his deeds and for us to reflect on his rule, then only can we do justice to what has been a long and complex time in power.

7 comments:

Ahsan said...

Yeah, I too find it fascinating that despite being a pretty ordinary orator, his speeches are always great fun.

Anonymous said...

mush was a pan chewing bhaaya a bhatta khor who single handedly destroyed the economy of our country.only mqm idiots support him becuz he made mqm what it is now.mqm mush kay tuqron par pali hai.and a word of our beloved pak army.it is not the meritocritic instituoition and it has also destroyed civilian instituitions of our country.only people who support mush and the army are either mqm dipshits or they r crazy.mush gave a very clear idea of what it would be in pakistan if mqm ever comes in power coz thats what what was happening during past 8 yrs.yes it was the mqm thugs in power/

Ahsan said...

This is going to get GOOD...

Anon 1204's mother said...

Dear all,

I am the mother of Anon 1204, the individual who left the second comment above.

I am a complete prostitute and require hourly servicing as my husband and son (you heard correctly, my son does me as well; we are enlightened liberalists) are too busy attending PPP/PML(N) rallies and engaging in long debates about how to cure the ills of the country.

AKS said...

@ anon 1204

Musharraf was anything but a 'Bhatta Khor' (bribe taker) and his economic record is better than any civilian leader that we've had.

You're just plain wrong in suggesting that he played any part in bringing MQM into power; they've controlled Karachi and parts of Hyderabad long before Mush came along. You are however, right in saying that he made them what they are now. He played a role in civilising the MQM by giving them a stake in the government thus making them responsible for the governance of Karachi.

Musharraf was much bigger than the MQM and your inability to see as much alludes to your limited understanding of Pakistan and its politics.

{CPM - copy paste material} said...

you guys are really fun to read. the problem is that when i talk/listen to people i relate to about pakistani politics, i wonder if we are missing out on the pulse of the nation.

as part of the pakistani media, it really is difficult to tell where the nation wishes to head. what is its mood?

i suspect one reason is that we have all seem to have very different, very concrete ideas of what our nation means. like anon 1024 and his mom for example.

Ahsan said...

Anon532:

Please keep it non-personal. Cursing is completely allowed on our blog, just not against fellow commenters. Please abide by our unwritten rules. Many thanks.

CPM:

I love that your ID is the acronym for India's communist party. Anyway, I think the mood is one of quiet relief or even euphoria with respect to Mush leaving, and a guarded expectation with respect to real government finally getting started after 6 months of messing around.

Also, if you want to know more about where the nation wishes to head, the most recent IRI survey is pretty comprehensive. I linked to the PDF file in a post a few weeks ago titled "Who counts as middle class in Pakistan". That survey has some pretty interesting info in it, especially if you are concerned with the pulse of the nation and the like.