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Save us from our ‘saviours’


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“THE state is being run to the ground at the moment, and people are again running to the military to save the country. Should we save the country and do something unconstitutional, or uphold the constitution of the country and let the state go down?”

It is perhaps fortuitous that these deathless words were uttered last Saturday not by an incumbent general but by Pakistan’s most recent coup-maker. It would have been more satisfying to say ‘last’ instead of ‘most recent’, but who can be entirely confident on that score?

Pervez Musharraf was speaking at the Aspen Ideas Festival, where he also reiterated for the umpteenth time his resolve to return to the country whose fortunes he presided over for nearly a decade without a credible mandate.

His evident advocacy of a military takeover can hardly be expected to enhance his stature as a potential political player in a country that has declared him a proclaimed offender and asked Interpol to take him into custody.

That, too, is a political manoeuvre, and there’s no evidence Interpol has taken it seriously. (It’s perfectly possible the Swiss authorities would be equally dismissive of a missive from any given Pakistani prime minister.)

In Musharraf’s quest for political intercession, his main problem is not the potential charges against him but the fact that the All-Pakistan Muslim League he founded a couple of years ago boasts little more than a disembodied head.

Musharraf’s primary constituency — certainly the only one that really mattered — during his years in power was the army. The breakaway faction of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q) that he nurtured disowned him long ago and now shares power (or at least office) with the PPP.

The retired general may not realise it, but his sporadic threats to return to Pakistan echo those of Benazir Bhutto — who divided her time between London and Dubai, much as Musharraf does, and finally returned home only after he facilitated it under western pressure. With tragic consequences. And now there’s a warrant out for him in connection with her assassination.

Musharraf’s chances of a political resurrection have anyhow been minimal, but his apparent support for a military should, in the public eye, completely disqualify him as a contender.

It may be entirely coincidental that Musharraf’s wishful thinking about doing “something unconstitutional” to “save the country” came on the eve of the anniversary of Pakistan’s darkest moment in this context: it was 35 years ago tomorrow that Gen Ziaul Haq violated the constitution by seizing power from an elected government. His stated intention, too, was to ‘save the country’; he almost destroyed it instead. He certainly succeeded in ruining it for more than a generation.

The preponderance of faith-based initiatives, all too many of them wedded to violence, are but one of the Zia regime’s odious legacies. It isn’t one that Musharraf sought to reinforce, although the fact that Zia’s undistinguished son was catapulted into the post of religious affairs minister suggests he felt obliged to appease some retrograde section of his military constituency. More generally, he was in many ways a considerably less unreasonable and more polished military dictator than his crude predecessor in the post.

His enlightenment did not, however, extend far enough for him to realise that there is really no scope for khaki-clad saviours in national politics.

It is true that varying proportions of the populace, including some political parties, have invariably greeted the advent of military rule with glee. Quite a few took Ayub Khan at his word when he declared he had assumed power, forestalling the first national elections, because the politicians were making a mess of things. One of his subsequent justifications for dictatorial rule was the novel claim that Pakistan’s climate rendered it unsuitable for democracy.

Zia’s 1977 coup followed months of rioting and state-sponsored retaliatory violence. It’s pertinent to recall, though, that it came after the agitation had more or less petered out and an agreement had been reached in negotiations between Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government and the multi-party opposition. Zia initially acknowledged that the PPP would have won that year’s elections even if there had been no rigging, and promised fresh polls within 90 days.

Less than two years later, Pakistan’s first democratically elected prime minister had been consigned to his grave; the resurgence in his popularity following his overthrow had transmogrified him into a candidate for elimination.

Ironically, some of those who found cause for rejoicing in this profound travesty of justice today share common cause — and power — with those who rely on Z.A. Bhutto’s ‘martyrdom’, as well as that of his elder daughter, as a source of political legitimacy.

Meanwhile, those who periodically paid tribute to Zia — notably Mian Nawaz Sharif and his cohorts — seem to have suspended their public displays of devotion to the vilest of Pakistani tyrants.

Many of those who ought to have known better found cause for jubilation in Musharraf’s 1999 cockpit coup. There were reasons aplenty to detest Nawaz Sharif’s second government, but it ought to have been reasonably clear that the re-establishment of military rule was hardly likely to serve as a solution.

Much the same holds true today. The quality of governance is appalling, but elections are due within less than a year. It is perfectly possible that another incompetent administration will thereafter be sworn in. But what is the alternative? Pakistan’s nearly 65 years of existence have been marred by around 33 years of military rule. Had that been a viable path to progress, it would have manifested itself as such long ago.

The democratic process, whatever its shortcomings — and there are many — at least holds out the prospect of meaningful change. That may seem like an audacious claim, given a narrow spectrum that stretches from Asif Ali Zardari to Imran Khan, but there is at least the prospect of other forces arising in due course to challenge, and perhaps ultimately transform, the untenable status quo.

A sine qua non of a sustainable Pakistan is the military’s relegation to the subservient role it plays in most democracies. Musharraf’s contrary inclinations ought not to debar him from the political process; the lessons he refuses to learn may become unavoidable were he to end up with the lowest tally of votes in a proper electoral contest.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (27) Closed

Amir Saeed Jul 08, 2012 12:52pm
Well we have had enough of Nawaz-Zardari pudding. Time to try a new one.
akhtar Jul 04, 2012 01:40pm
democracy breaks the furniture ,crockery and cutlery in the drawing room but dictatorship weakens the very foundation of the house . keep generals away
Zulfiqar Haider Jul 04, 2012 05:36am
The performance of the political governments in center and provinces has been much below the expectations of the people. The political forces it appears have not been prepared to handle the difficult situations that we have got ourselves due to repeated and prolong military intervention. Still the performance of civilian governments including the current ones has done much less harm to the country than the military dictators of yesteryears. Instigation to crime is an abetment to crime. Abrogation of constitution is the biggest crime as per our constitution. Mr Mushrif has already committed the crime. Where is the suo moto for this? Why does the custodian of rule of law bring reference against this Mr Mushraf.
Umesh Bhagwat Jul 04, 2012 06:40am
There are serious challenges before the fledgling Democracy in Pakistan but I am hopeful that the people of Pakistan will rise to the occasion and prevent any military takeover!
rose Jul 04, 2012 01:46pm
@whats in the name: so it is acceptable to people like you to let Zardari, Gilani and the truckload of their friends to burn down the entire nation and so they reign happily for 5 years and probably another 5 more but its all ppl like you who are happy with.
M.Mansha Sherazi Jul 04, 2012 08:26am
I totally agree with the writer, that military coups or interventions will do no good to the nation apart from pushing it further backward. At the same time a very common questions run across my mind that what is the solution to eradicate corruption on governmental level, the lack of planning to providing basic human rights to the people of Pakistan, the entire nation has been plunged in the state of continued agony and anguish on various grounds, mainly the failure to produce sufficient electricity, or at the minimum, failure to adopting declared or scheduled sessions of load shedding. People are currently looking at better and growing Pakistan with strong economy and self dependence that can only be possible, if we get the chances to electing visionary leadership, capable of planning the future of Pakistan through industrial development. Corruption should be declared a crime as bigger as a murder with similar punishment.
nazar m chohan Jul 04, 2012 07:07am
'given a narrow spectrum that stretches from Asif Ali Zardari to Imran Khan', well said Mahir..
VINOD Jul 05, 2012 12:24am
A timely and excellent article
NASAH (USA) Jul 04, 2012 06:13pm
Amir Saeed -- Mahir Ali as a responsible journalist has to see the proof of the Imran Khan's pudding in eating -- instead of banging the pot -- something that this "savior" has been doing aplenty -- while cleanly avoiding even bye-elections. At least Zardari whatever his failings is not afraid to fight elections.
JAY KOMERATH Jul 04, 2012 09:09pm
Hello dawn, Forget the general,forget politics,forget Bhutto.Educate the people of pakistan,Get of the Religion,and treat all people with equal rights.and pay special attention to woman,Then you will move in the modern world LIKE INDIA
Cyrus Howell Jul 04, 2012 05:52am
"The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule it." -- H.L. Mencken
Mustafa Razavi Jul 04, 2012 07:19pm
Home grown democracies like Egypt and Turkey are indeed very good, but democracy for subservient nations is the most insidious manifestation of their subservience. It not an accident that all the money looted by our "democrats" is stashed away in those country that sold us that "democracy". Democracy is a system for republics, Pakistan is only half a republic. The colonial powers still control the other half as exemplified by the recent decision to open NATO supplies.
whats in the name Jul 04, 2012 04:49am
With all due respect to the general dictator, please do not allow the dictator to enter the country. He has already wrecked havoc in the name of national security and this time he would go to any lenghts to legitamize his rule if allowed. Its another thing that he would not dare to come back... but in case he chooses to...
Mustafa Razavi Jul 04, 2012 07:22pm
Right, I still remember the havoc of paying Rs.15 for a kilo of atta and having the electricity running through my home all night.
NASAH (USA) Jul 04, 2012 01:28pm
It is difficult to forgive Musharraf for forcing an elected prime minister Nawaz Sharif so brazenly and usurp the post for himself -- even though Nawaz Sharif forgot the lessons of his own ouster -- in his own maneuvering to force out yet another elected prime minister though undemocratic means.
Mustafa Razavi Jul 04, 2012 07:25pm
'given a narrow spectrum that stretches from Asif Ali Zardari to Imran Khan'. The status quo deep state is trying to malign Imran Khan by associating him with themselves. To these people the stretch between honesty and dishonesty is a narrow one.
Tariq Jul 04, 2012 02:48pm
In spite of loathing/detesting the present civilian set up it's by far better than any khaki uniform set up. The public should persevere civilian rule a few times over for a brighter, prosperous future. And hopefully in the process the public will learn who's the master and who's the servant!
Farhan Jul 04, 2012 11:06am
Will you guys stop beating a dead horse and focus on the current state of affairs? Please point out one single original thought is this 'opinion' piece or one thing that is not recycled column filler.
Amir Saeed Jul 04, 2012 11:50am
Mr. Mahir Ali, I have long read and admired your articles. But, your remark that a narrow spectrum divides Zardari and Imran Khan leads me to think that complete objectivity is beyond the reach of even a mind such as yours.
Amir Saeed Jul 11, 2012 10:36am
I know this will not get anywhere. But since you insist....Well, a great deal of bloodshed of Pakistanis and Muslims happened in 1971 in East Pakistan, one of the darkest chapters in our history, and need I remind you that back then it was an Army General in charge of Pakistan....and I will not say anything about the brave Pakistani army because then I would be accused of being a foreign agent.
Saleem Jul 04, 2012 02:45pm
Explains the actions of USA and NATO in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria...
Mustafa Jul 05, 2012 01:59am
Thought provoking article by Mahir Ali. My two bits. Civilian government has failed to deal with militants and terrorists because they need votes of militants, terrorists and their supporters and sympathizers to keep them in office. Bloodshed of innocents will continue. Only an un-elected military general will not look for votes. He will wipe out all militants and terrorists from every corner of Pakistan with the help of dedicated brave Pakistani Army and save bloodshed in Pakistan which is No.1 problem at this time, not lack of electricity and poverty.
Ken Jul 05, 2012 02:41am
With due respect for all ,
Arif Jul 05, 2012 03:46am
Right, is that God almighty cam on earth to elect this govt, it was only elected by us. Govt. only reflects society. Yesterday some burnt one person alive on the name of blasphemy, this is our society. What else can you expect you from this society.
Amir Saeed Jul 08, 2012 12:51pm
Your two bits does not have a bit of sense. Since when terrorists and militants started voting? Your unelected general was there at the helm for almost a decade and by the time he was done, the problem was worse. In fact, it was under his watch that obscurantist religious parties won seats.
Mustafa Jul 09, 2012 09:26pm
Mr. Amir Saeed, for your information just read the news today 9.: "Earlier on Monday, gunmen killed six soldiers and a police officer at a camp close to Islamabad hours after the march had passed through the area" Protest marches and killings are rampant in Pakistan. Civilian government is unable to stop it. If an Army General was incharge of Pakistan, there would be no bloodshed of innocents and damage to property. .
Ken Jul 10, 2012 01:12am
where is my comment .ken