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Dictator turns democrat: Musharraf’s return

March 26, 2013

GEN Musharraf may be trying to take a different route into power politics this time around. But it isn’t easy to forget the way he entered it in the first place. His remarks to the media before he returned to Pakistan were revealing; the former dictator implied he thinks the military should have a formal role in governance. It wasn’t clear exactly what he meant or whether he would limit that role to security matters, but his promise in 1999 to save the country from what he called “sham democracy”, and his decidedly undemocratic actions that followed, means that this comment cannot be easily dismissed. As he campaigns for the polls Gen Musharraf needs to clarify to the public his views on the military’s role in the kind of democracy, as flawed as it may be, that Pakistan is now trying to build. Promises of better governance are all well and good, but in order to be taken seriously as a politician he will have to prove that his views on civil-military relations have changed.

There is also the matter of the court cases pending against him, concerning as they do serious allegations including involvement in the murders of Benazir Bhutto and Akbar Bugti. The judiciary will have to strike a tricky balance here: now that he’s back in the country there is no reason Gen Musharraf should be let off the hook and not have to submit to regular judicial process, but going after him with unnecessary vengeance will only expose the judiciary to suspicions of trying to thwart his election campaign. Military dictators more often than not consider themselves to be more popular than they are, so he is probably in for a bit of a reality check; the relatively low turnout at Karachi’s airport provided some indication of the struggle that lies ahead for the All Pakistan Muslim League. But Gen Musharraf has decided to enter electoral politics, and the court of the people can decide whether or not he is worthy of their vote even as the law takes its normal course.