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Musharraf must face an open trial

August 19, 2008

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THE nation is heaving a sigh of relief as one of the most painful phases in Pakistan's history has ended with Musharraf's resignation. Should the matter end here? Gen Musharraf dismissed judges and violated the constitution but all dictators are guilty of that.

His greatest crime was that he compromised Pakistan's national interests to consolidate his power when he was an international pariah and brought Pakistan to the brink of Balkanisation by his dual track policy of covertly supporting the Afghan Taliban while allowing the Americans to conduct air strikes on Pakistan.

But it is impossible to forgive him for insulting the people of Pakistan by telling them in the full glare of TV cameras that they should eat chicken if pulses are expensive ('daal mahngi hey to murgi khain'). Marie Antoinette of France said, “Let them eat cake” when confronted by the poverty of the people and shortage of bread. She was executed by guillotine at the height of the French Revolution in 1793 for the crime of treason.

A section of our English-speaking elite believe Musharraf was trying to save them from the Taliban. This makes you wonder how ignorant one can be. He secured the evacuation of more than 3,000 Taliban and militants between Nov 15 and 23, 2001 from Kunduz in Afghanistan, where they had been trapped, to Pakistan's tribal areas from where they were to later organise and conduct terrorist attacks.

Musharraf used the intelligence agencies to rig the 2002 elections to enable the supporters of religious militants and Lal Masjid extremists, such as Chaudhry Shujaat and Ijazul Haq, to gain power in the centre and the religious elements to gain ground in the NWFP and Balochistan. The politics of fear and blackmail was practised, fully exploiting the apprehensions of Pakistanis and the West of religious extremists.

This double game was played to a degree where it forced a former general and corps commander Faiz Ali Chisti to make a shocking statement to an international news agency on Jan 27, 2008. Chishti said he would “not be surprised” if Musharraf had engineered terror attacks to manipulate his image in the West. “Musharraf is an intellectually dishonest person. He is a clever ruler, who makes the US and the West believe that they can only effectively deal with Al Qaeda as long as he is in power,” Chishti said.

Some so-called pragmatists advocate a cautious approach to Musharraf's accountability lest the khakis get upset. But Pakistan's history tells us that letting dictators go unpunished for their crimes against the state and the people has not deterred the Bonapartists and adventurers from striking again in the darkness. Bhutto did not try the generals as was recommended by the Hamoodur Rahman Commission.

Bhutto was to later regret his policy of appeasing the army. He wrote these prophetic words from his death cell in his book If I am Assassinated “If a coup d'etat becomes a permanent part of the political infrastructure, it means the falling of the last petal of the last withered rose. It means the end.” He added, “If India had suffered from martial laws and military dictatorships on the pattern of Pakistan, India would have been in three or four separate pieces by this day. India is more heterogeneous than Pakistan but India has been kept in one piece by the noise and chaos of its democracy.”

Bhutto faced two coup attempts within the first couple of years of his five-and-half-year rule and then the third fatal one on July 5, 1977. Why? The Bonapartist generals were sure nobody could touch them. Democracy and democratic institutions cannot exist and grow without accountability. It cannot be built on the basis of reconciliation with those who have showed a callous and contemptuous disregard for the people of this country.

What right does anyone have to provide safe passage to someone who committed heinous crimes against the people and handing over hundreds of Pakistanis, including a young woman Aafia Siddiqui, to the US without the due process of law; who allowed the murder of Benazir Bhutto by withdrawing security and then presided over the cover-up; to one who should be held responsible for the deaths of several hundred Pakistanis including those who died on May 12, 2007 in Karachi as he stood in Islamabad showing his fists declaring, “I will have the last punch”?

But it would be wrong to single him out for Pakistan's descent to the brink of a failed state. Musharraf represents the mindset of those arrogant and megalomaniac generals who consider themselves a special breed that is above any law and accountable to no one.

This breed was responsible for the ignominious surrender on Dec 16, 1971 and the break-up of Pakistan. Its ugliest face, Ziaul Haq, was responsible for the murder of Pakistan's first elected prime minister and turning Pakistan into a CIA base and one of the biggest hubs of narcotics and arms trafficking in the world. It was another general — Aslam Beg — who sabotaged democracy by forming and supporting the IJI and encouraging the MQM to turn Karachi and Hyderabad into war zones.

His ISI chief Hameed Gul had little idea — and still does not — that by supporting the so-called jihadis, many of whom have been tools in the hands of suicidal raw power games conducted in the name of 'national security' and 'strategic depth', he and his ilk were creating Frankensteins, who instead of undermining the neighbouring 'enemies', threatened the very future of Pakistan itself. Musharraf was part of that reckless, irresponsible and dangerous bunch.

Pakistan cannot repair these deep wounds by pretending that there is nothing wrong or that Musharraf received bad advice or made some mistakes. No individual or army can be a substitute for the collective wisdom that the politicians are forced to choose as the modus operandi because democracy, no matter how imperfect, cannot function otherwise. Collective wisdom and decision-making processes may not appear to be particularly efficient but serve as a safety value to prevent disasters like the 1971 defeat.

The malaise of military rule is cancerous and deep, and may prove fatal. It needs a surgical operation and the operation must start at the top. It must start with an open trial by a judicial commission that should consist of only non-PCO judges. It will need to be followed by a healing process but healing does not and cannot start before an operation.