No Return Ticket
By Irfan Husain
05 April, 2014
IS hubris a culpable offence? Can you be tried for stupidity? In most cases, people are punished not for the crime they have committed, but for getting caught.
During his years in power, Musharraf never tired of telling us that he was a master strategist. But just as he sent in our troops into Kargil without a plan for a safe and honourable exit, he arrived in Pakistan without a return ticket.
I am not competent to get into the constitutional rights and wrongs of the treason case that Musharraf is entangled in. However, I must record my distaste at the glee over his discomfort that is evident in most television chat shows.
The self-righteous bombast and the barely concealed joy over the former president’s humiliation makes for nauseating viewing.
We in Pakistan have made it a habit to demonise and hound past leaders, forgetting any good they did, and focusing only on their mistakes. Anybody who has read my past columns will know that I hold no brief for Musharraf, but was he really the devil incarnate he is now being painted as?
The fact is that he expanded women’s representation in our assemblies, and did away with the pernicious separate electorates for minorities imposed by Zia.
Musharraf has been excoriated for his famous U-turn on Afghanistan, and his decision to make Pakistan an ally in the American ‘war on terror’. People forget American rage as well as the global support for Washington in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. With an American fleet off our coast, I wonder what any other Pakistani leader would have decided at the time.
We also forget the state of our economy when Musharraf staged his coup in 1999: already crippled by sanctions imposed after Nawaz Sharif’s nuclear tests, the military takeover triggered a fresh round of penal actions.
So in a very real sense, 9/11 provided us with a lifeline that Musharraf grasped with both hands. True, military rule was a high price to pay for these improvements.
Of course he was a dictator, and caused immense damage to our fragile institutions. But let us not forget that many of those who are railing against him today profited by his rule.
Whether we like it or not, for nearly a decade, Musharraf was the face of Pakistan for the outside world. In the West, he came across as a no-nonsense, can-do leader who was a crucial ally in the war against Al Qaeda.
Never mind that he simultaneously played a double game, cosying up to the ‘good Taliban’, while handing over Al Qaeda operatives for incarceration at Guantanamo.
Musharraf’s trial fits in with our image of a Third World country indulging in crude vengeance. Indeed, ever since Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was toppled and vindictively hanged by Ziaul Haq and his junta, it has been one unbroken record of past leaders being persecuted by their successors.
Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif indulged in this destructive pastime through the 1990s. ‘Accountability’ was the name of the game, with one leader after the other being toppled to become the target of legal and media trials for alleged corruption.
Not that either had clean hands by any means, but these political vendettas took a huge toll on the credibility of our leaders as well as the democratic system, creating a space for the army to exploit.
The fact is that as long as our political class does not get its act together, there will be Bonapartes who will be tempted to fill the vacuum.
It is very easy to blame the military for all our ills. But for all its faults, it is an integral and essential element of the country.
True, it often seems to be a state within a state, and its relationship with the civilian government is in desperate need of an overhaul. But humiliating the institution is not the way forward.
Already, the army is chafing under the restraints imposed by Nawaz Sharif in its much-awaited battle with the jihadis who have inflicted so many casualties on our security forces. To see their former chief being prevented from being at the bedside of his ailing 95-year-old mother must rankle deeply with our officer corps as well as our Jawans.
More than these concerns, I believe the former president should be allowed to leave the country to demonstrate that just as we managed the peaceful transfer of power from one elected government to the next, we have emerged from the cycle of vendetta and political victimisation.