Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Business Recorder editorial Oct 4, 2016

Musharraf’s self-serving interview Former president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf has never been known to be short of chutzpah. The fact that his exaggerated self-belief inevitably leaves him with blind spots regarding himself and his role in public affairs should surprise no one. In his latest foray into the public domain, in an interview at the Washington Ideas Forum on September 29, the former dictator unburdened himself of his unleavened and self-serving views on democracy, civilian elected governments, the army and the constitution in terms that showed the leopard had not changed its spots despite his spectacularly failed attempt to enter politics on his return from being let out to pasture abroad after leaving power. In words reminiscent of past military dictators’ argument that democracy did not suit the ‘genius’ of the people of Pakistan, Musharraf stated that democracy in the country had not been tailored in accordance with the dictates of the environment. And how does he see that ‘environment’? According to his lights, Musharraf believes the constitution does not offer any systemic checks and balances against misgovernance by elected civilian governments. That void, in Musharraf’s view, produces the phenomenon of a ‘stampede’ by opposition politicians to the Chief of Army Staff’s (COAS’s) door, beseeching him to intervene and take over. In an obvious but clumsy attempt to justify therefore the repeated military coups in Pakistan’s history (including his own in 1999), he describes the pull exerted on the military thereby to get involved in politics. While Musharraf describes the military as his ‘constituency’, this description can only embarrass the present high command, given the fact that the military’s standing suffered grievous blows during his nine year stint in power because of the association with his frailties and blunders. It has taken eight years and two succeeding COASs to overcome that taint and restore the prestige and respect of the army. To refute Musharraf’s ‘wisdom’ is not a hard task. His track record in and out of power speaks for itself. The architect of the Kargil war in 1999, which brought Pakistan and India to the brink of a nuclear conflict, and his subsequent (unsuccessful) suing for peaceful resolution of all issues with India after his seizure of power (a profound refutation of his Kargil adventure), point to the contradictions in the man’s personality. After the coup in October 1999 that overthrew Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s elected government, the Supreme Court, in the time-honoured (in Pakistan’s history at least) manner of the superior judiciary’s endorsement of military takeovers, not only gave its blessings to Musharraf’s violation of the constitution and his sworn oath to protect it, it went out of its way in ‘generously’ allowing Musharraf to amend the constitution. This one-man power conferred on him to amend the basic law of the land did not persuade the all-powerful dictator then, despite this amendment power being available for three years, to bring in the ‘systemic checks and balances’ he now bemoans the absence of. Nor does he care to explain why a COAS ‘besieged’ by calls for a takeover cannot resist such clearly motivated unconstitutional demands. Musharraf’s record in power shows his arrogant penchant for riding roughshod over opposition and fuelling unnecessary conflict (e.g. the egregious killing of Akbar Bugti). His second ‘coup’ of 2007 regarding the Chief Justice of Pakistan and later the removal and detention of dozens of judges of the superior judiciary hardly merits comment. In that same year, having realized the limitations of the King’s Party he created and bribed or coerced politicians into, Musharraf expediently and arguably illegally promulgated the infamous National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) that not only let accused politicians and others off the hook on charges of corruption, etc, but was just another vain attempt to perpetuate his hold on power. He used the MQM in Karachi as his ‘strong arm’ against all comers while allowing it a free hand in killings, kidnappings and extortion. The list of Musharraf’s sins of omission and commission is too long to adequately cover in this space. In sum, Musharraf’s arguments in favour of military coups out of ‘necessity’, critique of democracy, the constitution and elected civilian governments, whatever their shortcomings and flaws, does not stand up to scrutiny in principle or against the touchstone of his own shenanigans in office. Democracy may have its discontents, but the only cure for its failings is more democracy and the strengthening of state institutions, not looking towards self-anointed arrogant saviours such as Musharraf.

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