By Syed Sharfuddin
IT is an old subcontinental proverb that an elephant costs no less than a 100,000 but a dead one costs even more. The same applies to President Musharraf. He is more important today than he was when he was combining all powers in one person – as president, chief of army staff, chief executive and the sole undisputed decision maker in Pakistan.
He was then so important that his enemies aimed thrice at his life but failed.
Today, when President Musharraf has given away most of his powers save the authority under Article 58-2 (b), which he says he has no intention of using, he appears to be even more important for the country – so important that Pakistan’s international development partners and strategic allies want to make sure that the elected government works in tandem with the president in order to complete the unfinished business of rooting out terrorism and eradicating poverty through sound economic policies and sustained political stability.
But the real reason why President Musharraf is important today is because he is the sun around which Pakistan’s small universe revolves. In an ironic way, he is the apple of the eye for the judiciary, political parties, civil society and even the Islamists. The moment President Musharraf decides to throw in the towel, the grand shows that are being staged in different parts of the country, the speeches, the street marches, numerous press briefings and last minute revelations on television screens will come to a halt.
The continuing excitement in Pakistan’s politics which is providing a smokescreen to hide the grim reality of world economic recession, rising commodity prices and a bleak investment outlook for the foreseeable future will disappear quickly like vine withering away in a rainless hot summer.
It is important to understand why President Musharraf is good for the country even if he is being called names and held responsible for every thing that went wrong in the last eight years. After all, in a dictatorship there is no such thing as a team. For as long as the King rules, there is no shortage of courtiers praising his every move and taking advantage of his favours. Once the King is deposed, all those courtiers, save a few foolish loyalists, jump the ship and join the side of the rising Regent. No wonder then that a number of retired generals who benefited under Musharraf with positions and extensions in their service are today eager to spill the beans in the name of a clear conscience.
There are also numerous well looked after politicians who are eager to leave the King’s party and join the rising powers in parliament. In this grand march of shifting opportunity, all prominent professions are on parade – politicians, military chiefs, former diplomats, lawyers, bankers, media and civil society leaders. This is the way of the world and President Musharraf should have known when he was in total control that this is how power falls.
A famous Urdu poet and writer, Ibn-e-Insha in his book Urdu ki Akhri Kitab (the Last Book of Urdu) narrates the story of an old man whose sons were very unruly and spent most of the time fighting over petty matters. He counselled them many times on the advantages of being a united family but they never reformed. When on his deathbed, the old man asked his sons to fulfil his last wish. They started quarrelling with each other on whether their father should be allowed to make a wish. What if he asked for something impossible!
After exhaustive discussions, they agreed. The dying father asked them to bring him some wooden sticks that he wanted tied together with a rope. This led to a near riot. Finally, the eldest son said to his siblings: our father is dying; let us do it for him one last time. At last better sense prevailed and they tied the sticks together with a rope. When the old man, who was by then too close to death, asked them to break this bundle the sons unanimously declared their father insane. There was no argument this time. They all said to their father; forget it sir; we have unanimously agreed to ignore your last wish. The old man was contented and died happily in the knowledge that he had finally succeeded in uniting his sons even if the price was his own humiliation at the consensus on his insanity.
If Ibn-i-Insha were alive today, he would agree that President Musharraf is like that old father who is on his way out, yet he is making every effort to keep all the disparate groups, political parties, civil society, media and people of various dispensation in Pakistan – whether they were his supporters or critics – united over their dislike for him. Some of them want to see him resign as president immediately.
Others are united in the belief that he must be held accountable for overthrowing a democratically elected government and undermining an important institution of state. Still some more want him to be accountable for the hard strategic decisions that were taken during the last eight plus years, costing precious lives in Kargil, Balochistan, North Waziristan and Lal Masjid operations. Whatever their gripe, they are united in their hatred for Musharraf. As long as he is in office as president, the nation stands united – even archrival political parties whose leaders suffered so much at each others’ hands have decided to ignore their half healed wounds. They have become brothers just to take on Musharraf.
This is a great achievement for a man who said in 1999 that the army intervened in the political process because the politicians did not play their cards right. Musharraf said the political institutions were underperforming, inefficient and corrupt; political parties were at each others’ throats; the opposition pleaded with the army chief in every government to overthrow a working prime minister. By keeping them united and not making any mistakes this time, Musharraf’s presence has acted as a catalyst for respect, tolerance and liberal traditions among the political parties in order to reinforce democracy and political ascendancy over the institutions of state. But will this survive his exit whenever it takes place?
The writer is a former special adviser for political affairs in the Commonwealth Secretariat, London.
Source: Daily Dawn, 14/6/2008