End of the line? By I.A. Rehman

FEW should have been surprised by Gen Musharraf’s resignation last Monday. The writing on the wall had become clear many days earlier.

The significance of the coalition government’s coup de grâce is quite evident but time alone will tell whether this marks only the end of a single career or whether it can be taken as the end of the line for extra-constitutional regimes.

The wave of exultation that swept the country following Gen Pervez Musharraf’s resignation can easily be appreciated. For the first time in the country’s history a usurper of state power had been obliged to quit through a constitutional process, an indirect expression of the people’s will.

Previously public pressure in the streets had forced the all powerful Field Marshal Ayub Khan to withdraw from the presidential contest and to demolish the system he had flaunted in the face of unarmed democrats. But the people were cheated out of their final victory by his confidant of long years — Gen Yayha Khan. The latter was in turn toppled by his comrades-in-arms after a political and military debacle for which all of them were collectively responsible. Gen Zia defied public indictment till the heavens issued summons he could not evade. What happened on Monday was unprecedented.

Mr Pervez Musharraf’s exit has given the people the feeling that it was they who decided the matter in the polling booths on Feb 18, numerous complaints of unfair means to thwart their will notwithstanding. They wished the change in the presidency to have occurred soon after the new government was installed. However, it is no use blaming the coalition leaders for delaying the proceedings against Mr Musharraf by four months. One may give them the benefit of the doubt — that perhaps what became possible in the middle of Aug 2008 could not have been accomplished earlier. If wearing down the powerful Musharraf lobby was their strategy, it clicked and they are entitled to claim credit for that.

There is no need to rebut Mr Pervez Musharraf’s long apologia but it may be necessary to save the gullible from being misled by the train of his arguments. The address was like an accused’s statement in his own defence. He did not say a word about the 1999 takeover, the sack of the judiciary, the missing persons, the so-called emergency, or the manipulation to secure his own re-election. By building his defence wholly on claims of economic development he betrayed his inability to comprehend the dynamics of democracy.

England owed Churchill far more than Musharraf could ever claim to have done for Pakistan but the people declined to allow him another term in power soon after the war had been won. Mrs Indira Gandhi’s ‘feats’, such as the conquest of East Bengal and the Pokhran nuclear test could not save her from a humiliating defeat at the polls.

Even if Mr Musharraf’s claims of development can be entertained, for the sake of argument alone, no trade-off between development and self-government is permissible in any civilised code. To argue to the contrary is to put a cross on humankind’s struggles against colonialism. The colonial power built more roads and educational institutions than all the self-appointed rulers of Pakistan put together. Does that mean we were wrong in asking for independence? The harm done to the people’s minds and souls by dictatorial regimes is comparable to colonial depredation. Both cause infinitely greater havoc than the good claimed by their advocates. Authoritarianism is singularly virtueless.

The problem with Mr Musharraf was his failure to see why his continuance in office could not be countenanced. The simple fact is he had become a symbol of the people’s bondage in their own land. He himself wrote the script of his downfall with the misadventures of March 9 and Nov 3 last year. No ruler can afford to ignore the limits of arrogance.

It is quite obvious that Mr Musharraf’s devoted friends at home and abroad, excluding the hatchet men reared by him and the so-called constitutional experts who were out to prove they were not worth their salt, stood by him and saved him from a worse denouement. Who did what over the last few weeks is now a part of history. The country needs a complete break from the past. All eyes must now be on future.

The ruling coalition partners cannot afford to lose any time on barren name-calling or futile posturing. No scapegoat is there now on whom they can fasten their sins of commission and omission. The exit of a common adversary should not make the coalition partners neglectful of the need to strengthen their mutual understanding. Nobody should have any illusions that the crises Pakistan faces today are beyond the capacity of any single party or any narrow-based alliance to solve.

They will not be overcome until all political groups pool their wisdom and resources and launch a concerted and coordinated campaign to salvage the state. From now on the ruling parties will be subjected to stricter tests not only by the standards of efficiency but also with regard to the norms of integrity, austerity and concern for the have-nots.

The immediate challenges before the coalition government, even while it sorts out the most urgent issue of the judges’ restoration, are mostly related to the people’s basic interests. The militants who are abusing the religious sentiments of certain groups for their political ends pose a threat to the people’s fundamental rights and no effort must be spared to beat off this threat.

The state must guarantee all its citizens and other persons present in the country security of life, liberty, privacy and basic freedoms. The entire population is clamouring for relief from poverty and the rising cost of living and merely telling them the causes of their misery is like rubbing salt into their sores. They must be offered relief beyond populist gestures that are fast losing effect.

Above all, a continuous, frank and purposeful dialogue with the citizens must be maintained at all possible levels because, if nothing else, the government won’t survive without the people’s active support, nor will it be able to ensure that it has seen off the last of the praetorian adventurers.

Courtesy: Daily Dawn, 21/8/2008

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