What next? —Najmuddin A Shaikh

The last straw, or more accurately the catalyst, for the anti-Musharraf movement was the issue of the chief justice but there is no doubt that the lawyers’ campaign and the support it garnered from civil society reflected much deeper discontent

Today as we look at the cheering crowds on the streets hailing Musharraf’s resignation and departure from the political scene, we need also to recall what happened when he took power in October 1999. Musharraf’s induced coup was hailed with the same distribution of sweetmeats in the streets by jubilant crowds.

If the crowds were now indicating that they were fed up with Musharraf’s rule and his political manipulations so too had they signalled in 1999 that they were tired of the “massive mandate” prime minister of the day.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would have liked his tenure to be remembered as the era of a prime minister who had resisted American pressure and carried out nuclear tests in response to the Indian tests; as the prime minister who had forced a chief of army staff to resign and sought thus to create the illusion of civilian control of the armed forces and the security apparatus of the state; as the Fateh Kabul who had presided over the Taliban advances in Afghanistan and granted recognition to that regime, earning Pakistan the dubious distinction of being its only diplomatic supporter; as the architect of Indo-Pak reconciliation, who, resisting pressure from the religious parties and the army, made possible Vajpayee’s journey to Lahore and the Lahore Declaration, thus lowering by many degrees the tension in Indo-Pak relations.

In public memory however what stood out was that:

* This was the prime minister whose supporters in full public view had sacked the Supreme Court building and thrown out the chief justice of the day, setting the precedent for March 9, 2007.

* This was the prime minister whose massive mandate came when between the closing of the polls and the declaration of results, voter turnout climbed by 15 percent amid charges of massive ballot box stuffing.

* This was the man who was going to become the “Amir-ul Momineen” once Senate elections had been held in March 2000 and requisite majority obtained in both houses to make the required changes in the constitution. The powers he would then have enjoyed would have dwarfed even the powers Musharraf enjoyed during his one-man rule.

* This was the prime minister who had frozen foreign exchange accounts causing business confidence to crumble and occasioning a flight of capital.

* This was the prime minister who perforce, as some accounts suggest, or because he was suffering from delusions of grandeur allowed the Kargil Operation to commence or to be continued by the selfsame General Musharraf.

* This was the prime minister who, after the Kargil fiasco and after the humiliating visit to the US, sought, without adequate preparation, to assert control over the armed forces in what was a legally dubious and pragmatically unsound manner.

* This was the prime minister who imprisoned dissenting journalists and who brooked no opposition to his despotic rule.

Which of these many factors made the then prime minister anathema to the Pakistani intelligentsia and masses? The first and the last may appear to be the catalysts but these were the last straws that built on the simmering discontent and frustration occasioned by the accumulation of all factors.

President Musharraf too has a wish-list of things he would like to be remembered for. A booming economy and an unprecedented improvement in the infrastructure of cities like Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and Rawalpindi, all attributable to sound economic management by his handpicked team of economic experts; the constant reiteration of the theme that the dangers Pakistan faced were internal and not external; the coining of what Mohammad Hanif of A Case of Exploding Mangoes calls an oxymoronic phrase — “Enlightened Moderation”; the freeing of the airwaves and the permitting of unprecedented press freedom; the heroic effort to protect Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan; the unprecedented reaching out to India for a “Kashmir Settlement” through backdoor diplomacy and acquiring the status of America’s ‘indispensable ally’ in the global war on terror; becoming the non-NATO ally which means, in addition to being able to buy F-16s, also getting surplus armed force equipment to keep the armed forces reasonable modern and so on.

What he will be remembered and reviled for, however, is:

* The “selective accountability” process and the consequent unsavoury political alliances.

* The “hunting with the hounds and running with the hare” on the Taliban Al Qaeda question.

* The apparent kowtowing to the US even while being accused by the Americans of playing a double game.

* The concessions to India on Kashmir even while progress on issues of interest to Pakistan — even those apart from Kashmir remained in limbo.

* The dubious referendum.

* The manipulation which allowed the MMA to secure power in Balochistan and NWFP in 2002 and of course provided the votes needed for his election as president.

* The sacking of the chief justice.

* The gross mismanagement of the Lal Masjid situation and the deliberate ignoring of other madrassas which should have been placed under siege during the crisis.

* The carnage of May 12 and the terming of this catastrophe as a show of “political power” on par with the assemblage of paid participants in the PMLQ’s show of strength in Islamabad that fateful evening. (For me, it was the breaking point. Setting alight the powder keg that is Karachi jeopardised Pakistan’s lifeline and was far worse in historical terms than Nero fiddling while Rome burnt.)

* The admittedly unconstitutional actions of November 3.

* The washing away of all evidence at Liaquat Bagh after the tragic assassination of Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto.

* The recent revelation of his phone conversation with Bhutto in which he told her that the level of security she would get in Pakistan would depend on the level of cooperation she extended to him.

* The sky-rocketing cost of living and the revelation that Pakistan’s budget deficit and current account deficit had touched unprecedented levels as the rich got richer and the poor got poorer.

* The perception that the role of foreign aid in the economic development was not sufficiently acknowledged and that cronies if not the principal players drew huge benefits from the development process at the cost of the common man.

Which of these many actions or omissions made the president anathema to the Pakistani masses and intelligentsia? The last straw, or more accurately the catalyst, for the anti-Musharraf movement was the issue of the chief justice but there is no doubt that the lawyers’ campaign and the support it garnered from civil society reflected much deeper discontent and frustration with all that had been done in the last eight years.

What does this recounting of the factors contributing to the welcome accorded to the downfall of the last democratically elected government and of the last military dictatorship have to do with plotting a course for the future? The oft repeated cliché applies: “Those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”

In the next article, I will try and outline what these lessons should be and what course our leaders should chart as they try together to cope with the formidable challenges.

The writer is a former foreign secretary


Source: Daily Times, 22/8/2008

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