Beware of mangoes!

Tasneem Noorani
Three of our four dictators in our 61-year history stayed almost a decade each. The second one could not match the others, because despite the strategy and tactics taught to him in the academy and being the best of the best, having made it to the top, he lost half of his command and surrendered 91,000 of his troops to the enemy. If the law of probabilities is anything to go by, the next dictator would also be around for a decade.
Our first dictator did a good job in infrastructure building and industrialisation but he showed the path to future dictators. The second did not get enough time to leave a mark on the country internally but had the singular distinction of losing half of it. The third sowed the seeds of Islamic extremism by patronising the clergy, a concept unknown in Islam, and patronising superficial Islamic education. The fourth completed the task by provoking the Islamists by parroting his enlightened moderation philosophy and following a foreign policy with the singular objective to secure his own position.

If we compare ourselves with 1958, when the country was rescued from the bungling and corrupt patrician by a dictator, are we any better? Are our inter-provincial relations any better? Is our society any more peaceful? Have we solved the mother of all problems, the Kashmir issue? Are our people more confident as a nation? Sadly, the answers to most of these will be ‘no’.

Let us see how we have done since October 1999, when a slimmer Gen. Musharaf told us on TV, the result of the brainstorming he had with his colleagues, that he had come up with seven areas of trouble which he resolve to set right. He promised to end inter-provincial tensions. At the end of his nine years Balochistan, is sitting on a keg of explosives. The NWFP is not in anyone’s control. The National Finance Commission continues to run on interim and ad-hoc decisions and water distribution issue stays unresolved.

He promised to empower the grassroots, He did so by creating one hundred-plus dictators, the nazims, at the grassroots level, for his political empowerment, and in the process destroyed a perfectly good delivery system; the result, all provinces are unanimously asking for a complete reversal of the system.

He promised economic strengthening. He achieved some success in enriching the upper class, but people are still waiting for the trickledown effect. Economic progress during dictatorial regimes flows from the perception of certainty for the investor, and has nothing to do with inherent strengthening of the system, as evident from the washing away of all achievements, within four months. He promised eradication of corruption and ended up condoning and endorsing it through a law, in order to prolong his stay. He promised supremacy of law, but spent most of his nine years trying to subjugate, dismiss and arrest the custodians of law: i.e., the judges.

He promised the strengthening of institutions, and look what he did to the bureaucracy through his devolution plan. At the grassroots, no one knows how to get anything implemented, because it takes too long to figure out who would do it. The public is confused and the bureaucracy is in disarray. The judiciary is destabilised and confused and the judges do not know, who is coming and who is going

But despite this record, Gen. Musharaf in his swan song, insisted on only talking of his achievements. It has taken him a long time to realize that he had overstayed his welcome. His timing of his throwing in the towel indicated that he left it till the very last, hoping that something would rescue him.

All civilized societies want a change of government to be peaceful and their presidents shown respect. That is why it was great to see the president being given a farewell honour parade. There is obvious assurance of a safe exit, as envoys of the British and the Saudi governments — both in the capital days before the resignation — negotiated safe exit for him.

Talk of his trial and retribution is not going anywhere, especially because he is from the army. While they did not support him in his bid to stay in power, they would not allow anyone to disgrace their former chief. This is all fine and understandable. No one wants unpleasantness. But how do you curb such adventuers in the future, unless there is some retribution, some price to pay. All dictators in Pakistan can look forward to a peaceful retirement, as long as you keep away from exploding mango crates.

Within the army, officers are shorn of their rank, put in the quarter-guard, even executed if they infringe army rules. But when the army sends their man to head the government he is allowed to flout all civilian rulers, even if it be the constitution of the country. We are in trouble as a nation, unless we find a solution to this.

The writer is a former federal secretary. Email:

Source: The News, 23/8/2008

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