By Kunwar Idris
IS Pervez Musharraf entering politics — or should he? The first part of this question is for Musharraf himself to answer; the second is for the people and the politicians to contemplate.
Last week some newspapers quoting the former president’s unnamed callers reported that his entry in politics was a settled question. Only a formal announcement remains to be made till he shifts from the Army House to his own country home — and that would not be long.
Yet another report, more in the nature of a rumour, about Musharraf going abroad to relax or to lecture was dismissed by the Sindh home minister who said he wouldn’t be allowed to leave the country — as if it lay in the minister’s power. He has either spoken out of turn or was asked to voice the thinking of the party caucus.
Maj Gen Rashid Qureshi, who was Musharraf’s spokesman when he was at the peak of his power and again when he was down in the dumps, came out of his own retirement to speak for him when no politician did — not even any of his three prime ministers on whom no one but Musharraf could have bestowed that high office. There is no question of engaging in active politics, Qureshi said about his former master. To the contrary he is distancing himself even from the politicians he knew. Seemingly, it is the politicians who are keeping their distance from him.
Mr Musharraf himself has yet to confirm or deny the reports. But the hunch of most people is that he will join politics one day for, by temperament, he is as much a politician now as he was once a soldier. The surviving commando instinct in him is likely to mark his return to politics in the same way as it did when he captured power in 1999. He took everybody by surprise then and will so again.
In his current loneliness, a thought haunting Musharraf must be what went so wrong that he had to quit the presidential office when he was all set to enjoy it for another five years with less hassle and more golf and bridge. He too, like everyone else, might be blaming the mishandling of the chief justice affair. That indeed he bungled in a display of hubris. Surely, the two Pirzadas — Sharifuddin and Hafeez — could have counselled him to follow a more subtle course like the state counsels asking for the exclusion of the chief justice from every bench that was to hear, say, the petitions concerning ‘mysterious disappearances’.
The police jostling the country’s chief justice in full public view aroused widespread sympathy for him and anger against Musharraf but the cause of his downfall was the tinder he had been gathering from the very first day of his advent to power. It was waiting to be ignited. A humiliated chief justice showed it the flame. He became a hero though he was among the 13 judges who had validated Musharraf’s coup. By the same token Musharraf became a villain. Even the general elections held 11 months later which in common reckoning were free and fair could not rid him of that image.
Sooner or later time ran out on all of Pakistan’s rulers for none of them was able to fulfil the expectations of the teeming millions — more than half the population — who live in urban slums or dusty villages and have no job nor a piece of arable land to subsist on. It ran out faster on Musharraf for life became ever so insecure in his time and he didn’t even have a scapegoat. Men like Zafarullah Jamali and Chaudhry Shujaat couldn’t be one.
The coup-makers before Musharraf did not align themselves with politicians, not to begin with at least. Musharraf threw away that advantage by choosing some from among the malcontents of the government he had dismissed as his partners because he was wary of imposing martial law and designating himself as CMLA, though he acted in much the same way. That gambit was not worth the loss of his impartial image.
Musharraf then went on to compound his problems in more than one way. He demolished the country’s long-established, though not perfect, law and order system. The local elected officials replaced the career civil servants and the police was placed under the direct control of the ministers. The nazims on whom he relied to provide him a countrywide constituency remained loyal to their respective parties. The whole administration was thus swamped by politics. The nazims were not content to manage just civic affairs. They worked to promote the image and interests of the parties to which they belonged.
Meanwhile, Musharraf’s ‘enlightened moderation’ gave in to extremism when his regime was threatened by moderate or secular forces. The Lal Masjid-Hafsa citadel of militancy couldn’t have come up in the heart of the capital without the encouragement its clerics received from the regime’s ministers and spooks.
Looking back it can be safely surmised that if Musharraf had not demolished the administrative and judicial structures nor succumbed to religious radicalism, foreign militants wouldn’t have been able to make our tribal areas their base of operations nor would have their bombers been attacking our garrisons deep inside the country.
When all has been said it remains to be acknowledged that while Musharraf was as much into extravagance and cronyism as any other head of government, his interference in the working of the government was much less. He might have put his power to some personal gain but did not plunder. No one talks of his accounts and villas abroad. His brother and son never appeared on the scene, much less cut deals. Mrs Musharraf remained a simple housewife like any other wary of an uppity husband.
He is much criticised for his policies relating to the economy and terrorism but his successors have not reversed but only strengthened them. Their attempts to rehabilitate the administrative and judicial institutions also look desultory and sometimes mere eyewash. It is too early for the people to miss Musharraf but that may not be too far away either. How far depends on how the politicians conduct themselves.
Every powerful ruler when forced out of office by noisy demonstrators or by scheming politicians or by the angry generals feels that the silent masses were still with him. Such was the feeling of Ayub Khan as of Z.A. Bhutto. Ayub became too sick to return to put his feeling to popular test. Bhutto had to be put to death for he surely would have. If Musharraf is spared their misfortune surely he will put his feeling to test one day.
Source: Daily Dawn, 26/10/2008