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A Nation Defiled

Why General Musharraf Must Go

by ROEDAD KHAN

When I watched General Musharraf a few days ago on TV, he looked like the captain of a sinking ship, the wind of defeat in his hair.

Those who hold power and shape the destiny of others should never be judged when they are dead and gone. If seen as a corpse hung by the feet, even Mussolini could arouse some pity. They must be judged when they are alive and in power. General Musharraf has been in power for nine long years and must be held to account now.

All rulers are opposed, of course, and many are disliked, but few suffer widespread attacks on their veracity, their credibility and integrity. General Musharraf is one of those few. His rule is a nightmare and a stain on our collective conscience. An epic blunderer, surrounded by sycophants and opportunists, he is full of himself and is far too blinded by self-righteousness to even fleetingly recognize the havoc he has inflicted on this country. Today he inspires contempt and dismay more than anything else. People just can’t wait for him to leave so that their elected representatives can turn the page and rectify the damage he has done and clear the mess he will leave behind.

Sometimes, once in a long while, you get a chance to serve your country. Few people had been offered the opportunity that lay open to General Musharraf. He blew it. Talking about despotic rulers, like himself, Mussolini said just before he faced the firing squad: “Have you ever seen a prudent, calculating dictator, they all become mad, they lose their equilibrium in the clouds, quivering ambitions and obsessions – and it is actually that mad passion which brought them to where they are”. Absolute power, unrestrained by law, must make people mad. How else can we explain Musharraf’s imposition of martial law for the second time and the disastrous action he took against Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Choudhary and other Judges of the Supreme Court?

Nine years ago, General Musharraf was heralded by some as the “messiah”. Today he risks being dismissed as the latest in a long line of easily forgotten rulers. He is so swathed in his inner circle that he has completely lost touch with reality and wanders around among small knots of persons who agree with him. His blunders are too obvious, his behavior is too erratic, his vision too blurred. He has painted himself into a corner.

Where do we stand today? Pakistan, a broken landscape of sagging institutions, is at war with itself. Thanks to nine years of General Musharraf’s illegitimate misrule, Pakistan is a ghost of its former self. Today say: “Pakistan” and what comes to mind: sham democracy, fraudulent referendum, a prostrate judiciary, and a general masquerading as the president of this sad country.
The Pakistan Mr. Jinnah founded is gone. It disappeared the day power–hungry Generals used the army as an instrument for grabbing political power and hijacked Pakistan. On that day, the lights went out. Pakistan slid into darkness.

How will history remember General Musharraf? Its verdict will be that that he subordinated national interests to his political ambitions; that he inducted the army into the politics of Pakistan; that he used it as an instrument for capturing and retaining political power; that in the process he did incalculable harm to the army and to the country; that he capitulated under American pressure and compromised national sovereignty; that Pakistan lost its independence and virtually became an American colony during his presidency; that he was no crusader; no tribune of the people; that he was no enemy of those who looted and plundered the country; that he joined hands with corrupt and discredited politicians to acquire political support; that he held a dubious referendum so that he could rule anther five years; that he allowed blatant, flagrant use of the administration and official machinery in support of the King’s party; that he turned the parliament, the embodiment of the will of the people, into a rubber stamp; that he broke faith with his people; that he denied them their constitutional right to elect their president; that he defaced, disfigured and mutilated the constitution in order to perpetuate his rule; that he failed to honor his public commitment to give up his post as Chief of Army Staff and doff his uniform; that he promised a great deal and delivered very little. The years General Musharraf remained in power will go down in history as “the nightmare years”. The nightmare is not over yet.

History will doubtless charge General Musharraf with a number of sins of omission and commission and its judgment will be harsh. On the central accusation – that he toppled an elected government, arrested the Prime Minister, suspended the constitution, assaulted the Supreme Court and detained the judges – all grave offenses punishable with death – he will be held guilty. Removing an elected prime minister from office is a decision that belongs to the people of Pakistan, not an ambitious army general.

Today Pakistan looks like a bad parody of the miracle we witnesse on August 14, 1947. The nation defied, the constitution torn to pieces, all our fundamental rights and liberties trampled upon, our international prestige debased. And by whom? Alas! Alas! Alas! By a man whose duty, honor and raison d’etre it was to obey the law, serve the state and protect the Constitution.

The “commando President’s” aura has crumbled. His star is already burning out, but he will stop it nothing to keep his lock on power. It seems that in the death throes of his regime, General Musharraf will take Pakistan with him.

One thing is clear. People have crossed the psychological barrier and overcome fear. They will resist if General Musharraf tries to subvert the will of the people and perpetuate his rule. Members of the Bar, civil society and political activists will take to the streets again in defense of our core institutions, things will change. The status quo will shift, dictatorship will crumble, and people will once again believe in the power of the powerless. The long nightmare will soon be over.

As Musharraf’s fortunes wane, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s star glows brighter and brighter. He has a rendezvous with destiny to carry the revolution triggered by Chief Justice Iftikhar Choudhary to its logical conclusion. Nawaz Sharif knows he is on a winning streak, but he also knows that there are major battles to be fought and won. The need for continued show of popular backing is, therefore, as urgent as before. The only way to ensure victory is to wield the weapon which has brought the anti-Musharraf movement thus far: massive demonstrations, rallies and marches.

It is time for you to go, General Musharraf. Your nation doesn’t want you anymore. Your interest and the interest of Pakistan do not coincide. The people of Pakistan do not trust you any longer and do not want to follow your lead. None of your signature policies have much resonance with our people today.

The sooner General Musharraf realizes this, the less costly his departure will be for him and his people.

ROEDAD KHAN was born in  1923 into a Yusufzai Pakhtun family in the North West Frontier Province. In the decades after Wold War Two he rose to the pinnacle of Pakistan’s civil service. He has been a convener of the influential informal forum, The Friday Club. As a lifelong environmentalist, he has led the Margalla Hills Society in the creation and protection of this forested national park. He led the successful effort to evict the ISI from the headquarters it had established in a valley in the park. As he says, “Every now and then, I put pen to paper and unburden myself of the things that weigh upon my spirit: The sense of being in a blind alley, the perception of our collective guilt, the knowledge of all that has been irrevocably lost.”  He can be reached at rkhan@isb.compol.com