Politics of delusion By Arif Nizami


Like the other military dictators who ruled before him, General (r) Pervez Musharraf is under the delusion that he was a benevolent leader who had ushered in an era of “true democracy” in Pakistan. He is soon to launch his own political party in London, to be called “All-Pakistan Muslim League.”

Every military strongman has used the name of Muslim League to launch his political career. Ayub Khan formed the Convention Muslim League, Ziaul Haq conceived a Muslim League from the womb of a party-less system first headed by his handpicked prime minister, Mohammad Khan Junejo. Later, when Zia sacked Junejo, Mian Nawaz Sharif wrested the control of the party.

Similarly, Musharraf launched the PML-Q, headed by the Chaudhrys of Gujrat and composed primarily of turncoats picked from the persecuted PML-N. In order to assure Musharraf of their loyalty, Chaudhry Pervez Ilahi famously boasted that his party would elect the dictator not once but ten times, only to abandon Musharraf when the chips were down.

Now things have come full circle, with Musharraf launching his very own Muslim League. In his own words, he wants to introduce a new political culture in Pakistan, “a culture which can take Pakistan forward on a correct democratic path, not an artificial, make-believe democratic path.”

Coming from a person who, with sheer brute force, kept his opponents in permanent exile and used every trick in the book to establish his own political base, this is pure chicanery. Those who are ostensibly flirting with Musharraf to join the new political party hardly represent a new political culture. Most of them are those who served the dictator during the nine years of his rule and in the process enjoyed the perks and privileges of power.

They include, according to one of his close aides: Hamid Nasir Chattha, Nisar Mohammad Khan, Maqbool Sheikh and Amir Muquam. Mian Kuhrsheed Mehmood Kasuri is a regular visitor to London and Dubai to meet Musharraf. He also contributed Rs5 million for the telethon Musharraf held for flood victims. Despite his denials he is tipped to join Musharraf.

Mr Kasuri’s dilemma, however, is that he is the moving spirit behind the so- called Grand Alliance. Composed mainly of the Likeminded, a breakaway group from the PML-Q, the majority of its members, including Hamayun Akthar Khan, and Ijazul Haq, are opposed to having any truck with Musharraf or his party. There is also a pervasive feeling amongst the members of the nascent alliance that neither Mr Kasuri nor Mr Chattha has the right to negotiate their inclusion in Musharraf’s proposed party.

Suffering from the messiah syndrome afflicting most military strongmen, Musharraf actually believes that he did wonders for the people of Pakistan. In an interview with Reuters news agency he said, “I did very well for Pakistan, I know that. We did wonders for them (the people of Pakistan) in those seven years, which should be compared with the fifty years of the past.”

The former military dictator does not feel any compunction that he ousted a constitutional government through a coup d’etat and later on imposed emergency rule. As such he can be tried under Article 6 of the Constitution for treason. He feels that, legally he is “absolutely on a safe wicket.” Perhaps he believes that the army would never allow his trial to take place. Prime Minister Gilani has hinted that the Supreme Court will try Musharraf if he returns. Whether the government or the courts can walk the talk is another matter.

As he shuttles between his Dubai mansion and his London flat, with a coterie of friends and hangers-on surrounding him, a reality check has eluded Musharraf even during his time in exile. Perhaps he is not fully aware that despite enormous problems (some of them his legacy) Pakistan, unlike his “true democracy,” is now a functioning constitutional democracy. There are many who are disillusioned. But, apart from a minuscule minority, no one wants him back.

The litmus test of Musharraf’s popularity is that when Ms Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif were in forced exile their followers would travel all the way to Jeddah or London to meet them on their own expense. Musharraf’s minions, on the other hand, offer free return tickets and free stays for persons to meet him. Despite this, there are few takers.

Another question being frequently asked is: who is financing the general and his political machine? We hear a lot about politicians enriching themselves, but little about generals who, without any legitimate business, amass fortunes and expensive properties here and abroad. Surely, merely speaking engagements are not financing Musharraf’s globetrotting lifestyle.

The general should be commended for contributing Rs10 million for flood relief and holding a telethon on a Pakistani news channel that reportedly raised Rs250 million. Mian Amir Mehmood, the former mayor of Lahore, owns the channel.

The former strongman should thank his stars that his erstwhile friend was able to hold a three-hour telethon featuring him without any restrictions. When he was in power, despite his hollow claims of being a true democrat, Musharraf never afforded this kind of luxury to his opponents. When Nawaz Sharif, his brother Shahbaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari made attempts to return to the country, not only were they humiliatingly thrown out or arrested by the state machinery, sections of the media which attempted to advertise their return were heavily penalised.

It is still etched in public memory how Musharraf banned Geo television and imposed emergency rule in the wake of the lawyers’ and civil society movement for the restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. Apart from the sacking of the chief justice, the cold-blooded murder of Akbar Bugti, the massacre in Karachi on May 12, 2007, and the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, he has a lot to answer for. He should be grateful that there is democracy in Pakistan (not his version of true democracy) and he can expect to get a fair trial if ever he returns to the country.

With the imminent launching of the All-Pakistan Muslim League from London, there will be at least six factions of the party with the same name in the political arena. Most of the persons Musharraf is going to attract to his new political setup belong to the PML-Q or the Likeminded. The PML (Functional) headed by the Pir Pagaro has already said no to him, and none from the PML-N is likely to join the ranks of his followers.

Musharraf’s proposed setup is no threat to the PPP. Even if the All-Pakistan Muslim League is able to field candidates in the next general elections it will eat into the Muslim League vote bank. Hence, the Muslim League’s N and Q groups could possibly have cause for concern.

Reportedly, the former strongman, in a somewhat quixotic manner, is hoping for at least a crowd of 100,000 to welcome him on his return. Notwithstanding his delusional sense of grandeur, this would remain a forlorn hope. Musharraf has boasted that he has 295,000 followers on his Facebook page aged between 18 and 34. He thinks that the youth are yearning for his return.

The bottom line is that neither the military nor civilians, or for that matter the people of Pakistan, want him back. The country could do without another saviour. However, if he is keen to return and face the music, he should be allowed to do so. He will soon realise that doing politics without the uniform and without the heavy security of the presidential palace is an entirely different ball game.

The writer is a former newspaper editor. Email: arifn51@hotmail.com

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