VIEW: Why not Musharraf again? —Dr Syed Mansoor Hussain - Monday, December 06, 2010

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In spite of his slogan of ‘enlightened moderation’, Musharraf repeatedly caved in to religious extremism. The fact that he was never seen with his dogs in any picture after the first few months of his rule probably is the most telling commentary on his unwillingness to face up to the religious lobbies

Finally I can sympathise with former president and strongman of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf. Of all the indignities heaped upon him since his unceremonious ouster from the presidency of Pakistan, the ultimate has to be that India has refused him an entry visa. Being denied an Indian visa! How much worse can it get? For somebody who once strode the world stage like a giant among men feted by all world leaders and considered the face of a resurgent Pakistan, this must indeed be the ultimate insult.

How far he has come down in the scheme of things must indeed be extremely bothersome for him. Even so, I find it a little baffling that General (retd) Pervez Musharraf still believes that he is widely, if not universally, loved and respected in Pakistan. Frankly, as they say in cricket lingo, the man has had his innings. For all practical purposes he was indeed the lord and master of Pakistan for almost a decade and if he did as great a job as he is wont to believe, then he should still be welcomed by all and sundry in the country he once ruled. The fact he is not welcome back would suggest that he perhaps was a little wanting in his performance.

Moreover, the two politicians Musharraf tried his best to rid Pakistan of were both able to return with considerable public support, which suggests that Musharraf was not able to either win the hearts or the minds of his countrymen during his time at the helm of affairs. Even the Pakistan Army that he lavished much attention and largesse upon during his tenure as Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) and as president is perhaps not quite predisposed to having him back in the country.

Musharraf’s problem is something that is common to most autocrats like him. Coming to power through unconstitutional means they inevitably surround themselves with sycophants and yes-men who spend most of their time trying to convince the master that he (rarely a she) is indeed God’s gift to the country, if not all humanity. And most of these autocrats start accepting as fact the toadyish blather that they are fed every day. Musharraf was no exception.

During his presidency Musharraf started believing that he was indeed the saviour of Pakistan. To govern he depended on the army and its agencies under his command and unabashedly used politicians whose loyalty he could buy. As president he was undeniably able to create some decent economic activity but he also throttled all independent political activity. As a consequence, he eventually lost public support. Even as things were starting to slip, the coterie of sycophants and yes-men surrounding him kept telling him how great a job he was doing, how popular he still was and how well things were in the country.

Some day somebody will write an objective history of Pakistan. When that happens, the Musharraf era will stand out as a period that was indeed full of promise. Sadly, none of the promise ever bore fruit. Perhaps the most important part of his unfulfilled legacy was his inability to turn around the tide of religious fundamentalism. In spite of his slogan of ‘enlightened moderation’, Musharraf repeatedly caved in to religious extremism. The fact that he was never seen with his dogs in any picture after the first few months of his rule probably is the most telling commentary on his unwillingness to face up to the religious lobbies.

The best thing that can be said about Musharraf is when the time came he left without too much of a fuss. The most important thing though is that almost every Pakistani if asked today whether you were better off during the time Musharraf was president, the answer will most likely be ‘during Musharraf’s time’. That is what makes Musharraf believe that if he does return to Pakistan he will be welcomed by the people.

This is indeed an interesting problem. If most people were doing much better three years ago then why are they not clamouring for Musharraf to return. By almost any objective criterion, things are indeed worse today or at least no better. Inflation is biting the middle class, the poor are definitely poorer, and the power crisis seems to linger on and on. Terrorism and the deteriorating law and order situation are making life increasingly dangerous for everybody. Good governance at the federal or the provincial level continues to be an unrealised dream and corruption is still rampant. So then why are the people not willing to give up on the present democratic dispensation?

The answer to this vexing problem has to be that somehow democracy, however inefficient, is preferable for most people than being ruled by somebody they did not choose or they cannot replace. Or could it be that people eventually just get tired of whomever is running the country and want to be able to give somebody else a chance. Opponents of democratic systems suggest that ‘people’ are fickle and therefore cannot be trusted to do the right thing. But then satisfaction is not only about a full stomach. The ability to complain and criticise freely without fear of retribution and the belief that they can always throw the ‘rascals’ out is probably what makes democracy attractive to most people.

This reminds me of a joke that used to make the rounds during the times of the last ‘benevolent’ dictator of Pakistan, Field Marshal Ayub Khan. A well-fed Pakistani dog was crossing the border into India when he ran into an undernourished dog coming from India. The Pakistani dog asked the Indian dog, why are you going to Pakistan and he replied, to eat. The Indian dog then asked the Pakistani dog, why are you going to India, and he replied, to bark.

The writer has practised and taught medicine in the US. He can be reached at

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