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Is Musharaff all that bad?

November 6, 2007

It’s being said that Pakistan is in a terrible shape, worse than it ever was. That there is anarchy and there is a threat of civil war. I have never been an ardent follower of Pakistani politics but I thought I would try to find out where exactly Pakistan was before Mush took over. Has General Pervez Musharaff really brought Pakistan to the brink?

As this bbc article says, before his overthrow in a military coup in 1999 by Musharaff, Nawaz Sharif had been accused of corruption and also of fiddling with the constitution. He had problems with the judiciary too, same as Musharraf:

He controversially reversed a constitutional amendment which took away the president’s powers to dismiss the prime minister. A power struggle with the judiciary also gripped the country after Mr. Sharif fell out with the then Chief Justice, Sajjad Ali Shah.

So I think it should have been expected that Musharaff, who has never pretended to be an elected ruler will do worse.

Benazir Bhutto, who was PM before Sharif has been accused of corruption and in fact the charges against her have been proven in Pakistani courts. Bhutto also did not live up to her election promises, amongst those the repeal of the Hudood and Zina ordinances. Well, she lost the elections to Sharif…and paid for her misdeeds to some extent.

This might seem as if I am on the side of Mushurraf and that I believe that he is neither better nor worse than Bhutto or Sharif.

Not really. Because whether Bhutto or Sharif are ideal leaders or not is quite besides the point. The point is that they were elected. Sure, they were probably all those things that they accused of…but they did get to where they were by the democratic process.

But surely this is obvious?

It is to me and probably to you too. But I remember clearly the day when Musharaff took over, way back in 1999. I remember seeing images of people celebrating on the streets of Pakistan. I thought for a while that this must be orchestrated but then Imran Khan was interviewed by an Indian TV channel and he said he was happy that Musharaff was taking over! Imran did in fact support Musharaff, although he is an ardent critic now. I could never understand this, but soon I realised that a lot of educated people were supporting Musharaff. Even though Nawaj Sharif had subverted the democratic processes, to my mind (and to the world too) martial law was worse. But not everyone in Pakistan thought so. As it says here:

For many, particularly the outsiders, a military take over would be questionable and undemocratic, but for Pakistanis who have been groaning under the hardships inflicted on them by the corrupt and mismanaged administration, it is certainly a relief.

There were other supporters of the takeover by Musharaff – a section of the media:

Pakistani papers scrutinizing General Musharraf’s address to the nation last Sunday concluded that there was “much to be welcomed” since, in the words of Karachi’s centrist News, “he touched on precisely the issues that had been agitating the people.” That said, however, the News and many others wondered whether Pakistan was in for a “prolonged period of military rule” since the general’s remarks had fallen short of spelling out a precise time frame for a return to “true democracy.”

Another excerpt:

Two monstrously humbuggish groups pontificated about the dismissal of the rampantly corrupt Sharif regime: they are the European Union and the Commonwealth. Never reluctant to take on soft targets, both demanded immediate ‘restoration’ of democracy in Pakistan. They don’t know what they are talking about, because there was no democracy…. Pakistan was not democratic; it is being placed on the course to democracy, and the critics should shut up until there is something to really criticize.

Well, now there is something to criticize. The military genie who has been released won’t get back into the bottle…

To me at least this shows how important it is to see one’s country from an outsider’s point of view. That view may be biased or wrong, but one should not dismiss the criticism summarily. The fact that a section of the media supported Mush in the belief that he would restore democracy is something I fail to understand.

Where India is concerned we have our politicians whom I never hesitate to criticize but anyday I prefer a corrupt politician or an inept one over a military dictator because I can look forward to a time when the electorate gets it right…even if it doesn’t happen in my lifetime!

(Picture from the bbc)

Related Reading: Corruption in the Pakistan Army
Attack on Geo TV officer earlier this year in Pakistan

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. November 6, 2007 3:20 pm

    I sense powerful trick played by USA here.

  2. November 6, 2007 3:40 pm

    If Benazir Bhutto wants to get out and campaign without her supporters being blown up she’ll need the streets quiet and composed… the fact her supporters have barely been inconvenienced in this crackdown leads me to believe she and Musharaff talked this over as a strategy. He said today the elections in January will go ahead and I believe him. I have no idea what happens if he loses, or what happens if there’s any doubts about the outcome, but I do believe the elections will go ahead. I’ll be interested to see what sort of international presence there is in terms of election monitoring. Musharaff, in my view, has always been the best of all kinds of bad choices in Pakistan. I don’t see him filling his pockets with cash, or living it up in Paris like Arafat and do many General Presidents around the world do… he seems to genuinely care about moving towards some form of civilian rule, it’s just trying to create a system whereby the Civilian Ruler doesn’t get shunted aside by a coup performed by radical elements. Honestly, in some ways, Pakistan reminds me of Turkey, just with nuclear weapons and a few million crazy people.

  3. November 6, 2007 4:05 pm

    Gabriel:
    The games that people play in politics! But yeah, I think all this has probably happened with the nod from Bhutto (and from the US, that condeliza rice seemed far too calm to me!) for the reason you gave. It was funny the way benazir rushed off to dubai and then came back…wierd!
    you are right, mush has done a lot for Pakistan, far more than either benazir or sharif have. but then in a way he could act on his will as he did not have the electorate to answer to. Benazir too had grand plans but when she thought she would lose her popularity she quickly changed her tactics.
    The unpredictability factor is the people. There is far too much hatred of Musharaff now and I have a feeling that he has not taken this account while declaring emergency. everything is going too far, the muzzling of the press, the judiciary…too many factors at play here. it’s a scary situation.
    btw, nice to see you here :)

    Bharat, you got it right! nothing moves in pak without the US being involved in some way!

  4. November 6, 2007 4:14 pm

    //I prefer a corrupt politician or an inept one over a military dictator//
    i totally agree.. alteast once in 5 years that corrupt politician has to answer to me

  5. November 6, 2007 5:46 pm

    I think a dictator is better…in suffering at least the country may come together in a way…in democracy there is a come back…in dictatorship there is none so if we can have a assembly come dictator rule…we can benefit….while the constitution is there it needs to be implemented properly…tell me we have booth capturers in villages…and in villages are the majority of the votes…which is better then??It is better to have a guy whos true face is seen,then someone who wears a mask…..it may seem choosing a better devil a better idea…but if a devil lands up at the top in dictatorship we can kill him/her…..

  6. xntricpundits permalink
    November 6, 2007 9:20 pm

    “All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

  7. November 6, 2007 9:49 pm

    Hey Nita
    Isn’t it funny? NATO is supporting something in Pakistan which is exactly what it is fighting to defend in neighboring Afganistan – freedom.

  8. November 6, 2007 10:39 pm

    Ankur thanks.

    Vishesh, if you had been around when Indira Gandhi declared Emergency you might not say that…

    Xntricpundit, absolutely!

    Priyank, hypocrisy is the name of the game!

  9. oemar permalink
    November 7, 2007 7:19 am

    Your post summed up most of my feeling about this situation… although I wasnt around during emergency in India, I hear and read that it was pathetic that time…. Greater power should bring greater responsibility, but in case of our leaders, it bring greaters corruption. Dictatorship for any reason is bad. I dont want someone dictating to me what to think and speak. But I do know that a large section of Pak citizens (mostly urbans) support Musharraf and his emergency too… makes me wonder if they have become used to Military govts

  10. November 7, 2007 7:34 am

    @oemar:

    I was a kid during emergency but I remember clearly the atmosphere. It was one of fear and apprehension. People disappeared from their homes and worse, we could get no news of anything because the press was muzzled. Sure, the trains ran on time, but so what! sanjay gandhi went beserk during those days. what happens during such times is that crazy people get a chance to do their thing.

  11. November 7, 2007 1:08 pm

    All the world needs is a civil war in a nuclear nation.

    Yeah, and we in India will get wiped out in the bargain! – Nita.

  12. November 8, 2007 12:00 pm

    This was a comprehensive post nevetheless. You briefed me on all the articles that i had missed out reading about the 2nd coup of the general.
    And as of my view, I think democracy is the best form of government man-kind have evolved so far. And until we find something better, we would rather stick to this one.

  13. November 16, 2007 1:52 pm

    I think world politics has become so complicated today that there is no black and white. As for musharraf’s good governance/intentions, I think that is laughable to say the least.

    He brought about Pakistan to the verge of bankrupcy and was saved only by the “war on terror”. I think he is one of the most cunning politicians to have emerged in recent times, with so many religions groups to juggle, as well as the US. I shudder to think what he could have done if he was born elsewhere, in a slightly more stable region of the world.

    As far as the debate over which form of governance is the best, I don’t think anyone can, with conviction and being honest to themselves, claim one is better than the other.

  14. November 16, 2007 2:07 pm

    Pardon my spellings!!!

  15. November 16, 2007 10:17 pm

    All the world needs is a civil war in a nuclear nation.

    Paul, I hope you were being facetious there.
    Or I don’t quite understand what you’re trying to say with that statement. :)

  16. Sahil permalink
    December 28, 2007 1:01 am

    With the onset of the tragedy that took place today (Benazir Bhutto’s assassination), I wouldn’t blame Musharraf, the terrorists or any outside forces for a change. The real culprit is the process of Islamization that took place in Pakistan from the time of Zia-ul-Haq’s Presidency. It was he who introduced radical Islamic tenets into each and every aspect of a Pakistani’s life -he wanted Pakistan to become an example for Muslim nations worldwide. The forces eventually gathered strength, peaked up during the 80’s and 90’s with their record of terrorist activities on Indian soil in Kashmir- and reached their climax on 9/11 when they messed with the invoked the wrath of the only superpower. Since then, their days have become numbered!

    What we’re seeing right now is the process of de-Islamization of their socities and nations -and it’s going to be a long and painful event for their collective memories; my sympathies for the moderate people in any Islamic country- e.g. in Pakistan Musharraf does not wield enough influence to rein in terrorists because they are everywhere -possibly his own bodyguard could be a terrorist. Pakistan’s simply beyond redemption. Other countries including India should adopt a wait and watch policy -our neighbour is soon going to descend into a civil-war like condition (same as Afghanistan) -and we have to be prepared for the humanitarian crisis that would emerge from there.

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