In and out

Leaders, national interests and political expediency


Pakistanis were clearly divided over Musharraf being allowed to leave for Dubai purportedly for medical treatment. Is it another NRO question for the political pundits? Will he return, ask others? PPP-P opposes the permission duly trashed by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar. He states that the elimination of Musharraf’s name from ECL was the result of Supreme Court ruling. He said, “People who once gave guard of honour to the former military ruler are now staging a political drama.” Political drama or not, one needs to look into the cascading effects of the decision and the culture developing as a result thereof.

Associate Editor of Pakistan Today Shahab Jafry gives a hard-hitting opinion with no punches held back, “Ordinarily, there could be a situation more unsettling for a country supposedly fighting to return to democracy than letting a former dictator, finally being tried for treason, off the hook. However, scratch the surface a little and you will understand why few except the frenzied media paid much attention.

“Our champions of democracy are hardly an inspiring bunch. The ruling party is little more than many sheep feeding off a tightly knit kitchen cabinet that was knitted together by the establishment, then fed off the extreme right wing and has now suddenly decided to turn secular/progressive. The prime minister and his close circle hardly ever attend parliament, make all decisions among themselves, have little sense of prioritising public expenditure and are known to build mysterious fortunes.

“The PPP, on the other hand, remains a so-call left of centre, secular party dominated by feudal lords and has just completed the first hereditary transfer of party leadership/ownership in the country. Former PMs, sitting senators and ministers all duly bowed before Bilawal – who still needs more miles under his belt and continues to rely on string-pulling – and now sell the ‘fish does not need swimming lessons’ lessons.

“And those that do not loot out of reflex action have parked themselves so far to the right that they are falling on themselves; PTI, for example.

“In such times, even Musharraf’s fiercest critics of the last two decades are forced to pause and think. There is really no difference between democracy and dictatorship for the people. Moreover, while the politicians still enjoy ‘saving democracy’ etc, the people found little proof of the pudding in the eating. Little difference who stays and who manages to leave. In fact, if anyone has a regret today, it is Musharraf for signing the NRO to prolong his presidency, only to resign soon enough and un-bottling once again the genie he had himself so miraculously bottled.”

The question involved here is two prolonged, the ongoing relationship between the civil and military leaderships and the developing culture of ‘forgiveness’, leading to more frustration by the general populace.

Fawad Chaudhry, a lawyer and a leading anchorperson, caps an interesting angle, “So Musharraf sahib reached Dubai, and proved another failure of Fauj in politics. However, this is a good decision of Nawaz Sharif in the wake of threat of religious forces. The civil/military relations in Pakistan are far more important than any other issue currently on the cards. This decision will give Nawaz more space. On the other hand, Raheel Shareef can claim his victory before the troops. It’s a win-win for both. Initial criticism on Nawaz will subside in a few days. Pakistan is far larger than the personal vendetta of two individuals to put her interests at stake. Musharraf symbolises a classic case of structural problem of our civil/military relations. Unfortunately, since civil governments are not powerful enough and competent enough, this creates a vacuum that is filled by army, therefore army becomes a vital component of Pakistan’s governance structure. Wishes in themselves are not enough to minimise army role, to turn such wishes into reality needs far more than that. Unless civilian structures are not reformed, dependency on army shall remain a vital course for Pakistan.”

Though what Fawad says in essentially true in terms of ground realities, it has created more frustration amongst the general populace. For them it is not about Musharraf, for the common person it is about the most powerful being placed outside the ambit of law. For them it is about the laws of the land being applicable only to the common man. The NRO by Musharraf helped Benzair Bhutto sahiba and Nawaz Sharif in their comeback to Pakistan. Interestingly, Musharraf’s visit to Dubai follows close on heels of Mustafa Kamal’s breakaway from his mother party and announcing one of his own. Related or no, the timing is of interest to me as a student of politics. In either case, frustration is the expected negative cascading effect.

The mis-governance has permeated the pores of the institutions. Whether it is lack of law enforcement by the law agencies or tax frauds by the powerful, the negligence and irregularities in power sector, chaos in health and education areas or questioning the practices of law practioners at any level, the frustration of the populace rides high at the repeated practice of allowing the rich and powerful to go to greener pastures to return once the sun shines again to amass greater wealth — as the perception goes.

Brig (retd) G M Mohatarem, who served as the Commander of MI and later as the Home Secretary to the Government of Sindh under Musharraf, says, “The media is flush with all kinds of comments on muk muka and a deal behind the government’s decision to allow Musharraf to go abroad for medical treatment. The bottom line is that General Musharraf has been allowed by the government to proceed abroad for medical treatment. The Supreme Court actually did not give any binding decision on ECL, it simply provided the space for action to the government. Well done, SC. At times the highest court in any country may have to take decisions or non-decisions for the sake of national aspirations.

“Those who criticise SC’s leaning on the law of necessity fail to indicate an alternate which would have saved the state from avoidable constitutional turmoil and maybe bloodshed. In this case, Supreme Court’s non-decision has allowed much needed medical treatment abroad to a sick old man who has lived a wholesome military and political life and reached the highest level of national leadership and thus carries a lot of baggage. He did good things and being human made terrible mistakes like the NRO, which unfortunately affected all of us as a nation.

“Nobody ever questioned his loyalty to the state, nobody accused him of corruption or building a business empire at the cost of the state or political family dynasty etc. He shall return to the country as and when he is required for legal proceedings after the doctors clear him and I am prepared to bet on that. It is unlikely that he shall use the period of relative freedom to explore political possibilities. One should not forget that there were hardly any restrictions on him even in Pakistan to remain politically active, which he was. Actually, this move abroad takes away the pressure from Musharraf of indicating his preferences in the MQM divide. Nawaz, on the other hand, has got rid of the label of being vindictive and being driven against Musharraf in a personal vendetta.

“Nawaz has also made a point loud and clear that he does not in any way consider Musharraf a threat or a political heavy weight who threw any kind of challenge to him. If the military was exerting any kind of pressure or if there was tension between the political government and the military over Musharraf, then I suppose Nawaz has smartly got over it by allowing Musharraf to go abroad for treatment under the cover of SC orders. General Raheel Shareef is very popular among the troops as well as the public. If he was behind the push to let Musharraf go, it would add to his stature among the troops.”

The question though then one escapes while addressing the issue, not just in this case but in others before, and many likely to follow in future, is, what about lack of accountability? Should national interests be used to ensure clean leaders are sacrificed at the altar of political expediency?

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