Road to Perdition

If anyone is responsible for throwing Musharraf’s formidable legacy down the drain, it’s none other than the General himself, opines AIJAZ ZAKA SYED

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AIJAZ ZAKA SYED

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If anyone is responsible for throwing Musharraf’s formidable legacy down the drain, it’s none other than the General himself, opines AIJAZ ZAKA SYED

There’s something terribly wrong with a society that parades and locks up its greatest hero like a petty criminal. You know, since Musharraf came up with this barmy idea of Emergency, I’ve fought an almost physical urge to offer my take on the issue, for what it’s worth, like everyone else.
But then one thought: What’s the point of adding yet another voice to the already deafening cacophony that the General’s crackdown has sparked! From global television networks to think tank heavies, just about everyone has been holding forth on the General mayhem in Pakistan from every possible angle. What needed to be said has already been said. So what difference can another incoherent voice make? Yet, given the immense nature of the challenge facing Pakistan, nothing anyone says or writes can ever do justice to the issue. Besides, the latest crisis hitting the South Asian country is so incredibly fascinating. Pakistan never ceases to amaze you. So here goes.
First, I don’t agree with the bunkum that these upheavals threaten the very existence of the Islamic republic. Pakistan is too resilient for that. If it had to collapse, it would have done long ago, soon after it was carved out of the Indian subcontinent. Don’t forget that it began from a scratch, literally, 60 years ago when it won independence from the British. Unlike India, it had no institutional infrastructure and absolutely no financial resources.
So reaching where it finds itself today is nothing short of a miracle. This notwithstanding the body blow it has suffered in the dismemberment of East Pakistan. And how can we forget the equally helpful successive generals and democratically-elected politicians who have been incessantly chipping away at the country created in the name of Islam? So maybe Pakistanis ought to be grateful for what they are still left with. Someone up there must be really watching over this land.
But there’s no denying the fact that today Pakistan is faced with a challenge that is unparalleled, even for a country with such an eventful history.
And perhaps nothing else illustrates all that has gone wrong with the country more aptly than what has happened to Imran Khan. Here’s someone who is seen as some sort of demigod not only in the cricket-crazy Pakistan but in the whole of South Asia and wherever cricket is played.
The roughing up and incarceration of Imran came as a huge shock even to people like me who are not exactly crazy about cricket (Okay, I enjoy it once in a while whenever India and Pakistan clash. Who doesn’t?). It’s not Imran’s legendary contribution to cricket that is behind his mythical status. He has earned himself genuine respect and admiration around the world for what he has done to pay back to his people and society. The cancer hospital he established in the memory of his mother remains the only one in the country to offer world-class treatment and care to cancer patients. But what really strikes you about Imran is his ability to remain rooted in his reality. He is not a typical celebrity who is afraid to come out of his ivory tower and mix with real people. His political vision is idealistic to a fault. And unlike the power-hungry elites the country has seen so far, here’s someone who rejected power when it was offered to him on a platter.
This is perhaps why Pakistani authorities jailed this man, dumping him in a high-security prison meant for hardcore criminals and militants. This is just as well. After all, Imran has been accused of fomenting TERRORISM in the country. Yeah, the champ who led his country to the 1992 cricket world cup glory is a terrorist now.
This is no apology for Imran Khan. But don’t you think there’s something terribly wrong somewhere when your greatest hero is condemned as a terrorist and dumped with the wretched of the land?   Imran’s case shows how far and how fast Musharraf’s Pakistan has travelled on the road to perdition. From the summary dismissal of Supreme Court judges to the imprisonment of thousands of politicians and civil society members to the crackdown on the media, the regime has tried every trick in the book to undermine the country’s institutions.
What is most ironic about this whole business is the fact it was Musharraf himself who had played a critical role in strengthening the judiciary, the rule of law and freeing of the media in Pakistan. It was thanks to him that the Pakistanis were spared the torture of watching the PTV – it’s as sleep-inducing as its counterpart in India – with the mushrooming of new media outlets. With scores of genuinely independent publications and television channels, Pakistan’s media never had it so good.
When it came to media and political freedom, General Musharraf proved more democratic than the most democratic leaders of Pakistan. Not long ago, many of us including this columnist admired his mantra of Enlightened Moderation that championed the cause of genuine dialogue and understanding between the Muslim world and the West.  At last, we told ourselves, here’s someone who not only understands both Muslim and Western perspectives but is in a position to make both see each other’s viewpoint.
When he took over from Sharif – thanks to the circumstances not of his own making – he inherited a country in total chaos.  Sharif had demoralised the judiciary and the army by dismissing Supreme Court chief justice Sajjad Ali Shah and Army chief General Jahangir Karamat respectively. The media was up in arms thanks to the witch-hunt of big media groups like Jang and Dawn (History is repeating itself or what?). And economically, Pakistan was on the verge of bankruptcy. Musharraf turned the country around, putting it back on the track, politically and economically. Again, if for the first time in the subcontinent’s history, there is genuine peace and understanding between India and Pakistan, the credit largely goes to the General.  No wonder, unlike in the past, the mandarins in New Delhi haven’t rushed to condemn the goings-on in the neighbouring country. For once, India is loath to see a General retreat.
This is why it’s such a tragedy that Musharraf has turned out the way he has over the past few weeks and months. By inflicting Emergency, sacking judges and cracking down on the media, the General has undone all the good work he has done over the past eight years or so.

Like Faust, our hero has bartered his soul to the Devil for power. Whatever happens now, this tragedy is going to end in the way all tragedies do: In tears and annihilation of everyone involved.  If Musharraf succeeds in his attempts to stay on, Pakistan’s democracy, judiciary, media and just about every institution fails. If he goes, he’s likely to leave behind a trail of destruction. In either case, Pakistan stands to lose. The road from here only goes to perdition.u003cbr />u003cbr />(Aijaz Zaka Syed is a senior editor and columnist of Khaleej Times. Write to him at u003ca onclicku003d”return top.js.OpenExtLink(window,event,this)” hrefu003d”mailto:aijazsyed@khaleejtimes.com”>aijazsyed@khaleejtimes.comu003c/a>)u003cbr />u003c/div>”,1] ); //–> And ironically, if anyone is responsible for throwing Musharraf’s formidable legacy down the drain, it’s none other than the General himself!  In his desperation to cling to power, what Musharraf is doing now is not his true self, as some of his detractors and pundits have suggested. This crackdown on the media and the entire civil society is actually the facade behind which the General is hiding to perpetuate himself in power.

Like Faust, our hero has bartered his soul to the Devil for power. Whatever happens now, this tragedy is going to end in the way all tragedies do: In tears and annihilation of everyone involved.  If Musharraf succeeds in his attempts to stay on, Pakistan’s democracy, judiciary, media and just about every institution fails. If he goes, he’s likely to leave behind a trail of destruction. In either case, Pakistan stands to lose. The road from here only goes to perdition.
[Aijaz Zaka Syed is a senior editor and columnist of Khaleej Times. Write to him at aijazsyed@khaleejtimes.com]