AS Pakistan’s only living ex-military dictator, retired Gen Pervez Musharraf has emerged as a spokesman for that small but significant club in the country’s history.
Now, with the political downfall of Mr Musharraf’s bitter foe Nawaz Sharif, the former dictator has made one gleeful comment after another against civilian politicians in recent days. Much of it has been easy to ignore as the rantings of an individual who has failed to accept his present-day marginal political relevance. But in typical Musharrafian style, the former dictator has gone too far.
In a shocking interview to BBC Urdu from his base in self-exile, Mr Musharraf has defended not just his record in office, but that of generals Zia and Ayub too. Mercifully, even for Mr Musharraf, a defence of Gen Yahya Khan’s record may have been a step too far. Still, the brazen defence of two extremely damaging military dictatorships in the country’s history and a sweeping denunciation of all civilian governments are extraordinary.
Mr Musharraf may be unapologetic, but he is also terribly wrong.
The devastation wrought by military regimes can be gauged by a straightforward metric that even Mr Musharraf can understand: most have left office in humiliation and in the immediate aftermath of each dictatorship, there has been a consensus in the country that a return to civilian rule is necessary (in Gen Ayub’s case, the extraordinary political circumstances somewhat delayed the inevitable).
In Mr Musharraf’s case, he has further humiliated himself by relying on his parent organisation to save him from serious legal trouble and escaping the country on a medical pretext.
With his nemesis out of political office, perhaps Mr Musharraf should test his own theory of the Pakistani people’s preference for military dictators over civilian leaders by returning to Pakistan and bravely facing whatever the courts have in store for him. Surely, the same courts that have delivered justice in the eyes of Mr Musharraf in the case of Mr Sharif will do what is right by a ruler who is loved by the people, as Mr Musharraf’s argument suggests. The contrast between a former dictator’s cowardly words spoken from exile and the searing remarks by legendary pro-democracy advocate Asma Jahangir on Pakistani soil could not be more damning.
Ms Jahangir, whose principled and outspoken stand on democratic values and principles have made her a national treasure, has once again publicly asked the kind of questions that few else dare. Her central question — why do only civilian politicians face accountability in Pakistan? — is answered by the arrogance and utter foolishness of Mr Musharraf’s remarks.
Indeed, Mr Musharraf’s very freedom today is because of an ongoing distortion in the constitutional scheme of things. The selective and self-serving understanding of responsibilities under the Constitution is at the heart of those distortions. Perhaps the present military leadership ought to consider publicly distancing itself from Mr Musharraf’s remarks.