Humbled by people's power, General retreats

General retired Pervez Musharraf resigned from the presidential slot because all his survival options had evaporated.

By Nasim Zehra (Vantage Point)

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Published: Sat 23 Aug 2008, 11:48 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 4:12 PM

His impeachment was guaranteed since the parliamentarians the judges for his impeachment had given their verdict. The army leadership working on its professionalism plus over-engaged in a threatening internal and external strategic environment was busy working on their former chief's safe.

The Americans as early as May had begun trying to facilitate General Musharraf's 'peaceful' exit. Hence the political, the institutional, constitutional, the legal, the ballot, the internal security and the external factor all worked against him. He had to exit. A fight-back was never on the cards.

Musharraf, the reluctant coup maker who began with the genuine desire to reform state, society and politics, exited as a resounding political failure. If the elections presented a scorecard for his political allies the provincial assembly votes demanding his impeachment was an 'all-in-red' scorecard of his political career.

For all the political engineering over almost a decade Musharraf quit leaving Pakistan's political stage in the hands of those very people he had vowed to 'cleanse' the society of. Pakistan's political maturing in the Musharraf years touched unprecedented heights. The autocratic Musharraf provided a politically conscious society the wherewithal for no-holds-barred public discussion of politics, politicians and those wielding State power.

The free and expanding media combined with developing art and culture brought into open the blaring contradictions between Musharraf's stated objectives and the sullied political process adopted by his regime to achieve those goals. Meanwhile, the geo-strategic challenges post 9/11 also worked as a double-edged sword. If it ended Musharraf regime's short-lived isolation abroad, at home it earned him growing anger and criticism. Minus genuine political support any kind of US partnership in fighting terrorism and dealing with the increasing internal security crisis underscored by suicide bombings, was always going to be politically costly. Understanding the dynamics of political processes and public opinion was never the General's strength. He believed he could defy dynamics with good intentions and patriotism. He had won peculiar logic intrinsic to his training and to his personality.

General Musharraf acted, ironically as if to ensure that the consciousness is not wasted. He fired the Chief Justice of Pakistan. The dye was then cast for Musharraf with the initial lawyers' reaction to the March 9 ouster of the Chief Justice. Soon the lawyers which began to spread across Pakistan's hitherto politically inactive sections of society, the educated middle class, the students, the professionals, housewives, political workers etc. Never before in Pakistan's history had such a cross-section of people had risen in unity around issues of principles and law. Never before since the anti-Ayub Khan movement had peoples' outrage been converted into street power at such a scale and on such an ongoing basis.

The media proliferated the message effectively and the public heard it attentively. Talk shows became more popular than soap operas. At every level there was a new political awakening. The sense of outrage grew.

The message covered the cumulative lesson of the decades but its relevance was for the immediate context and the target was present unconstitutional president. In public perception, through his treatment of the two ballot-authenticated genuine national leaders, through the Balochistan Operation, the Lal Masjid operation, the question of the missing persons, the Bugti killing, the imposition of the Emergency, the sacking of the judges, the arrest of the judges, General Musharraf personified the cause for this absence of the rule of law. Historical and institutional causes did not matter. In 2007 the all-powerful man, taking decisions mostly with input from his khaki advisors, had become the embodiment of the violation of the Constitution.

The popular peoples' power that began crystallising in the form of this ongoing movement forced a rethink in the two A's known to be key players in Pakistan's politics — Army and America. Late 2007 Washington was forced to reassess Musharraf's political standing at home.

Washington increased the pressure it was already exerting on Musharraf to align with a genuine political force. The Benazir-Musharraf negotiations were brokered. Perhaps Musharraf believed there was survival for him as president in the deal.

Injection of Benazir Bhutto, the charismatic and popular leader back into Pakistan gave the needed impetus to the peoples movement. For Musharraf keeping Nawaz Sharif, the other genuinely popular national leader out of Pakistan was impossible.

The two were back in the fray to comprehensively overturn all of Musharraf's political planning. Both returned and promptly traded in their support for the peoples movement demanding restoration of the judiciary and the ouster of Musharraf for growing popularity.

An army chastened by its many problems within and outside, now with a changed leadership, knew it could not go along with any political manipulation plans.

The heart-wrenching assassination of Pakistan's brave and bold leader Benazir merely meant greater strength to peoples power.

The election results comprehensively declared the Musharraf era was over.

Such was the Musharraf journey to his political end. The man who started off his journey with the motto that" I stand for the poor of this country" and I believe in "complete freedom of the press" has exited a highly unpopular and disliked political figure. Three days into the October 12 coup, in a background discussion Mushararf had rebuffed the idea of a National Security Council because "it was unthinkable to put an unelected body on an elected one."

The lesson then for us of the Musharraf phenomenon? Our commitment to a democratic system must be unrelenting. The sanctity of the Constitution and of the system is paramount to all else. Even if an angel walked in to tell us that he/she has the answers to our troubles, we must say 'no thank you'. And for the Khaki adventurer an even louder and clearer 'no thank you.' In Pakistan with a strengthened democratic context the space has greatly shrunk for military adventurers. Democracy with its twists and turns is now again on test.

Nasim Zehra is an Islamabad -based national security strategist

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