Humbled by the People’s Power

General retired Parvez Musharraf resigned from the presidential slot because all his survival options had evaporated. His impeachment was guaranteed since the parliamentarians and 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. Working out details of a safe departure caused the delayed departure, ten days after the impeachment announcement. In his last speech before bowing out a humbled Musharraf at length presented his own case before the Nation. Meanwhile an immediate Musharraf trial is out. Indemnity guarantees outside of the parliament have been given. Mainstream political parties, will call for his accountability but their political energies will be spent on other pressing matters. In a vibrant political society and an independent media there will likely be multiple voices demanding the former president’s accountability. How effectively can the ruling coalition provide the healing touch on the many wounds of the Musharraf era, will determine the extent to which the call for accountability persists.

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 score-card for his political allies the provincial assembly votes demanding his impeachment was an ‘all-in-red’ score-card of his political career. For all the political engineering over almost a decade Musharraf exited leaving Pakistan’s political stage in the hands of those very people he has vow 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 wear withal 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 his won peculiar logic intrinsic to his training and to his personality.

Although, Pakistan’s political opposition remained weak and ineffective the continuous public discourse highlighting these contradictions began to invest the intangibles and indeed the often irrelevant factors like legitimacy, integrity, credibility, justice etc with almost tangible power. Increasingly in the Pakistani consciousness these factors became embedded. Yet with no political leadership available to capitalize on this consciousness, ostensibly it was ‘business as usual’ for the Musharraf regime.

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 ouster of the March 9 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.

This growing movement began to sharply focus on the ills that spread in a society when unaccountable exercise of State and government authority becomes the norm.

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. People got tired to. Often the margins the support varied aided by the taunt from the realists and joined by the bored skeptics. Yet at the core the messengers and the message never weakened. The lawyers and the media remained full throttle with the message that without rule of law and without Constitutional democracy the future is bleak.

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 Baluchistan 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 crystallizing 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."

There is much to be said about Musharraf the person in unofficial encounter especially in the initial years. His sincerity of purpose, his patriotism, his middle class demeanor and his candidness were especially striking. He heard even strong dissent with patience. The decisions he took were often in line with the cumulative wisdom of the khaki’s decade long ‘engineering and mutilation of the Pakistan politics. Whatever his democratic instincts in his practical politics he was hijacked mostly by ISI’s damaging prescription for Pakistan’s political problems. Also his journey in power made his original views subservient to the expediency of reform and of self-survival. The arrogance of power increased as his political fortunes dived. All was legitimate in the battle that he and his supporters would say was for Pakistan but clearly 2007 was for his own survival.

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. All eyes are on the democratically elected ruling coalition to deliver.