Has delusion caught up with Pervez Musharraf?

Special to Times of Oman

Life is about to come a full circle for retired General Pervez Musharraf when Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry — the man he twice sacked during his military rule — heads a three-member bench to hear a petition tomorrow for the registration of a treason case against the ex-dictator.

All this comes ahead of the apparent prospects of a former dictator ostensibly embracing democracy to run for elections, especially one who liked to be head of state but felt it beneath his dignity to address his own engineered parliament.

Pakistan has always desperately needed a free and fair election where a former army chief who has also served as a military ruler tested the notion of serving men-in-khaki being saviours of the nation in elections.

However, much as many anticipated — indeed only the former general imagined otherwise — fewer than 3,000 turned out to welcome him on his return from self-imposed exile in Karachi last month. That's less than underwhelming by the standards of even small parties.

Indeed he was so shorn of support, he unconsciously mimicked Benazir Bhutto in her by now-iconic gesture by raising his hands heavenwards thanking he was home. And, of course, there was no corps commander to welcome him as they did in October 1999.

That must have hurt. And a grand total of 30 attended a 'public meeting' in a 5-star hotel, two days after he arrived, to launch the election campaign for his All Pakistan Muslim League party.

It's probably true that Musharraf is brave to make his way into a pitched public event (the election) as a participant when there are any number of actors (not just the political forces) that would like to not just see the former general dead but perhaps also make an attempt to assassinate him if they had half a chance.

But then some think this is not so much an exhibition of courage on his part as it is foolhardy of him considering the risks involved — let's just face it he is arguably the most popular target for assassination.

Here emerges the Musharraf most Pakistanis know — unthinking and his own biggest foe. He has to prove nothing to anyone — his time was up the day he had to bite the proverbial bullet and resign as the lame duck president he had become without his uniform; he could be spending his time stomping on cigars and playing golf — and yet he insists on proving an irrelevant mirage: that Pakistan is desperate to be saved by him. And all over again!

Characteristically, he refuses to see that with his ignominious departure in 2008, Pakistan moved on. In democracy, politicians have to listen to people and guard their interests while in dictatorships people have to listen to megalomaniacs justify their own interest.

Clichés aside, democracy is indeed the best revenge if non-democratic forces are forced to play by the same set of rules to procure people's mandate to govern. And so it appears it's going to happen in the May 2013 general elections when a former army chief who has also seized power by force will be seeking people's mandate in an even playing field — providing of course that he clears all the hurdles.

Let's hope Musharraf does not back out of elections on some pretext and that his party puts up candidates. And let's hope that he even makes it to the National Assembly and "suffers" democracy drip, drip, slow like the people suffer dictatorships. Let him share the same space with people who he once called 'uncivilized' and feel how the slow needling feels.

Let a new generation of military officers see and understand what people's ideas about democracy are and respect them for what they are. Let's hope Musharraf lives long enough to walk the paths Ayub and Yahya did — the paths of ignominy and political obscurity after they relinquished office, the intervening years helping the country come out of the shadows of fear and move on in peace.

Musharraf may not be 'scared' of anything as he keeps reminding his compatriots ad nauseum but he should be totally scared of one thing: popular rejection pouring into ballot boxes. No lasting glory for him that the Bhuttos, Bugtis and Bilours earned — still yearned for by their multitudinous followers in the name of sacred democracy — the lengthening years not diminishing their memories while no-one thinks kindly of dictators Ayub, Yahya and Zia.

How many of the Facebook followers Musharraf confuses for friends will turn out to vote for him, he'll find out soon enough. Having said that it will do democracy a lot of good if the former strongman learns the ropes and takes lessons in humility which he is sure to find aplenty in the days and weeks ahead.

If he comes through and somehow manages to file a nomination and even win a seat for himself that would probably be a good reinforcement of democracy being the best revenge.

The writer is freelance journalist based in Islamabad. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.


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