When a dictator is not a dictator

When a dictator is not a dictator
Editorial, The News, November 16, 2007

General Pervez Musharraf has made some startling statements in the last few days. On November 14, as army chief, he told the Supreme Court of Pakistan in an affidavit that he had imposed the emergency on November 3 because the situation then was analogous to October 1999. As president he told an American news agency that the country risked chaos if he were to give in to the opposition's demands to resign. Then, in an interview with a British news channel, the general said he would step down "when there is no turmoil in Pakistan". To the same channel he made another astonishing disclosure: "We may lose the battle on terror because of misreporting by some parts of the media in Pakistan and around the world." He then went on to say that he was "not a dictator" and that for democracy to return to Pakistan, his presence was essential. Coming from a person who has been the sole master of the country's destiny, almost unchallenged, for over eight years, if one doesn't count his earlier two years as army chief under Nawaz Sharif, it becomes evident that General/President Musharraf is trashing his own record, discrediting his own achievements and trying to convince the nation that if given another chance he will now get it right.

His analogy that the situation in Pakistan is now back to what it was in October 1999 is bewildering to say the least, and almost as ironic as his statement that he was a not a dictator. In 1999 he had been removed as chief of army staff by a duly elected and constitutional prime minister but he did not accept the order. In 2007 there was no such order but he feared, as a commando, that he was going to be ambushed by the Supreme Court, so he took pre-emptive action. On both occasions he kicked the constitution, imposed one-man rule and with the barrel of the gun behind him, coerced everybody to accept whatever he said, including tailoring the constitution to allow him both the post of president and that of army chief. His argument that he will not step down until the "turmoil" ends in Pakistan is another gem. If all he can show for his long one-man rule is a country with turmoil of the worst kind, then perhaps he is the problem. Also, it is not for an individual to decide when a country requires his or her services, that is what democracy and elections are for. On the issue of the war against terror, General Musharraf's argument that it may be lost because of the media does not hold water. It is beyond comprehension to suggest that the media is spoiling progress or compromising the government's participation in this important and necessary effort. The reality is that the government and its security and intelligence apparatus have been so far unable to contain the threat. As one analyst aptly described it recently, the military faces an unusual and asymmetrical threat in FATA and Swat in the form of an unconventional enemy and hence needs to adopt an entirely new strategy.

The fact of the matter is that General Musharraf's Pakistan is now in a shambles, because of his tunnel vision to keep himself in power, because he did not involve the people in real decision-making, because he did not -- and still doesn't -- allow real democracy to take root, because he loves dummies who like to follow the written script, because of his numerous U-turns on critical national-security policies without building a national consensus and because he always thought he was the only one who was doing the right thing for Pakistan. His Pakistan is now under attack from within and outside. His own foreign supporters are putting immense pressure for a change. The constitution is in cold storage, extremists and terrorists (a main reason for the imposition of the emergency) are slowly extending their influence, politicians are in jail or exile, the bars are on strike, the courts have no credibility, the media is dying a slow death, parliament has passed into the dustbin of ignominy, civil society is under attack and the promised elections carry no ray of hope. All this is turmoil created by none other than the general himself -- so it is more than a bit ironic when he says that he will not quit until the turmoil goes away. The general should realise that he has proven to be a bad doctor and needs some rest. The patient certainly does.

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