Can Pakistan turn around its civil-military imbalance? We have been provided the answer resoundingly. The courts and government have presented a unified position. Former dictator, Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf, has been allowed to leave Pakistan.
First the Supreme Court (SC) agreed to Musharraf’s request for treatment abroad and then stated that it was the government’s prerogative to decide whether it was going to let him leave. Then, taking refuge in the SC decision, Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan tried to put on a brave face by announcing that the government would not stop Musharraf from leaving the country.
While Nisar tried to plead with journalists that the government had received assurances that Musharraf would return to the country, reports from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s meeting with the top military brass on Friday confirm that the understanding is otherwise.
The situation is nothing but a farce. Musharraf was on trial for charges that ranged from treason to murder after the May 2013 elections. The PML-N government was praised for deciding to prosecute Musharraf for the many alleged crimes of the government that happened under his watch. Before leaving, Musharraf repeated the mantra that he was a ‘commando’ and would return to face trial. For anyone who has witnessed the trial proceedings, Musharraf is anything but a commando.
Having never appeared in court, for one reason or another, to face any of the charges against him, the government’s decision to let him live out his life in his farmhouse in Chak Shehzad was the beginning of the farcical nature of Musharraf’s prosecution. “History repeats itself, first as a tragedy, the second time as a farce.” These words by Karl Marx tell the tale of Pakistan’s attempts to bring military dictators to justice.
When former chief of army staff and dictator, Gen (r) Pervez Musharraf, left the country in 2009, after an agreement with the PPP, it was a tragedy that came out of political expediency. Four years later, pumped up by his social media popularity, Musharraf returned to Pakistan to contest elections. The next three years were merely a farce. One case after another was tempered down, as rumours suggested that the military establishment was putting pressure on the government to give Musharraf a way out.
To say that the situation is embarrassing is to say the least. The truth is that the foundations for democracy in the country have been derailed. What crime is more serious than treason? What disease can only be treated in Dubai? If the PML-N was not going to stand by its original decision to take on Musharraf, then why did it orchestrate the farce in the first place? Mistakes have been made, to say the least. But it is not enough to just say so.
The PPP’s decision to protest Musharraf’s departure is similarly farcical. This is the party that let Musharraf leave in the first place, despite the fact that its party leader, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated under Musharraf’s watch. The Musharraf trial was Pakistan’s opportunity to reckon with its history of military dictatorships, but the trial never happened. This is an opportunity lost. Another one may not arrive any time soon.
The response to letting Musharraf go should be protested by the hundreds of thousands who chanted “Go Musharraf, Go” after the imposition of the 2007 emergency. Back then, it took Pakistanis a decade before the romance with the country’s latest dictatorship fell apart. The Sharif brothers have betrayed those who protested for the restoration of the judiciary and democracy. They have betrayed the Baloch, who desired justice for Akbar Bugti’s killing. But, then again, the Baloch betrayal is a longer story.
The military have saved their man once again without a direct confrontation, although a certain dharna (sit-in) by a clean politician and revolutionary cleric played a role. Expect Musharraf to join the chorus of those tweeting #ThankYouRaheelSharif soon.
How long will it take for history to repeat itself again? Marx did not predict what would happen when history repeats itself a third time. With the religious parties already promising another Pakistan National Allaince (PNA) movement on a different issue, our crippled democracy may not survive the next time.
The writer is a lecturer at Beaconhouse National University, Lahore and a freelance journalist. Email: hr2353columbua.edu Twitter: hashimbr