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October 31, 2017



The glorious Musharraf era

The glorious Musharraf era

Five days after he took over power from Nawaz Sharif in 1999, General Pervez Musharraf announced the following seven-point agenda:

1. Rebuild national confidence and morale

2. Strengthen the federation, remove inter provincial disharmony and restore national cohesion

3. Revive the economy and restore investor confidence

4. Ensure law and order and dispense speedy justice

5. Depoliticise state institutions

6. Devolve power to the grass-roots level

7. Ensure swift and across the board accountability.

In those days, there was no Facebook or Twitter. Geo News did not exist, and therefore failure was harder to pin on a newspaper group or a number of journalists. Still, some things don’t change. Journalists were shoved into the trunks of cars to be intimidated: the journey from Husain Haqqani to Ahmed Noorani has been punctuated by dead bodies like Saleem Shehzad’s and bullet wounds like those that killed Wali Babar, and those that put Hamid Mir in the hospital. But enough of a newspaper columnist lamenting the safety of journalists; let’s return to General Pervez Musharraf.

If we were to assess the success of the Musharraf era, like so many WhatsApp propaganda messages have sought to do, we should at least be fair enough to judge Musharraf against his own benchmark. The seven-point agenda seems like an incredibly fair test of his success. When he exited the stage in August of 2008, how far had Pakistan gotten on each of the seven points of his agenda?

Did Musharraf ‘Rebuild national confidence and morale’? Not quite. In fact, Musharraf left Pakistan teetering on the edge of a complete meltdown. He not only presided over the return to Pakistan of both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, both of whom had been branded as forever finished in Pakistani politics, but was also in charge of the country when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in December 2007. He ensured that the newly elected government in 2008 would not have any chance of governing a country with self confidence or high morale, first by creating the circumstances that produced the TTP umbrella of terrorist organisations, and second by producing from thin air the judicial crisis and later the lawyers’ movement, by firing the then CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry in March 2007. National confidence and morale may have gotten a boost in the initial days of Musharraf, when the excitement of something new captured the imagination of a nation of innocent, warm and gullible people, but by the time Musharraf had cheated at least three generations of officers of the chance to be army chief, it was gutted.

Did Musharraf ‘Strengthen the federation, remove inter provincial disharmony and restore national cohesion’? Not really. In fact, he did more to damage the fabric of the federation that any leader since Yahya Khan. He single-handedly gave birth to the latest generation of Baloch separatists by assassinating Nawab Akbar Bugti – who was anything but separatist, based on a lifetime of feeding off the establishment’s largesse. He presided over the total annihilation of the system of governance in the tribal areas, and helped create a front for the military that is now almost a decade and a half old. His ham-fisted, low IQ notion of ‘enlightened moderation’ may have freed up some space for racier adverts on television, but the extra bottles of mango juice and yards of lawn sold do not make up for the exacerbation of a cultural chasm in Pakistan, in which at least some religious conservatives found succour, first in Al-Qaeda and today in Daesh.

Those who sit and wonder how Pakistan became a place in which Mumtaz Qadri is a hero can find at least part of the explanation in the manner in which Musharraf employed a hypocritical and fake ‘liberal’ face to milk support from business class liberals in Pakistan, whilst failing to meaningfully challenge a single one of the pillars upon which radicalism thrives. Musharraf resurrected a broken MQM and breathed enough life into it to make Altaf Hussain’s speeches a viable force in Karachi again. There is almost no area of public life in Pakistan in which Musharraf did not destroy harmony and cohesion in Pakistan.

Did Musharraf ‘Revive the economy and restore investor confidence’? He certainly seems to have done so, although amazingly it all came crashing down rather spectacularly almost the moment he resigned office. This was no accident. The revived economy was largely built on the rents accrued by Pakistan from the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. The investor confidence was built on those very dollar-denominated inflows. The resilience of the Musharraf-built economy was almost zero, as Pakistan rushed to the IMF for an emergency bailout less than ten weeks after Musharraf’s resignation. Civilians carried the water for Musharraf in 1998 and 1999, taking the brunt of criticism for Kargil and the nuclear tests, and then again in 2008 for returning to the IMF. Most importantly, Pakistan’s energy crisis was birthed during the Musharraf era, when split ACs were available on cheap credit, but plans to expand the capacity to generate the electricity to run those ACs were nonexistent.

Did Musharraf ‘Ensure law and order and dispense speedy justice’? The spectacular failure on this front is summarised by the TTP, and the lawyers’ movement. Pakistan was transformed from being a relatively peaceful country to a conflict zone on Musharraf’s watch. Whatever good ideas had been experimented with under the Police Order 2002 had been reversed or diluted to the point of being unrecognisable by 2006. The haughty arrogance with which Musharraf treated the Afghanistan problem, and Hamid Karzai in particularly, helped produce an NDS that harbours operational hatred for Pakistan today, including in the form of safe havens for what is left of the TTP. Musharraf oversaw the establishment of a permanent war in Pakistan.

Did Musharraf ‘Depoliticise state institutions’? The conduct of NAB during his own presidency when he swiftly replaced the only independent leader NAB has ever had – Gen Amjad – tells the story on this front. So does the absence of any meaningful or sustained reform of public administration. In fact, perhaps the most telling has been the evolution of the army itself, which has constantly been dragged into mainstream political issues on a monthly basis ever since the Musharraf era. Musharraf helped hardwire politics into the army and the judiciary. The un-governability of Pakistan today can be explained by the malign actions of many individuals and groups, but no one stands as tall (or short) as Musharraf.

Did Musharraf succeed in enacting ‘Devolution of power to the grassroots level’? He did. And he also succeeded in ensuring that this process would be fully reversed, and leave in its wake a fake, shallow and hollow political discourse in which local governments become a punch line. Feted rightly at the time, as potentially revolutionary, the Local Government Ordinance 2001 was watered down and made toothless systematically, first by Pervez Elahi and later by those who succeeded him. The reason was simple. Musharraf attempted to stuff reform down the throats of the DMG. Military governments come and go, but DMG officers live forever. Today’s local governments are a shadow of what they could or should be. This is not all Musharraf’s fault, but he certainly did nothing to protect and sustain his own creation.

Finally, did Musharraf ‘Ensure swift and across-the-board accountability’? This question is answered best by the July 28, 2017 disqualification of Nawaz Sharif. The people that delivered a national system that had the robustness to oust a sitting prime minister were the very people that are demonised for their callousness, incompetence and corruption. The 18th Amendment, a free judiciary and a free press are all products of the post-2008 compact that emerged from the Charter of Democracy of 2006 – the most anti-Musharraf, and anti-seven point agenda of documents possible.

Beware of fools and charlatans that attempt to romanticise the 1999-2008 era of the destruction of Pakistan at the hands of a military dictator. 

The writer is an analyst and commentator.




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