Wednesday, 10 November 2010

A Deposed Dictator Turns to Democracy

Flood Devastation
 By Ayushman Jamwal

A few months ago, the nation of Pakistan was devastated by floods which led to the deaths of 1500 people, displaced millions and severely damaged the national infrastructure. The floods opened a can of worms in the international media about the nation’s problems, ranging from the weak governance in co-ordinating damage control, poor infrastructure to the free movement of militant organisations.

History has shown us that national calamities have been the initiators of political and social change sparked by the will of the citizenry to safeguard their ways of life. Pakistan’s recent ordeals have similarly signalled the political rise of an unlikely national personality – General Pervez Musharraf.

General Musharraf ruled Pakistan with an iron fist after he took power through a bloodless coup in October 1999, overthrowing the national government of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N) and exiling its leader, the former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif. The coup had been initiated after Sharif had ordered his dismissal from the post of Pakistani Army Chief of Staff.

The General had a reputation for an aggressive approach towards resolving the dispute over the Kashmir region with India. In May 1999, he entered Pakistan into an armed conflict with India over Kashmir, and suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Indian armed forces.

In 2006, General Musharraf ordered the murder of Nawab Akbar Bugti, the leader of the Jamhoori Watan Party, a nationalist political organisation in the Balochistan region of Pakistan. Bugti was an influential advocate against the General’s dictatorship and lobbied for greater constitutional rights for the people of Balochistan. His death established him as a martyr for the Balochistan separatist movement and transformed his political campaign into an insurgency for a free Balochistan, leading to widespread violence across the Pakistan.

In 2007, the Pakistani people vehemently rose up against the General’s rule. In March that year, he sacked the Chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, along with sixty judges of the national judiciary.

In July, he laid siege to the Lal Masjid (Red mosque) in Islamabad, which was controlled by Muslim extremists. A majority of the country supported the General’s move to rid the capital and the mosque of militant control. However, the siege led to the deaths of 154 people and razed the mosque to the ground, causing public support to turn into public anger at the execution of the military operation.

In November, he suspended the constitution and imposed a media ban, declaring a state of emergency under the fear that the remaining national judiciary would decree his presidency as unconstitutional.

Each act was followed by widespread public and political agitation which led General Musharraf to hold and even participate in national elections in February 2008. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) won the majority at the Centre while the General’s backed Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid) fared very poorly. Afterwards, he went into self-imposed exile in the UK.

General Musharraf
On the 1st of October 2010, General Musharraf announced the launch of the All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) at the National Liberal Club in Whitehall, declaring his aim to fight for a Pakistan Parliamentary seat in the 2013 general elections.

At the launch event, he referred to the Pakistani military as the “centre of gravity” of the nation, to which the people turned to for solutions when dismayed by the national political institution. The General stated that the APML’s objective is to introduce a “new political culture” in Pakistan, to develop faith in the civilian government and reduce public dependency on the military.

Since the announcement, the General has been campaigning in the UK, the US and Honk Kong, developing support amongst Pakistani expatriates and raising funds for his political party. He has also initiated a recruitment drive in Pakistan.

The General claims that a majority of his support is rooted in the Pakistani youth, highlighting that his Facebook page has gained over 300,000 followers in the past five months.

The launch of the APML has given him a large media platform, through which he has made many controversial statements. Speaking to Tod Robberson of The Dallas Morning News earlier this month, he said, “Pakistanis are not like the West and Americans, who are overly obsessed with democracy”. He argued that as long as the social problems in Pakistan, like poverty and unemployment, were tackled, the nature of government did not matter to the people.

General Musharraf has widely criticised the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) for corruption, stating that billions in American aid was filling the pockets of politicians besides helping the country tackle its problems. “None of them are capable of delivering Pakistan from the darkness that it faces today," he said in a speech at the Asia Society in Houston. As one of the US’s former allies in the War on Terror, he stressed that his administration never stole American aid meant for the people of Pakistan.

Regarding relations with India, the General has accused successive Indian governments of supporting terrorists and Baloch separatists in Pakistan. In an interview with the German magazine, Der Speigel, this month, he admitted to his administration’s hand in training underground militant groups in Indian occupied Kashmir. He said that “it is the right of any country to promote its own interests when India is not prepared to discuss Kashmir... and is not prepared to resolve the dispute in a peaceful manner.”

The conditions on the ground in Pakistan are problematic for General Musharraf’s political ambitions. On July 31, 2009, the Pakistan Supreme Court declared his imposition of emergency in 2007 as an illegal, unconstitutional and treasonous act under Article 6 of the Pakistani constitution. Taking the cue from the Supreme Court, Pakistani politicians namely Nawaz Sharif, the current Opposition leader at the Centre, are lobbying the PPP government to use Interpol (the International police) to bring the General back to Pakistan to face trial for treason.

New President Asif Ali Zardari

Advocating the same, but going notoriously further, Talal Akbar Bugti, son of the slain Nawab Akbar Bugti, earlier this month offered a bounty of one billion rupees (7.3 million pounds) and one thousand acres of land to any person who beheads General Musharraf. The PPP, on the other hand, has so far been silent regarding the General’s political goals.

The launch of the APML has been encouraged by the unpopularity of the Pakistani political institution. The nation’s current President, Asif Ali Zardari, has been internationally condemned for his tedious response to the floods, to Pakistan’s wider social problems like unemployment, inflation and poverty, and for his renowned reputation as a corrupt politician. Even the Central Opposition party, the PML-N, headed by Nawaz Sharif, is publically regarded as corrupt political organisation with private interests. They are seen as the roots of the public apathy towards politics, currently prevailing in Pakistan.

However, Zardari’s and Sharif’s unpopularity isn’t considered enough for General Musharraf to make a significant return to state affairs. According to Faizaan Khan, a third year Business management student at Cardiff University from Karachi, “The people in Pakistan are sick of the corrupt practices of the politicians from the PPP and the PML-N.” “While they yearn for a political solution, General Musharraf is not that solution”, he said.

Even though the General still holds support in the Pakistani military, the majority of the civilian population consider him a threat to democracy, civic society, and the international reputation of Pakistan. “Musharraf was intelligent and diligent, but he lacked the understanding of the sensitivities associated with religion and castes, and committed mistakes which a majority of Pakistanis will never forgive”, said Chaudhary Badar Iqbal, an Electronics and Communications engineering student from Rawalpindi.

With the current levels of public discontent with politics in Pakistan, General Musharraf will gain some measure of public support. However, the history of his rule as President is all too clear in the minds of the current power holders and people in Pakistan, which to a great extent will prevent him from making a strong political comeback.