Pakistan: Musharraf and beyond

The destructive political legacy of Pakistan’s former general-president is visible in its kaleidoscope of crises, says Shaun Gregory

Published on ISN Security Watch (first on openDemocracy), by Shaun Gregory, Aug 28, 2008.

It is a measure of his isolation that the resignation of Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf appeared – when it came – to surprise only Musharraf himself. In his final speech to the nation on 18 August he seemed bewildered and depressed; a man facing political death, his mind unable fully to grasp the speed with which he had fallen from power. It was a man speaking to a mirror, trying to justify himself to himself one last time …

… His departure leaves a vacuum in Pakistan, but it is not of the character of that which followed the unexpected death in 1988 of Zia ul-Haq, his predecessor as military ruler of Pakistan. Too much power had already ebbed from Musharraf for that to be the case. However, Pakistan is in a far more parlous state in 2008 than it was 20 years ago and much of the blame for that rests squarely on Musharraf’s shoulders.

There is a stubborn and seemingly eradicable myth in Pakistan that the Pakistan army is all that stands between Pakistan and chaos. The peddlers of this myth, within and outside Pakistan, would do well to reflect that it was the army which ended Pakistan’s hopes of a secular, democratic future in the early post-partition era; it was the army which led Pakistan to the break-up of the nation in 1971; it was the army which took Pakistan to the brink of nuclear confrontation in 1999 and 2001-02; and it is the army once again – after nine years of Musharraf’s rule – which has taken Pakistan to the edge of chaos.

True, civilian political leadership in Pakistan has been and remains neo-feudal and corrupt. But how much of the failure of Pakistan’s democracy to develop and mature since 1947 can be laid at the feet of the Pakistan army and its intelligence arm, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)? These institutions have after all systematically undermined democracy and civil society in Pakistan for decades, and shored up a small autocratic elite against the aspirations of the emergent middle class in Pakistan and against the hopes of what educated and wealthy Pakistanis condescendingly refer to as the “common man” … (full text).

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