We need to talk about denial, Pakistan. And we need to talk about it in the context of the death of former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, who was buried last week in Pakistan with full honours.
By now, you would have read and watched more than your fair share of opinions and coverage of the former military strongman’s life and times. Many said he was the worst; few said he was the best. This is not so much about that as it is about what happened once he had died.
Musharraf’s body was flown into Pakistan on Monday, February 6th, a day after he died in a Dubai hospital. He was buried on Tuesday in his hometown, Karachi. It was not televised, barely acknowledged by state television, and save a short press release from the military, not many acknowledged their presence at the event.
The truth, however, is that he was buried with full military protocol, and his funeral attended by top former and serving military leaders, civilian leaders, businessmen, and even some foreign dignitaries. This was the funeral of a man that we in Pakistan say was disgraced, disowned, and pushed out. He broke the Constitution – twice – strong-armed his critics and crushed dissent, sometimes brutally.
And therein lies the denial. The fact of the matter is there are more in Pakistan than we care to admit that actually saw Musharraf in a positive light, and, at the very least, saw in him a hope for change. Those views may be misplaced, but reality is seldom good or bad. It’s just reality. Perhaps one of the biggest talking points for those that see Musharraf in a positive light are the ones saying his era was one that saw great economic prosperity.
This is what our cover story this week focuses on. Our findings are quite definitive — the late General (R) Pervez Musharraf ruled over Pakistan at one of the easiest times to be an economic manager and still managed to leave the country a mess at the end of his reign.
We have been told, endlessly, that Musharraf was a dictator who deserved nothing but disgrace and criticism. But, the reality is that he wasn’t disgraced – no matter how much we try to tell ourselves that. Even a court verdict that ordered a rather macabre death penalty for his extra constitutional acts was overturned without much fuss. And we never spoke about it again.
The reality of the matter is that Musharraf’s coup happened in a certain context that afforded him sympathy despite his clear transgressions. Consider that, in 1999, when Musharraf took over, Pakistan had just been through its ‘decade of democracy’ that saw four government changes in 11 years, with Nawaz Sharif and Benazir both getting two shots at premiership that were cut short by praetorian designs.
It was chaotic and unstable. In fact, 1993 saw five (yes, five) prime ministers, three presidents and two army chiefs. Despite what we are told, the reality is that his takeover wasn’t exactly met with widespread protests. The criticism of later years, taken as an established and unchallengeable truth now, was nowhere to be seen back then. In fact, if they’re honest, most of his critics will admit they were supporters at one point – for his liberal reforms, for his economic stability, through the opening of the media, or just the fact that they didn’t have to put up with political bickering and frequent upheaval.
Musharraf represented, for better or worse, a chance of stability. And he gave that for a bit – mostly through unsustainable means and often through patently illegal and dictatorial measures. How many reactions have there been from industry leaders who have been critical of Musharraf, only to be followed by a ‘but…’ That’s not because people can’t criticise him. That would be a lie. It’s because there is a level of sympathy for him.
He wasn’t an anomaly. Consider the reign of another military dictator, Ayub Khan. When he took over, there had been seven prime ministers in 11 years, each removed through petty political wrangling. He too is remembered in fond words despite his extra constitutional measures and dictatorial policies. And much of that fondness does also have to do with the perceived economic prosperity Ayub brought.
One of the famous stories about Ayub Khan is back from 1970. When Pakistan entered a war with India over East Pakistan, Ayub went to the military command and offered himself up for enlistment as a foot soldier. He was widely hailed for this. No mention was made of his time in power that he gained extra-constitutionally. With such acts of machismo and fawning looks back, the legacy of military dictators in this country has been regularly whitewashed.
If we don’t admit this, and choose to deny it – which we are – we do so at our own peril, and at a time that political wrangling is once again at a high. By elections, Punjab government changes, provincial dissolutions, provincial elections before general elections – all amidst a near-unprecedented economic crisis.
The bells are ringing. And we are standing with our fingers in our ears speaking about how he got what he deserved. He didn’t. Because all people want certainty, and will always have a soft spot for anyone who says they are trying to bring it – by any means necessary. That’s not good or bad. It ‘s just a reality that isn’t fashionable to admit. Denial is not just a river in Egypt. It’s a river in Pakistan, too.
It’s called Stockholm syndrome. Captives develop a fascination for their captors. But all captors finally die and are humiliated. Ayub, Yahya, Zia, Musharraf and Bajwa are usurpers and have met their fate.
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This article takes the reader to a ride in wonderful island of lies where Pakistani media operates. When Musharraf took over in 1999, Pakistan was on a brink of bankruptcy. Till 2005 he had steered the Country like a champion and for the first time in history Pakistan said good-by to IMF and World Bank and Fiscal Discipline Law was passed.
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