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Monday, August 18, 2008

Musharraf not to be Praised or Mourned

HISTORY IN THE NEWS:

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History does not die. It is reborn every minute of every day.

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PREVIOUS ENTRIES ON PAKISTAN:
3/25/08- PPP's Gillani is president of Pakistan.
2/20/08- Musharraf loses parliamentary vote.
12/27/07- Benazir Bhutto assassinated.
11/03/07 -Musharraf declares state of emergency.

To Bury Caesar not to Praise him: Musharraf's sad end.

by Hugh Graham, August 18, 2008.

To revile or to exalt Pakistan's former president upon his resignation is to underestimate the vise-grip of history on that unfortunate country. Perves Musharraf was not as free as we often seem to think. Pakistan, since forming its own constitution in 1956, has been a statesman's nightmare. For that alone, we might at least shed a tear, if a reluctant tear for the former general and president. He had a hideous job, a job which has left him no more a hero of the War on Terror than a staunch defender of Islam or, for that matter, of democracy. He failed on every front.

Musharraf also ended up betraying almost everyone in Pakistan. Even the army and Washington steered clear of him at the end. But was it all his fault? In large measure, his fall was sealed by the simple fact of becoming Pakistan's head of state. Lest our historical amnesia allow us to hurl yet more abuse on the sad ex-dictator and ex-president, we should remember that the Pakistan that was separated from India in 1947 still had a secular, British constitution. When its new constitution of 1956 proclaimed it a Muslim state, blind euphoria prevented everyone from seeing that no one agreed on what it was to be a Muslim. A religious population given a constitution that brings it simultaneously into the modern age and back into the Middle Ages was bound to split between secular Islam and radical Islam. President Ayub Khan kept things reasonably secular. President Ali Bhutto tried and failed and was hanged. Dictator Zia Ul haq gave a boost to the Islamists but provided no stability for the future. In short order, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sarif both failed to straddle the divide. They ran afoul of the military, of Islamists or of the religious parties. In the end, half the country wants to be more like Turkey. The other half would prefer to live on the Indus of the Moghuls.

And so came Musharraf's turn. Secular-minded he may have been but he needed the coalition of religious parties to back his dictatorship and his presidency. The Islamist bloc was the first to be disappointed when he gave in to US pressure to fight the Taliban and the Islamic radicalism they often supported. He then betrayed many of them by turning against Sharia law and wiping out their cohorts in the assault on the Red Mosque.

His other ally, Washington has just kissed him goodbye with a compliment for his record in fighting terrorism. But it is simply because the U.S. had no one else. They had to deal with the man who was there, whatever his situation: a mere Pakistani head of state, a man who was forced into peace deals with the implacable pro-Taliban tribes of Waziristan, who was impotent in the face of pro-Taliban Islamist elements inside his own intelligence agencies and who has remained vague on his failure to capture Osama Bin Laden on Pakistani soil. In its eulogy Washington has also forgotten that it was Musharraf who, under popular pressure, drew the line at US cross-border operations inside Pakistan.

Then there are the secular forces which might have hoped that his dictatorship would at least bring stability but had to watch as it lingered into a twilight of illegality and constitutional abuse: as he fired the supreme court and imprisoned protesting lawyers. Those who believe in civil society had every right to be distressed.

But not surprised. All they had to do was look at the chasm between secular and religious and see it effectively enshrined in their constitution. The twin powers of president and prime minister, while meant to check one another, have repeatedly split the country. The president represents the executive and the prime minister is the voice of an elected parliament. The president has almost always been backed by conservative religious parties, the prime minister by forces for change. The two were doomed, from the beginning, to maul one another like starving lions in cage. Twice, the presidency was abolished, by Prime Minister Ali Bhutto and then by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Both made the post of prime minister all-powerful, indeed, demagogic. The presidency was restored by dictators- Zia Ul Haq and Musharraf. Both sides wanted total power and Pakistan's all-purpose constitution has always been adjusted to favour one post or the other. Now, the head of the Senate will serve the post as caretaker until a majority from both houses of parliament and the four provincial districts can determine the new president.

Faced with a moderate parliament and prime minister, one can be sure the religious parties will turn out in force in an attempt to elect a president of their choice. By contrast, Prime Minister Gillani must hope that a friend or ally will be elected to the presidency. That alone would be a revolution in a country that has resisted rule to the very end- and has eaten up mist of its leaders, including Mr. Musharraf.
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