It sounds like the latest Rambo film. An ageing military man decides to return to the country he loves for one last battle. But for us this is no movie. It’s all too real. Yes, El Presidente, El Generalissimo, the soldier sahib himself, Pervez Musharraf is all set to return to Pakistan. According to news reports 50 people, including close aides to the former president, are meeting at his London residence to plan a future strategy for their new party. The political party — the oh-so-very originally named All Pakistan Muslim League —has submitted documents to the Electoral Commission for registration. Musharraf, perhaps galvanised by his popularity on Facebook (200,000 plus fans), is preparing to step once again into the line of fire. Memo to Mush: Please don’t.
I am no foaming Musharraf hater. He astutely negotiated the tricky tightrope of post-9/11 diplomacy with great aplomb. His initial government of technocrats was one of the most capable that Pakistan has seen. He managed to liberalise Pakistan’s media and telecom industry and created thousands of jobs in the process. He and his family have no whiff of corruption to their name — a significant achievement for a Pakistani political leader. Having met him a couple of times, he seemed pleasant, courteous and, yes, funny. Nor do I doubt his sincerity or love for his country. A combination of huge ego and a genuine desire to fix his country will be driving him to return.
But return he mustn’t. Through his contempt for democracy, the rule of law, and the independence of the judiciary he has forfeited the right to seek a democratic mandate from the electorate. The Balochistan operation, the missing persons, the sacking of the chief justice, the imposition of emergency — this is not the work of someone who believes in democratic institutions. And it is these institutions that Pakistan needs to strengthen for us to progress as a functioning state. Musharraf has proven not to be the man for that job.
I also have a more visceral reason against Musharraf’s return. Pakistan politics is stuck in a groundhog day — an endless repetition of the same characters facing the same accusations. Today’s three main political leaders are 54, 60, 56 respectively. Asif Ali Zardari has been at the epicentre of PPP politics since his marriage to Benazir Bhutto in 1987. Nawaz Sharif came to prominence on the political scene in 1985 as the chief minister of the Punjab. Altaf Hussain formed the MQM in 1984 out of the remnants of APMSO, a group he launched in 1979 — a time when David Cameron and Nick Clegg were still in short trousers. It just proves how stagnant and dormant Pakistani politics remains.
Three-quarters of the population are less than 30 years old, and half the population is under 20; we need leaders who can tackle and represent the most pressing problems facing Pakistan and its youth. Our current crop of baby boomer leaders have failed spectacularly. Theirs is a generation that squandered Jinnah’s inheritance. They are a generation that has a reductive, old-fashioned worldview, especially towards India, that our youth living in a globalised and competitive world no longer shares.
Musharraf’s return would be a continuation of this elaborate unchanging game of political musical chairs. At 66, an army man brought up on a diet of anti-Indian propaganda, his time has passed. He was in power for nine years; a good innings in which he did what he thought was his patriotic duty for his country. But now he should retire. There is a need for a liberal, secular party that appeals to the urban, educated population. Such a polarising, tainted and divisive figure would only cause more damage and division to an already fragmented society. We need new leaders. There should be a sign at the airport that reads, Pakistan: No country for old men.
Published in the Express Tribune, May 19th, 2010.