Dictators do not have post-retirement careers, dictators do not make comebacks. As a general principle, a dictator does not die of old age, particularly when not in power. The Commando is back to defy all these accepted facts about dictators. The rubbing of the eyes has to stop now. General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, it seems, is here for a bit. He now is a political non-entity, an irrelevant player in the larger scheme of affairs. There is a temptation to simply ignore him. However, it was unnerving to watch a shoe being thrown at him in the Sindh High Court. Firstly, for the obvious reason that there is no dignity in any shoe throwing at anyone. But also for what the Commando might come to symbolise in the coming days. A pathetic old man, way past his prime, insulted in public at a regular basis. It seems like a satisfying outcome considering what he inflicted upon this country. It would give great personal pleasure to see him humiliated at the polls, which fortunately, is highly likely. Yet, there is the real risk of him becoming so pathetic and easy to mock that we begin to pity him, of him arousing a bit of sympathy. Hence, forgetting what he did once, what he stood for. That should not happen.
As much as one loathes the Commando, the recent news of Jamia Hafsa students, armed with sticks, tearing down the General’s posters in Islamabad is disturbing. The last time they took to the streets in Islamabad, armed with sticks and stones, it did not end very well. In any case, whatever were the specifics of the last incident, that is not what General Musharraf should primarily be remembered or attacked for. Adequate security needs to be provided to him and the vandalism restrained. Unlike the callous treatment he extended to BB, he needs to be protected. To prove to ourselves that we are better than him, and also for the reason of allowing the legal system to take its course, a system he detested when he was in power. There is no reason to romanticise his return; rational thought was never his strong point. To quote Hunter S Thompson on former US President Richard Nixon, “ … honest historians will remember him as the rat who kept scrambling to get back on the ship”.
The Supreme Court declared that General Musharraf subverted the Constitution in the July 31, 2009 judgment. The judgment was unanimously and uncritically hailed as a new beginning, a break away from past, etc. On the slightest reflection, the judgment was exactly keeping in line with our not so glorious legal history. Yahya Khan was declared an “usurper” a few months after he was gone and comprehensively disgraced. The Commando was held to have subverted the Constitution when he was gone. All other judgments starting from 1954 pertaining to military takeovers and dictators that were present have been completely welcoming to the adventurers, even bestowing upon them powers that they had not asked for. Much bravado is displayed when the man with the stick has left. The return of the Commando provides a unique opportunity to the Court and to the people, that is to punish the dictator when he is still alive, and also before he becomes pitiable. It is about time that the cost of subverting (abrogating, etc) the Constitution is raised for all future potential adventurers.
To make a case for why the Commando should be punished is too obvious and too easy. Yet, it remains necessary. Why now? Short answer, we have to publically try him and make sure the law is applied squarely while there is still time. Can’t we let it slide, move on, bygones be bygones, etc? Short answer, no we cannot. It is not fair to let it slide. He deserves to be punished. The record needs to be set clean. There is another important reason and that has to do with self-respect. The Commando’s comeback is a direct challenge, a taunt to the Court, the democratic system and the people. As someone who opposes the death penalty for anyone, in an ideal situation, I would want him to be tried and spend his remaining years inside a prison cell.
The Court should dispel the notion that it did not contemplate a return in the 2009 judgment and has now been caught slightly off guard. The Supreme Court now has to assert itself with the same force on the Commando as they customarily display with the elected government and its officials. That is not easy. According to one interpretation, the July 31, 2009 judgment seems to suggest that all those who aided and abetted the subversion might also be complicit. And that list has some powerful people. To quote MD Taseer, davaar-i-hashr mera naam-i-amal na dekh, is mein kuchh parda nasheenon kay bhi naam atay hain.
The murders of Shaheeds Akbar Bugti and BB cannot be allowed to slide. It will, perhaps, be helpful to revisit his statements, his arrogance, apathy and smugness on the murders whenever in the future, one begins to feel even slightly sorry for the Commando. He does not deserve it.
This is all the more important as we awkwardly mule through to elections. Generals Aslam Beg, Asad Durrani and Hameed Gul still mock us. Mock us, even after admitting to rigging and stealing an election, and the Supreme Court holding the first two guilty. General Musharraf’s referendum and the rigged 2002 elections should be fresh in our collective memory. The murder of Nawab Akbar Bugti represented a distinct breaking point for many Baloch nationalists. As welcome efforts are underway to encourage some Baloch nationalists to contest elections, it should be remembered reconciliation without truth, without accountability is unreasonable and unnatural.
When the Commando illegally took over, there were many amongst the politicians and intelligentsia who welcomed him. Many of them had the grace to sincerely and publicly acknowledge their mistake subsequently and hence are absolved. Yet, the Commando has to be tried and hopefully punished to establish a basic point; that a dictator is never all right, never acceptable. For the moment, we look at the Supreme Court. Procedure needs to be followed, personal dislike set aside and the law applied — that should do it.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 14th, 2013.