Everybody likes comebacks. No one ever agrees on their quality, but the chatter can’t be ignored. The return of the doped-out athlete or the jailed movie-star is always observed, debated and judged.
But there is no comeback like a political comeback: Winston Churchill; Richard Nixon; Nelson Mandela; even M.A. Jinnah – all giants of government, each forced out of the public coliseum as a wounded ideologue, only to return as stronger and bigger leaders.
But the rarest of comebacks is that of the defamed dictator.
Military rulers – especially those who have had the luck to survive assassination attempts but not the acumen to sustain an absolutist, coup-inspired dispensation of their own making – returning to the political realm, that too through the mainstream of the democratic process – a parliamentary party – are the hummingbirds of the political animal kingdom: They are seldom seen, not expected to make much of a dent to the food-chain, but are obsessively sought by the observers of the jungle of public affairs.
But the artilleryman who became a commando, and the commando who became a general, and the general who became a coup-maker, and the coup-maker who became a pariah, and the pariah who became a statesman, and the statesman who became a global icon – one former President General (retd.) Pervez Musharraf, doesn’t think he’s a hummingbird. Nor do his supporters.
And they also say that he’s been through so many transitions that another turn-around is only a natural challenge for the man who was once quoted by Time Magazine in unforgettable, yet (eventually) fallible gusto: “I never feel scared.”
Those were the Big Days of Musharraf. The million-dollar book deals and the Camp David retreats, the 95 percent referendums and the booming middle-classes – made him, and most of the rest of the world, feel like the man was always meant to run Pakistan, fight a global war, solve regional conflicts, empower women, emancipate media, and ensure everyone in his country could afford a cell-phone.
But then, something went wrong.
Musharraf’s base – the “believers” – could not understand. The progressive elites were shocked at his treatment of the judicial crisis. The capitalist elites were let down by his inability to balance the books and provide the basics as militancy multiplied. The middle-classes saw their car and bike loans climb into deathbed debts. And as they saw both his country and his control over it melt all around him, the global elites – not the always interested academic ones, but the low-attention span political sort – concluded that Musharraf was a powerless relic, an emasculated warrior, an armchair general who needed to retire. And so it ended.
But now, it has begun again. Well, sort of.
Yesterday, in London and Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad, the All Pakistan Muslim League got a new leader. Pervez Musharraf is now, officially, the tough cookie of Pakistani politics. His party’s symbol, the eagle, is a throwback to the famous Iqbal poem that inspires all to fly high.
The ‘ex-factor’ makes Musharraf feel confident enough about returning is not actually, but virtually, full of potential.
This is the “credit card” support base that the APML is banking on – called so because they have the potential to provide Musharraf benefits, but currently only ‘promise’ the big bucks.
Musharraf’s game-plan is not public yet, nor is it fully baked. His supporters at home obviously feel the time is right for him to launch into politics, but not return.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 2nd, 2010.