Those who are calling General (retd) Musharraf a coward do not know the man. And those who believe he is trying to mobilise, from the sanctuary of AFIC, his ‘foreign friends’ and ‘well-wishers within the institution’ to negotiate a deal for him for safe passage out of the country, know him even less.
I vividly recall his answer to my question during the very first press conference he addressed in Islamabad after the takeover: What is your exit strategy, General Sahab? I asked. I am not one to run away (Mein bhagney wala nahi hoon), was his quick retort.
And true enough, he kept digging in even after the expiry of the three-year-to-rule mandate the Supreme Court had allowed him. When I asked him during an interview (for Dawn) why does he want to continue in office for another five years, he said he wanted to complete the unfinished agenda that he had set for himself. And what happens when you find that your agenda is still unfinished even after five years, would you like to continue, I pressed on. “Yes,” he said, without a pause.
Benazir had offered him two choices in return for agreeing to let him continue in the then all-powerful office of the presidency without, of course, the uniform. Understandably, he agreed to withdraw all ‘politically motivated’ cases instituted up to 1999 against her, her husband and her party workers, rather than allow her to become prime minister (PM) for the third time. Therefore, the infamous NRO. Presumably, he, perhaps, thought with Benazir out of the PM office, he would be able to use the powers of his office more effectively to continue to keep the elected parliament under his thumb even without the uniform.
One does not know how Benazir would have handled the situation, but the way Zardari went about easing Musharraf out of office and out of the country smacked of a copy book move perhaps, already sketched out by the former prime minister before she was eliminated.
In the din of the ongoing debate on whether or not to try Musharraf under Article 6, most of us seem to have ignored the events that had led to his honourable exit from office in August 2008. And if informed reports circulating at that time were to be believed, Musharraf was given an assurance that no cases would be instituted against him if he resigned and left the country instead of contesting the impeachment proceedings that were being proposed. Presumably, his institution and also the US were guarantors of this deal.
Now that he has come back, presumably against the advise of his US friends and his former institution, it is rather highly unlikely that they would like to intervene to get him off the hook for a second time.
Many believe that he should not have come back. But it would have been against his grain to while away his time in a foreign land. Being a commando he has, perhaps, invented a self-image for himself. A macho man — a hero always on the lookout for a damsel in distress to save.
That is, perhaps, what he thought he was doing when he staged the 1999 coup. And again that is, perhaps, what he thought he was doing when he returned to Pakistan just before the May 11, 2013 election — to save the country from the ‘depths’ it had reached since he left it in 2008.
But he seemed totally oblivious to the fact that the so-called economic boom that Pakistan enjoyed between 2002 and 2007 had nothing to do with the management prowess of his economic team. It was, instead, directly related to the 9/11 financial bonanza, as in return for our help in the war against terror the multilateral donors had granted us repayment moratorium of seven long years, while most bilateral donors had either converted their loans into grants or written them off completely.
Instead of using this massive fiscal space to restructure the economy to make it more resilient against external and internal hazards, his economic managers wasted it on promoting consumerism and black economy. That was the sheen that had covered up the horrendous crises that had started flowing out of his policies, putting the economy on an almost irreversible path of a slippery slope.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 22nd, 2014.