Thirteen years of war have rewritten our polity’s very DNA. Pain, paranoia and fatigue have made anger omnipresent, intolerance rampant, brinkmanship a common political practice and hardened political positions. It was during this period that we witnessed the decline and fall of a dictator. Apart from Pervez Musharraf, the only dictator my generation remembers is Ziaul Haq, who did not gradually fade away but mercifully, one morning, just vanished from the scene altogether. Ayub Khan and Yahya Khan were before our time.
Now the problem with the declining days of a dictator is that as the insecurity sets in and longtime allies start ditching him, at times his own colleagues in uniform, the dictator has to gather around him a coterie of appeasers and defenders of either questionable integrity or blind faith in his person. Gathering this class of people is normally not his doing. Musharraf did nothing different. That is exactly why you see a marked difference in the choices he made during his last one-and-a-half year and the rest of his rule. Usually, when the dictator eventually goes away, so does the abovementioned coterie. But this didn’t happen either. Musharraf’s departure from power was painfully slow. After the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, when the PPP assumed power, it was considerably diminished and weak. This lot then was not purged out of the system. What is more, given that the country was fighting terrorism and insurgency on two different fronts, this class, banking on the goodwill that had generated through close cooperation with the general president, found ways to get deeply entrenched, reached the nerve centre of our very start and clouded its judgment for the PPP’s five years.
Result? Bedlam. Those who once told you how critical it was for Pakistan to cooperate in the US fight against terrorism would now inundate you with never-ending torrents of conspiracy theories. We were told how the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan was in league with American intelligence. How the wily Americans were using mythical technologies to orchestrate floods, earthquakes and other natural calamities in our country in order to destabilise it. On the political front, we learned from them how untrustworthy, deceitful and unpatriotic the political class was. The media, too, could not escape such accusations. And while all this was going on, a new generation was gaining consciousness. While I am no apologist for flaws in the PPP’s governing style, I know for a fact that this constant bickering made decent policymaking almost impossible for the party. On the other side, this propaganda was music to the ears of the non-state actors that the state was confronted with. When the deficit of trust between state institutions, the rulers and the ruled and even the federating units touches the sky, undermining every institution as a result, only the enemies of the state can prosper. Consequently, our state and society missed the opportunity to identify and vanquish the true enemy and could not benefit from the healing effects of democracy.
This class that I call ‘Musharrafia’ (Musharraf’s ashrafia — the elite) is a parochial, selfish and extremely noisy class. After ruining the general’s legacy, it continues to constantly destabilise the system. Even the ongoing political circus, a product of countless political misunderstandings, was helped considerably by this class. As its insecurities become the insecurities of the nation, its manners are also copied wildly. Hence, you see the use of abusive language on television, within political parties, even in educational institutions, and paranoia assumes life-threatening proportions.
Given that we had a narrow escape from a total meltdown of the system that could easily damage the state and that this nation badly needs a healing touch, it is up to you, dear readers, whether you want to live with this class that makes you see enemies where there are none. In my humble opinion, we cannot remain bonded to a painful past nor can we afford more anger and vitriol in society, given that we have a very proactive and impressionable youth. The idea then is not to put anyone out of job, but to ensure that no pressure group with narrow personal agendas is allowed to hold any individuals or groups hostage. In this case, perhaps, Musharraf can be of great help by asking this group to stand down, especially as he still claims to believe in the slogan — Pakistan first.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 4th, 2014.