EDITORIAL: In compliance with his desire to be buried in the soil of his homeland, former President and army chief Pervez Musharraf’s body was brought to Karachi in a special plane that had gone to fetch it and he was buried with full military honours in an army cemetery.
Between the “abrogation” of the constitution that started former General Musharraf’s rule and the NRO (National Reconciliation Ordinance) that unraveled it, there’s much in the nine or so years that he was first chief executive and then president of Pakistan that stands out.
The first emergency was the economy, of course, because back then too, national reserves were down to less than one month’s import cover. And his detractors’ criticism that he was able to turn around the economy just because he took Pakistan on board America’s war-on-terror bandwagon notwithstanding, there’s no denying that he personally led the hunt for new export markets; especially much of the previously untapped South American market.
And his finance team — headed by Shaukat Aziz who later became prime minister — did succeed in attracting enough hot money as well as investments through privatisation and otherwise to push the growth rate to the highest level in a long time.
There was a lot of criticism about joining the war in Afghanistan, especially from right-of-centre conservatives that had grown to dominate the country’s social and political landscape since the previous military dictatorship under General Zia, but time proved that it was the right decision. Pakistan was in no position to get in the way of the sole superpower’s revenge for 9/11, and saying no would not only have threatened the country’s existence, but Washington would simply have gone next door, giving the eastern neighbour primacy in the entire region.
He must also be credited for taking a very firm stand against the fresh wave of extremism that swept the country as the war began. Instead, he initiated liberal reforms, in line with his “enlightened moderation” doctrine, which was contrary to the country’s previous experiences with authoritarian dictatorships.
Some quarters will never forgive him for the Kargil misadventure, no doubt, especially since the military under him sabotaged the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s push for peace with India. But, as head of state, he took the peace process farther than his predecessors, breaking fresh ground by becoming Pakistan’s first military commander to propose a four-point plan to settle the Kashmir issue once and for all.
His administration also carried out the most successful round of backdoor diplomacy with Delhi, coming to “within a signature” of settling the Sir Creek issue, according to his foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri. India’s prime minister of the time, Dr Manmohan Singh, could not make the historic trip to Islamabad to sign on the dotted line in 2007 because by then the lawyers’ movement had erupted and grabbed the government’s attention.
It also goes to his credit that a military dictator gave the most thorough blueprint for local governments; something that democratically elected administrations regularly shy away from because with devolution of power also comes transfer of state funds to the grassroots. And Pakistan’s crop of usual politicians is never too comfortable with such arrangements. That’s why nobody was surprised when the entire scheme was rolled back as soon as he sent his resignation to the speaker of the house.
However, none of that could undo the harm he caused by violating the constitution — not once, but twice — trying to throw the sitting chief justice out of office and allowing tried, tested, failed and berated politicians back into the running for the big office.
For the constitution he paid with a death sentence and loss of prestige because he had to flee the country and die in obscurity in the UAE (United Arab Emirates). And for the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) that he enacted, which became necessary to hold the 2007 election, the people paid the price because they were again left to the mercy of the same political parties that ran the country into the ground in the first place.
Still, when all is said and done, Pervez Musharraf should and will be remembered as the man that restored the country’s pride, rescued its economy from the kind of collapse we face once again in the present time, and reignited a sense of patriotism that Pakistanis had long left behind. His slogan, “Sub say pehlay Pakistan (Pakistan before everything else)”, is needed once more; more desperately than ever.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023