“History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce,” wrote Karl Marx.
Exhibit A: look at Pakistan this week where former dictator Pervez Musharraf’s monkeyshines made a laughing-stock of the nation created in 1947 to be a model of good government for the world’s Muslims.
The former self-styled “president-general returned from exile last month to run in Pakistan’s May elections for reasons no one understands. My best guess is egomania.
Musharraf, who faces a wide variety of legal charges ranging from corruption to murder and treason, was allowed back under a pre-arranged bail. But on Thursday, as Musharraf was in court for a hearing, bail was revoked. The former president-general and his bodyguards bolted from the courthouse and fled to his farm compound outside Islamabad where he remains as of this writing. Farce indeed.
Gen. Musharraf overthrew the elected government of Nawaz Sharif in 1999, after Nawaz tried to dismiss him. What began as a personal feud soon drew in the United States after 9/11.
According to Musharraf, the “US put a gun to my head” and demanded Pakistan allow itself to be semi-occupied and join the war against Taliban – or be bombed back to the Stone Age.
Washington much liked Gen. Musharraf’s military dictatorship. Without its full support, the US could not have waged war in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s ports, air bases, supply routes and military were essential to the US war effort. In return, Pakistan received at least $1.5 billion annually and untold “black” payments to high-ranking officials. “Mush,” as he was known in Washington was hailed as the latest in a long line of “our SOB’s.” Part of Pakistan’s army was rented out to support the US-led war in Afghanistan – a move that inflamed the autonomous Northwest Frontier, leading to tribal uprisings against Islamabad.
Under Musharraf, large numbers of opponents and Taliban supporters disappeared at US behest. Prisoners were tortured and abused. But overall, Mush was not as brutal a dictator as his Central Asian or Mideastern counterparts. Yet his arrest of senior members of Pakistan’s high courts who were investigating his crimes eventually led to his downfall.
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There was something strange about the little general. He was certainly not up to Pakistan’s take-no-prisoners politics, and gave in to Washington far too readily. He seemed a bit dazed and uncertain if he really wanted to lead Pakistan. He showed the same signs when he arrived in Islamabad last month.
I interviewed him soon after he seized power and I found him weak and totally without charisma. Having met most of Pakistan’s leaders and top fire-breathing generals, and much admiring the tough Zia ul-Haq, I was deeply disappointed by Musharraf. “You’re no Zia,” I recall saying to myself as we were talking.
Pakistani, by and large also rejected Musharraf; many accused him of being a stooge of Washington. Seeing his support slipping away, Washington sought to kick him aside and install its favorite, Benazir Bhutto, as president. I was with Benazir in Washington as she was trying to line up US support for her return.
Soon after Benazir returned to Pakistan from self-imposed exile to campaign for office, I warned her about her security and urged her to stay behind bullet-proof plexiglass, as India’s leaders do. She told me she had to mix with the public: “it is our way in Pakistan.”
On 27 Dec. 2007 she was murdered in Rawalpindi by a bombing and shooting attack on her convoy. Her supporters claimed that either Musharraf or Pakistani Taliban were behind the attack. But shortly before she was killed, Benazir told me in a phone call that if she were assassinated, the culprits would be powerful Punjabi supporters of Gen. Musharraf.
No proof has yet emerged that Musharraf was linked to Bhutto’s murder. But he should clear his name at minimum as a service to the nation lest Pakistan be sneered at as being run by murderous cutthroats.
Mush has much to answer for. Most of all, high treason. I think he was crazy to return to Pakistan where fair trials are even rarer than honest politicians. Recklessly brave, out of touch with reality, or hoping Washington will return him to power? Hard to say.