The military regime in Pakistan has enough egg on its face over the Nawaz Sharif episode to feed a battalion. But those who expected it to behave differently should have known better. General Pervez Musharraf is the product of the system that threw up such luminaries as Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Zia-ul Haq, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.
General Zia now appears a model of steadfastness in comparison with Musharraf. Zia was able to carry out a much greater feat — the execution of a former prime minister — at a time when he faced a serious threat from the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The Americans had not come through with any aid by then.
There were early signs of betrayal when not only military officers involved in shady arms-deals but also a number of civilians with close connections to the military were excluded from the accountability process. Ejazul Haq, son of the late general Ziaul Haq, and Humayun Akhtar Khan, son of another late general, Akhtar Abdur Rahman, have both been allowed to keep their stolen billions. The removal of general Amjad as chairman of the accountability bureau signalled a change of policy. Amjad was known for his strictness, often ruffling feathers in the military, who felt he was taking his job too seriously. There were also civilian voices clamouring for leniency. When general Maqbool took over, he started the demolition process by sacking the team put together by Amjad.
Whatever the reason for letting Nawaz Sharif go abroad — many have been advanced — the fact is that the military regime has been left without clothes. It had made accountability its raison d’etre for ruling the country; otherwise there was no legal, moral or political justification for it to be in power. The people of Pakistan had welcomed the takeover because of this promise. The regime is now searching for some other excuse to wield political power.
In typically inept Pakistani style, the whole episode was mishandled. Nawaz Sharif and his family were sent to Islamabad airport in the early hours of the morning for their outward journey to Jeddah without any public announcement. When news of Sharif’s departure became public, the immediate reaction was one of shock and disbelief. Once the gravity of the situation sank in, the natural question on everyone’s lips was: why keep lesser crooks in jail when the big fish can be let go so easily?
General Musharraf had made bold promises to root out corruption and clean the stables. On December 13 he offered the lame excuse that he did not believe in the politics of “confrontation and revenge.” Since when has forcing crooks to cough up stolen loot become confrontational politics? While the small fry are harassed, the mega-thieves are set free to enjoy their ill-gotten wealth so long as they promise not to challenge the incumbent’s hold on power. With its credibility in tatters, the military regime is left without options. In fact, the entire system in Pakistan is in shambles. The people are repeatedly deceived by one set of corrupt, incompetent politicians in civilian clothes followed by another set in military uniform. This is hardly a choice the people relish. Corruption has eaten away at the vitals of society; the law situation has deteriorated and there appear to be no options left within the system.
It has been repeatedly stated in these columns that Pakistan’s solution lies not in more of the same but in radical change. This has become even more urgent. Those who believe that a change to civilian rule will bring Pakistan respite are deluding themselves. Pakistan is like a patient suffering from cancer; it is offered tylenol instead of aspirin to ease the pain, when surgery is required to remove the cancerous parts.
The people of Pakistan need to consider seriously the option of an Iran-style Islamic Revolution to overthrow the present order. This will not come about through the existing political parties, Islamic or otherwise. These political parties are part of the problem, not the solution. The first requirement is the emergence of a muttaqileadership without any class or parochial interests. This leadership must emerge from within the masses (the lower and middle classes), not the feudal lords or industrial barons. Unless this leadership emerges from within the roots of society in Pakistan, the people will continue to be misled.
Time, however, is running out. Pakistan’s Muslims have to act before the socioeconomic mess engulfs them and Pakistan descends into civil war. There are already many who believe that a Taliban-style government is the only solution to Pakistan’s problems. If the present aimless drift continues, there are enough Taliban-types in the thousands of madrassas in Pakistan to oblige, and they probably have the fire to do the job.