The latest offering from the land of ironies: in a country where, in the not too distant past, much political commentary revolved around the question of constitutional immunity from prosecution for a controversial but serving ‘civilian’ president – with many showing moral impatience with such immunity – a former president and military dictator’s arrest, or even the talk of it, should pose to some the ‘institutional’ and ‘practical’ problem of him being a former chief of army staff and of how the army might be losing sleep over this issue.
Apart from various interests at play behind such a concern, what it also reflects is the extent of damage done to the psyche of a people generations of whom have been brought up under the awe of army/dictatorial rule. With no legal or logical bar in the way of the police arresting General ‘Retired’ Musharraf in compliance with the Lahore High Court orders denying him pre-arrest bail, what was it that reduced them to bewildered onlookers as the former army boss beat an indecently hasty retreat from the court premises – whisked off by a security entourage whose size appeared to represent symbolically the enormity of the crimes he is widely held responsible for?
However unpleasant it may sound, the only answer to this question can be: the law of the jungle and the logic of force.
Much has been said about the army’s more-than-once proclaimed resolve to keep away from politics, let the civilians do their job and let the law take its course. As long as this course does not run through Olympus and disturb the gods sitting atop? Are democracy and rule of law houses let out to judges, civilian rulers and, presently, the caretakers, with the residents always having to be mindful of the need not to make too much use of the space given to them, lest they be got going?
Because this is certainly the impression given when Musharraf is provided with an armed shield against a court order and comments about the concern of the army and the care that needs to be taken figure prominently in the subsequent discourse.
The line of reasoning that sees the caretakers in a difficult position in the matter of Musharraf because they are only caretakers is laboured but still disingenuous and unconvincing. The uncertainties of election time and the busy caretaking on at the moment were no doubt part of Musharraf’s calculations when he decided to make a comeback. Yet, there is no constitutional hindrance in the way of the caretakers in ensuring that the orders of the court are carried out; and helping in Musharraf’s prosecution does not amount to dealing with a civil war or restructuring the economy or reframing the constitution or promulgating new laws.
In the hours of suspense that followed the court orders on Thursday, it was wrong for the caretakers to be seen biting their nails at best or – advertently or inadvertently – aiding Musharraf’s escape through inaction at worst, when the only thing they should have done was to do the court’s bidding.
Some of our political leaders have now had to break the intriguing silence they had maintained ever since Musharraf’s arrival and condemn the law being flouted to install him safely in the luxury of his farmhouse – for us to consider his siestas there as his time in a sub-jail. But the breaking of this silence was not even half as telling as the keeping of it has been, and will be again.
When it comes to playing whatever political farce they find useful to play to their voters and on other opportune occasions, our political class wax eloquent about what they have had to suffer at the hands of military dictators and adventurers for being bloody civilians, but trust them to sacrifice the credibility of the sloganeering they do in the name of democracy at the first instance of running into a situation which requires going beyond ‘victimhood’ and becoming pioneers of precedents that might go some way in correcting the so-called civil-military imbalance.
No truly democratic vision to set right decades-old wrongs but deals done with and guarantees given to internal and external actors come quickly into play. When these deals are frustrated by the actions of a judiciary that simply will not let go of inconvenient matters, we may then see – as we have seen in the Senate now – much venting of affected anger.
Is it naïve optimism to hope that this time around this will not turn out to be only pose and affectation till the next deal is struck or an old one renewed? This question runs the very real risk of being rhetorical.
Deals, inaction and silence, all are aimed at reducing this affair to an ego tussle between individual personalities and ‘purging’ it of its immense political, institutional and social significance for Pakistan. Musharraf and his guarantors certainly hope that this will happen.
Musharraf’s ‘miscalculation’ in coming back has been subjected to speculative and ‘psycho-analytical’ comment by many of late, but his much derided delusion can also be seen as simple common sense on his part which, in this case, must consist in his understanding of how persistent and effective are the workings of institutional imbalance in this country and how politically ‘disarming’ are the deals our democrats are prone to strike here and abroad.
Ritualistic worship of ‘democratic’ superficialities is a political religion of convenience, whereas the task at hand is radically inconvenient. A lot has to be made to happen for the ‘received’ wisdom Musharraf embodies to be proven wrong. It is time we got it right.
The writer is editor Op-Ed at The News. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Keywords: Political issues , High court , Political leaders , Military dictator , Political class , Judiciary , Democracy , Gen Musharraf