Remember Pakistan’s Liberal Dictator?October 4, 2010
Well, I called it: Pervez Musharraf is staging a return to Pakistani politics. Launching his new “All Pakistan Muslim League” (AMPL) party this week in a plan to return to the country, the former General will have to face a tremendously skeptical, increasingly hardened citizenry and even tougher adversaries in the judicial branch and opposition parties. In an Al Jazeera special report, Musharraf’s former Legal Advisor Ahmed Raza Kasuri insisted that should tacit approval come from the country’s military establishment and most importantly, with support of a “silent majority” Kasuri measures at 60-65% of moderate Pakistani’s, Musharraf will garner required support to win in future elections. Political analyst Imtiaz Gul insisted otherwise explaining not only would the military establishment be weary of backing Musharraf who cost them valuable political capital when he sacked the judiciary in 2007 and issued a State of Emergency, but also because he has “lost relevance” in Pakistan today.
Gul makes a valuable point: without relevance a political figure is climbing an uphill battle of garnering credibility, and because credibility is deeply intertwined with legitimacy, Musharraff undoubtedly faces a bumpy comeback.
But relevance is not necessarily an impediment to power in Pakistan since the current situation lends a valuable opportunity for it to be readily earned. Current President Asif Zardari usurped such an opportunity when his wife was tragically murdered and assumed leadership, riding the waves of sympathy that swept the nation to win elections. While that “relevance” is waning now, it was enough to allow him a seat of power for 2 years and actually shake off some of the “Mr. 10%” infamy, which is a far larger feat than what Mushrraf faces today.
While the main opposition party leaders Asif Zardari and Nawaaz Sharif are forever bogged by allegations of corruption, Musharraff’s criticisms revolve around issues of “democracy”.
His most vociferous opponents will cite his sacking of the judiciary, coup to power, and 9 year dictatorial reign as subverting democracy in Pakistan. But such criticism of Musharraf is both misleading and mostly hyperbole.
The deficient part of such rhetoric lies in lacking recognition of liberalism. Notions of individual human rights and liberty, free trade, separation of church and state and religious tolerance are erroneously assumed to come only with democratic leadership in Pakistan. On the contrary, liberal policies extending specifically to women’s rights, fostering regional cooperation and trade, namely with India, opening domestic markets, such as free media and holding free and fair elections were successfully carried out previously by Musharraf.
Ironically, under the title of “dictator”, he brought forth more liberal triumphs than any other leaders in my lifetime. And it is important to not confuse democracy with liberalism. Fareed Zakaria makes this distinction in tweaking “Democratic Peace Theory”. His ideas are described:
“democracy is defined in terms of the process by which a government is selected. In contrast, “constitutional liberalism” is defined not by how the government is selected, but rather b the extent to which the society and its institutions protect individuals’ basic rights (to life, property, freedom of speech, and religion)”
Thus basic tenants of a such liberalism, to a fair extent were brought forth by Musharraf. And as political change seems imminent in Pakistan, if we continue looking to political theory one might advance a case for liberalism by way of identifying Musharraf’s opposition. If we take a voluntaristic view of government, wherein heads of states are integral parts of policymaking as opposed to looking mostly at system wide determinants of policy, one finds that not only corruption, but the fact that both Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif are part of feudal, landowning elites in Pakistan is meaningful. With that background, and likely subsequent value sets which are diametrically opposed to liberal notions of liberty and individual rights, Pakistan runs the risk of remaining socially, and economically stagnant under their leadership. Moreover, with the U.S. winding down our war in Afghanistan and shifting in to Pakistan, more than ever liberal ideals are needed.
No amount of drones, target killings or CIA intervention have yet quelled extremism let alone terrorism in Pakistan since 9/11. Modernity and liberalism are Pakistan’s best bet at framing a solution for the long run.
It cannot be an overnight shift, but it will require leadership that espouses liberal ideals. Because without credible experience in upholding individual rights and freedoms, only halfhearted appreciation will come for liberalism and even weaker attempts to implement them.
Is Musharraf the solution Pakistan is looking for? I do not know. But until new, more modern and liberal alternatives in political leadership are available, he just might be the best option now.
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