How We Can Stop Turning Despots Into Heroes

How We Can Stop Turning Despots Into Heroes
When asked what the Constitution meant for him, the enlightened despot took a pause and then in his usual nonchalant manner remarked “I think that the Constitution is a piece of paper that should be thrown away in the dustbin.”

Yet to hear all these uncles talk about forgiveness and reopening the debate on Musharraf’s dictatorial regime, one would think that these words were uttered an eternity ago.

As a nation that prides itself over remembering centuries old traditions and events, it is amazing how good we are at forgetting those taking place right before our eyes. Ask a random Pakistani about a certain dramatized fictional Ottoman figure and he’ll tell you his exact place of birth, number of spouses and extra-marital affairs. However, ask him about the policies initiated by his own rulers, and you’ll find his words faltering.

Pervez Musharaff seems to be no exception either. As a man who stayed at the helm of power for almost a decade, his policies were amongst the most consequential the country had ever seen. From igniting the lawyers’ movement against himself to institutionalising enforced disappearances, Musharaff has done it all. The man also remains responsible for setting the precedent of rape apologists in office. While trying to dispel the Mukhatara Mai case, the tyrant callously uttered the most horrible words to ever come out of a Head of State’s mouth “cry rape, get rich”. Similar sentiments were reciprocated by another masochist who also had very little regard for the Constitution.

Yet these facts did not deter the star general from making a star cameo in the 2013 general elections. Though this time, thanks to the good sense of our citizens, it turned out to be as disastrous as his rule.

Another part of Musharaff’s reign which should not be overlooked was his decision to engage Pakistani forces in the War on Terror. A decision which would claim more than half a million Pakistani lives, trigger the heart-wrenching APS massacre, almost lead to the disintegration of tribal areas, and infect the nation with unresolvable radicalism – among other effects. The situation was even worse in the early days when the threat of a suicide bomber would follow one at every crowded place imaginable.

But engage in debate with these “one-man show” proponents, and they’ll tell you about the grave injustice Mr. Musharraf suffered in Justice Waqar Seth’s D-chowk-themed remarks and how it is important it is to undo it all. Some will even mention the country’s blistering economic success as testament to the man’s extra-terrestrial governance skills. However, few in the fan-club realise that apart from Justice Seth’s somewhat sentimental remarks, the bulk of the judgment against Musharraf wasn’t only impartial but also brilliantly penned. And despite all the outcry raised against it, the words didn’t and still don’t hold any legal force. As far as the question of “economic success” is concerned, it is as columnist Niaz Murtaza points out: that fabricating economic growth has been the favourite side-job of almost all dictatorial regimes. In fact, a large part of such “economic success” heavily relies on US aid and “boost-bum” patterns which promise no sustainable development.

But keeping all his maladministration aside, one must ask: does the man deserve Cromwell’s fate? No: hanging dead corpses or dragging them through D-Chowk rarely atones for past sins. Even for someone like Musharraf, the law shouldn’t be harsher than its own limits. Instead, emphasis needs to be placed on resolving the issue at the grassroots.

What could act as a strong deterrent for future coup instigators? How can we, the people, prevent our country from plunging down the abyss of another dictatorship? Well, for starters, we have to stop forgetting things. Ignorance breeds chaos and as the GoT character Lord Petyr Baelish observed, chaos is not a pit but a ladder for those with nefarious ambitions.

To prevent another despot from climbing this ladder, it’s important that we start learning from our history. Or very soon, another Musharraf would be breathing down our necks and telling us why “the Constitution is just a piece of paper that should be thrown in the dustbin.”