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Lest We Forget

“The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;”

William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene II

By the grace of God, former President General Pervez Musharraf is alive and well, and is setting examples of courage, perseverance and trust in God for the entire nation. However, his detractors have been carrying out a systematic and sustained campaign not only to bury the good that he did, but to defame and malign  him by a malicious web of lies and innuendos. At this stage, it would be useful to recall some of the achievements during Musharraf’s presidency, the last five as a democratically elected president of a democratically elected government, the first in Pakistan’s history to complete five years in office with a performance better than any other in recent years.

  1. Musharraf created freedom for the press and opened up the electronic media, something which all previous political governments had resisted. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous media moguls have misused this power sometimes to turn villains into heroes and heroes into villains. The freedom which he gave to the electronic media worked at times to Musharraf’s own detriment but, as exemplified by the on-camera exposure of the recent killings in Model Town, Lahore and the brutality visited upon the police itself by a PMLN MPA in the Punjab, it was  good for the country’s future generations. Musharraf had put Pakistan first.
  2. On assuming office, Musharraf had declared that his first priority would be the economy, which was in shambles, with only a few hundred million remaining in the state treasury.  During the 2008 U.S. presidential debate, Senator John McCain, whose forte is foreign affairs, in response to a comment from his opponent, had stated: “Senator Obama does not realize that Pakistan was a failed state before Musharraf!” Since the mid-1980s, it has been the wont of Pakistan’s politicians to bring the country to the point of bankruptcy, providing an excuse for military or civil intervention. The late President Farooq Leghari, a man of honor and principles, had given ten reasons for dismissing the government of his own party.  In a speech he gave in Los Angeles a few years later at a function compared by Mr. Faiz Rehman, then editor of the Pakistan Link, he revealed that there was an eleventh reason, with which he could not go public at the time of dismissal: there were only $200 million remaining in the treasury!

What Musharraf achieved was an economic miracle, as acknowledged by a number of independent analysts. The most important was the paying off of the high interest IMF loans. It is a shame that the two governments which succeeded him started their terms by extending the bowl again to the IMF (which has been described as the International Mahajan Fund, because its practices reflect those of the traditional Mahajans of the sub-continent, making high-interest loans available to third-world countries whose leaders are willing to burden their future generations with never-ending and ever-increasing loans). The practice is to borrow, print notes and spend. The underlying philosophy was defined by the late Shaheed Benazir Bhutto herself, in a statement beating Mary Antoinette in naïveté: “How can the State Bank be short of cash when it can itself print currency notes?” (Published in the Dawn, Karachi, December 1, 1995).

In a very well-researched and authenticated article, Pakistan Link columnist and independent blogger Mr. Riaz Haq, wrote:

“On the 11th anniversary of General  Musharraf’s assumption of power, the dominant political rhetoric on the airwaves of Pakistan completely obscures his daring rescue of the nation’s economy from total collapse in 1999.  Instead, Musharraf’s enemies are focusing entirely on his missteps.

“To set the record straight, let me quote from the current PPP government’s letter it signed and sent to the IMF in 2008. Here is how it hails Musharraf’s economic record without mentioning his name:

“Pakistan’s economy witnessed a major economic transformation in the last decade. The country’s real GDP increased from $60 billion to $170 billion, with per capita income rising from under $500 to over $1000 during 2000-07…..the volume of international trade increased from $20 billion to nearly $60 billion. The improved macroeconomic performance enabled Pakistan to re-enter the international capital markets in the mid-2000s. Large capital inflows financed the current account deficit and contributed to an increase in gross official reserves to $14.3 billion. at end-June 2007. Buoyant output growth, low inflation, and the government’s social policies contributed to a reduction in poverty and improvement in many social indicators”. (ref. MEFP, November 20, 2008, Para 1).”

Supporting his findings with a number of graphs and charts in his article, Mr. Haq goes on to add:

“The IMF has acknowledged that Pakistan became one of the four fastest growing economies in the Asian region during 2000-07 with its growth averaging 7.0 per cent per year for most of this period. As a result of strong economic growth, Pakistan succeeded in reducing poverty by one-half, creating almost 13 million jobs, halving the country’s debt burden, raising foreign exchange reserves to a comfortable position and propping the country’s exchange rate, restoring investors’ confidence and most importantly, taking Pakistan out of the IMF Program.

“Poverty in Pakistan decreased from about 34% to 17% and hunger went down with it during Musharraf years from 2000 to 2008, as reported by World Bank and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).”

In comparison to this performance, the economic indicators since Musharraf’s departure look pathetic.

3-Musharraf’s third gift to the nation was the Nazim System, restoring power to the people for the first time in the history of Pakistan. No democracy is a true democracy until it is felt at the grass-roots, and it can only be felt at the grass roots through local self-governments. This is how it works in true democracies such as the USA and Europe, where politicians rise through service at the county council and board of supervisor levels before aspiring for higher echelons of government. In Pakistan, the majority of politicians in power are born with silver spoons in their mouths. I visited Pakistan in December, 2007, and the signs of progress and the sense of freedom prevailing in the country was like a breath of fresh air in comparison to my previous visits. Karachi had been transformed by parks, roads and bridge- construction, for which the Nazim received international recognition and awards.

As expected,  one of the first steps of the government which succeeded Musharraf’s was to undo the Nazim System, returning back to politics as a business of “staking and making money”, so aptly described by Imran Khan a few years back. In this system, development funds are handed over to the sitting MPAs and MNAs to do what they like with them, rather than to remote local levels where the funds are needed. With this system, loyalties are bought and sold to keep governments in power.

4-Musharraf saved Pakistan from destruction two times:  the first one was after 9/11. It is easy for people sitting comfortably in their clubs and gymkhanas to blame him for supporting America’s war in Afghanistan.  If Musharraf had not made the decision which he did, there could be no gymkhanas and no clubs. What was the alternative?  India was eager and willing, and soliciting, to take up that role. To say the least, there would have been a tremendous amount of “collateral damage” in Pakistan, its loans (incurred thanks to previous political governments) called up, and other punitive actions.  Besides, the Taliban way of life, where the answer to every difference of opinion is the bullet, where every sect except their own is a ‘kafir’, where innocent passing-out Pakistani cadets are shot dead without any reason, where a little school girl is shot at only for espousing the cause of women’s education, is foreign to Islam and to the Pakistani way of life. The Taliban had taken a stranglehold in Afghanistan, and their tentacles were spreading out towards Pakistan. The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi had threatened to march on Islamabad with a “lashkar “(armed force) of 100,000 people. This was before 9/11. Any other government would have taken the same step as Musharraf. The proof is very simple: the succeeding governments had ample time to reverse course, but they didn’t.  In fact the current government has finally recognized the Taliban for what they really are, and itself engaged in a decisive war to destroy their power.

The second time Musharraf saved Pakistan was in mid-2002, when India had amassed a force of one million soldiers on the Kashmir border, threatening war and destruction.  It was Musharraf’s ‘lalkaar’ (clarion call) to take the war to mainland India and to use all options that forced India to back off under simultaneous pressure from other super-powers.

5-President Musharraf came very close to solving the Kashmir problem, which has been a drain on the country’s meager resources since its creation, on honorable terms to Pakistan.  This was confirmed by Wikileaks (http://www.wikileaks-forum.com/india/68/wikileaks-manmohan-singh-musharraf-came-close-to-striking-kashmir-deal/4631/); quoting a US Embassy cable dated April 21, 2009 reporting on a meeting between Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and a visiting US delegation led by then House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman. This was later confirmed by Dr. Singh himself at his farewell press conference on January 4, 2014 (ref. http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-manmohan-confirms-missed-opportunity-with-pakistan-on-settling-kashmir-dispute-1945141). The draft agreement was based on Musharraf’s “out of the box” thinking, whose  four points included demilitarization, maximum autonomy, making border irrelevant and joint management of the area. Wikileaks reports that “Later, however, Pakistani government rejected the formula, saying that it was Musharraf’s personal line of thinking that lacked endorsement either by Pakistani parliament or cabinet.” Of all the good done by Musharraf which his successors had undone (such as the Nazim system) this was perhaps the ‘unkindest cut of all’, to use another Shakespearean phrase. If the Musharraf-Manmohan Singh initiative had gone through, the benefit to Pakistan’s current and future generations would have been immeasurable, and would have allowed the Kashmiris to live with peace, honor and security, something which has eluded them since Independence.  Musharraf’s initiative was also hailed by Mir Waiz Umar Farooq. The worst aspect is that, with the latest developments in India, it is highly unlikely that such an opportunity would ever come again.

One question people often ask is “Why did Musharraf come back to Pakistan, leaving his life of ease, comfort and respect?” The answer is simple: he came back because he loves Pakistan and, like every other overseas Pakistani, his heart must have been bleeding at the sad state of affairs in the motherland. He is a soldier: so many times he has put his life on the line, always leading from the front, be it the intense fighting for the Khemkaran sector, or the Lahore and Sialkot war zones, or Kashmir itself, always sticking to his post under shellfire. For his courage, he received praise even from an Indian general who had fought against him, for going deep into Indian Territory during the Kargil operation.  Former   Indian Army Chief General  V. K. Singh, said : “As a military commander, I would commend General  Musharraf for coming 11 km (inside Indian territory) to stay with his troops for a night. It is the courage of a military commander that he came so far knowing that there was danger.”

Opportunistic leaders in the past have always fled the country when the wind was blowing against them, and submitted false medical certificates in order to avoid the courts.  Musharraf came back, endangering his life again, because he felt that things need to be righted. In the words of Faiz Ahmad Faiz:

“Mushkil hain agar haalaat wahaan, dil baich aayein jaan dey aayein,

Dil waalo, koocha-e-jaanaan mein kya aisey bhee haalaat naheen”

(If conditions are difficult over there, let us go and give our lives, our souls; O lovers will the conditions in the precincts of the beloved not allow us to do even that much?)

Musharraf had said that he was going back to Pakistan because he expected justice. The odds are heavily against him, with the powers that be playing a cat and mouse game.  Perhaps an act of God will save him once again, as it did in 1999  when he was about to be sent to a fiery death along with 200+ fellow passengers on  a PIA plane.

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