Kiran Omar


Watching the unfolding of the events, that led to ex-president Musharraf’s final exit from the world political stage, one is reminded of the famous children’s poem by Lewis Carroll, The Walrus and the Carpenter. The poem is too long to be quoted here, however the following rather arresting passage sums up the situation quite well….”The time has come, ” the Walrus said, “to talk of many things”…..”of shoes and ships and sealing wax and cabbages and kings…and why the sea is boiling hot and whether pigs have wings…” (from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1872) It goes on in this whimsical vein and seems at times to be mockingly reflective of the equally whimsical convolutions world politics takes specially in our vibrant South Asian region.


The Walrus and the Carpenter in Carol’s timeless tale, were out to beguile the unsuspecting Oysters into becoming their next meal. Thus to beguile, one must take the attention of the prey away from the distasteful task at hand. Have the coalition partners PPP’s Asif Zardari and PML-N’s Nawaz Sharif, taken the unsuspecting Pakistani public down the shiny beach path; talking of all things under the sun, but the economy, security, and restoring the judiciary to its rightful place?


There is little doubt in anyone’s mind that there was a need for the long “night of the generals” to end. Military and military supported rule must cease and a restoration of real democracy with all its shortcomings has to take its place if Pakistan is to move forward. It’s the timing of Musharraf’s exit that has many puzzled. Was this not the time for the coalition government, already teetering on the brink of fragmentation, to consolidate itself and its power-base? Was it not the time to decisively and firmly address the issues of spiraling inflation, escalating internal and external security threats and lawlessness? It makes one wonder what changed in the lives of the suffering average men and women by the departure of Musharraf at this juncture? Are the sky-rocketing commodity prices going to climb down? Will the militants beat a hasty retreat and promise to henceforth behave as law abiding citizens? What burden is lifted from the shoulders of those whose lot in life seems to be to suffer silently.


Lest one gets carried away on the tide of euphoria washing over the country, it is worthwhile to pause and reflect. Such a tide swept the country when Pervez Musharraf took power forcibly in 1999. He deposed the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who was bent on installing his version of hard-line Islamic ideology, and whose claim to fame was a faltering economy amidst which Pakistan gained the dubious honour of becoming a nuclear power while unable to provide basic needs of its burgeoning population. Amidst a furor of corruption scandals, Mr. Sharif had to beat a hasty exile to Saudi Arabia.


It bears remembering, that the same masses celebrated the ousting of Benazir Bhutto and her consort Mr. Zardari in 1990, amidst a breaking storm of allegations of corruption and a scandal of misappropriated public funds. Political loyalties are famously fickle mistresses. So before we get swept up in the excitement of farewells and good-riddances, let us pause and take our bearings before we embark on new beginnings.


Musharraf’s seizure of power was greeted by relief and jubilation. He gained international favour by pledging his support to the American “war on terror” in the post 9/11 world of policy shifts and new alliances. The isolation that Pakistan had been hitherto experiencing, suddenly ended and the country’s faltering economy was flooded by billions of dollars, in both military and developmental aid. The mood in the country was buoyant and foreign investment began to flow in. Much of the investment came from a jittery Asian/Arab financial community unsure of how the post 9/11 Western financial scenario would unfold.


During the period 1999 -2002, Pakistan experienced relative economic prosperity and Musharraf brought in his version of “Moderate Enlightenment”. It is nonetheless to his credit that ironically during his rule, for the first time in its short history, Pakistani press enjoyed unprecedented freedom and the country truly found its voice. Except for a brief period when there was a crackdown on the media, Pakistani media both print and electronic has undergone revolutionary changes and enjoyed unprecedented freedom of expression. This revolution was partly due to the more liberalised policies of the Government, and partly to the fact that his rule coincided with an information revolution that was unfolding world-wide, because of the Internet which was changing forever the way the world viewed, processed and produced news and information.


The freeing up of the media gave strength and impetus to the formation of a vibrant and thoughtful civil society in Pakistan, which in its turn demanded a restoration of democracy and the end to military rule. The “coming-of-age” of the Pakistani political ethos was evolving, and coalescing into a maturity manifested in the determination of the people to reclaim their space in governance of their affairs.


What baffles both his supporters and detractors is the enigma that Pervez Musharraf’s became eventually. His initial sincerity about the country’s welfare was evident and it was clear that he had Pakistan’s interests at heart and was able to adroitly manoeuvre the country through its critical post 9/11 period when options were few and pressure was immense both from the US and its Allies on one hand, and the Taliban and their increasing militancy along Pakistan’s borders and within, on the other. His inability or reluctance to act in favour of the country’s move towards democracy will forever remain a puzzle. The writing was clear, the people clamoured for restoration of democracy and the rule of law. His greatest blunder was in holding the 2002 mock election/referendum and installing himself as President for the next 5 years. This was in direct contradiction to public opinion and his subsequent act of doing away with the judiciary, escalated his personal downward spiral.


Today the fledgling coalition government of PM Gillani and king-makers Zardari and Nawaz Sharif have managed to secure the resignation of ex-president Musharraf. At a time when the urgent and pressing issues of inflation and public security dogs its heels. Precious time will be lost in discussions and meetings in thrashing out the details of appointing the next President. Will it be a Madame or Mr. President? Will he/she hail from the PPP or PML-N or hail from one of the other coalition partners?


The questions arise: Should not the coalition be spending this energy on getting a handle on the galloping inflation? Should they not be aggressively exploring every possible means of containing and combating the looming threat of increased internal and external militancy and extremism? Should they not be actively pairing down government expenditure, giving relief to people beleaguered by continuous power-cuts and energy shortfalls that is crippling industry and production? Would not it be a better use of public funds to strengthen local government, infra-structure and provide much needed boost to the almost fragmented sectors of health and education?


It would be prudent and efficient on part of the coalition to spend less time in distributing sweetmeats and airing incessant vitriolic debates and diatribes, disparaging the demerits and evils of the ex-president and focus more on the immediate and long neglected needs of the people, whose suffering knows no bounds. What the people of Pakistan need here and now is relief and redress to their problems, not more hot air and rhetoric. There is much to be done, and time is not necessarily on the country’s side.


Those walking the corridors of power today, need to take a peek into their own closets where many a skeleton will be found rattling ominously! They should be silently giving thanks to the gods of political expediency, that on his way out Musharraf did not revoke the national Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), forever a black stain on the country’s conscience. The NRO was instrumental to pardon and reinstall those who today enjoy the heady wine of power. Those who disburse blithely public favours that are not rightfully theirs to give.


The NRO  remains a stumbling block in Pakistani politics. It was  actively promoted by the US because the Bush Administration considered a Musharraf/Benazir partnership as ideal to safeguarding its interests in the Region. The NRO is something the Coalition partners have to address decisively if they wish to embark upon a path of true democracy with full transparency and justice for all.



There is much political maturity and sincerity that seems absent. There is still the curse of patronage and sycophancy surrounding the power centers, and we all know where that has so far led Pakistan; on the downward slippery slope from where it is very difficult to climb up.


So while we talk of new beginnings, and “shoes and ships and sealing wax…”, we need to get our collective bearings and clarify our national goals and objectives. We need to look soberly and responsibly before we set foot on the path of real democracy and strong democratic institutions that are immune from personalities and power groups and their vested interests. It’s the people who must now come first. They have silently endured much and paid too harsh a price for “freedom”. On this 61st year of Pakistan’s birth, reflection is long overdue.


In the words of George Elliot.. “Deep unspeakable suffering may well be called a baptism, a regeneration, the initiation into a new state.” Let us hope the “new state” is in the making. 



Top - Home