Guest contribution by Frank Huzur (picture right)
‘Better the rule of one, whom all obey, than to let clamorous demagogues betray our freedom with kiss of an anarchy,’ once said Oscar Wilde, famous Irish writer. The outgoing President General Pervez Musharraf, who ruled Pakistan for nine-year, has great fancy for Oscar Wilde thoughts and writings. Dictators always look good until the last minutes. Clad in a grey suit as if to suit the sobriety of occasion, Musharraf was almost on verge of breaking into tears during his farewell hour-long televised address to 175 million people of Pakistan. Media analysts all over the world, including inside Pakistan, were quick in debating about the role of individual crucial in bringing down the rule of ‘strong man’ Musharraf.
A majority of commentators in both print and electronic media toed the expected line of government of the day and attributed the ‘fall from the grace’ of Musharraf to impeachment campaign of Pakistan People’s Party and Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) coalition of Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif , while conveniently overlooking the struggle and sacrifice of actual leaders of people’s resistance against the fourth dictatorial regime in sixty years history of Pakistan. So much so that even Pak Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Geelani didn’t even pay any tribute to 90,000 lawyers for their struggle against dictatorship.
In the past six years of Pakistan political history, no other politician challenged Pervez Musharraf authoritarian rule as vehemently as Imran Khan did. Being a clean public figure without any charges of corruption, he was not afraid of the dictator or his draconian policies. Imran was attacking Musharraf in those early days of 2002 when any kind of opposition to the then military president of Pakistan was unheard of. Moreover, top political leadership of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif was forced to live in exile. Imran was a member of National Assembly from Mianwali, and he was like a rebel in his criticism of Musharraf pro-White House policies. Later on, all the political formation would follow his rebellious line and go on to grind their own axe. But Imran never turned his battle against dictatorship for own selfish ends.
One shouldn’t overlook the fact that Imran Khan was blue-eyed boy of General Musharraf when he ousted Nawaz Sharif from power. He publicly declared Imran Khan to be his Prime Ministerial candidate. However, unlike any selfish politician, Imran declined the invitation to serve under a dictator. A dictator believes in taking politics out of the politics, it is democrat’s wish to stop him from doing so.
Though many political parties, mostly smaller ones, boycotted the February 18 elections, it was Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf which sacrificed most out of the boycott decision. The Gallup poll ahead of the elections was giving Imran Khan’s party number three spot in terms of national vote share. Yet, he decided not to betray the cause of lawyers by participating in an elections under ‘illegal, unconstitutional presidency of Musharraf’. And it was his Movement for Justice party which was always hitting the streets with its hundreds of thousands of workers in Pakistani streets since March 9, 2007, the very day avalanche of popular upsurge against General Musharraf begun.
And when the moment of rejoice arrived in the afternoon of 18 August, Imran was not interested in dancing in the street. Even during his cricketing hey days he wouldn’t break into jig after vanquishing his opponents, be it India or England or West Indies. He was a shy achiever, would let his players celebrate the victory. He hasn’t changed over the years. In politics too like in cricket, he didn’t want to take any credit for bringing down the throne of Pakistan’s most entrenched dictator. Early in the morning, he quietly left to enjoy the sunny spots in hills and mountains of Murree, Pakistan scenic hilly resort, about 60 km north west of Islamabad. And he was not accompanied by a retinue of Tehreek-e-Insaf followers, but his two sons, Sueliman and Kasim who are visiting him from London. Imran knew of the imminent resignation of Musharraf much in advance. He had contemplated to celebrate in silence, away from maddening din of Lahore and Islamabad, in the sylvan surroundings of Miranjani peaks and cackle of his two growing children.
It is time to pull one’s hats down and salute to all those who sacrificed, faced oppression yet remained determined. About 90,000 lawyers could keep the momentum on streets only because of unflinching support of Imran khan who took their battle everywhere in the world. Imran argued their case in the House of Lords in British Parliament, on London campus, in American universities, bar councils and with several Congressmen.
At a time when so-called champions of democracy (read Asif Ali Zardari of PPP and Nawaz Sharif of PML (N)-both return was part of a deal package brokered by Washington-London-Riyadh with General Musharraf) were negotiating power sharing formula and begging forgiveness under National Reconciliation Ordinance with President General Pervez Musharraf, it was Imran Khan and his party members who were shouting slogans and braving lashes of police in streets. Imran’s democratic spirit infected even his ex-wife Jemima Khan to take up his save Pakistan battle forward. She floated ‘Save Pakistan Movement’ in London and organised over a dozen protest march in front of 10 Downing Street and Pakistan embassy in Hyde Park. It was Imran’s determination which had fired her imagination to provide international dimension to Pakistani people’s resistance. Jemima was more active when Imran was under arrest during infamous November 3 Emergency in 2007.
But Imran knows the battle against dictatorship is far from over. He also knows that Pervez Musharraf has been able to win ‘safe exit’ due to his covert understanding with ruling coalition, preferably co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari who is in mood of pardoning the president as he is talking about ‘let bygone be bygones’, thus forgetting the impeachment move and subsequent trial in court of law. That Musharraf was given guard of honour, allowed to keep residence in the army house in Rawalpindi until his 1.5 million pound farmhouse at Chak Sehzad area on outskirt suburb of Islamabad is ready and clear indication of no proceeding against him in court of law shows there is a secret deal with the ruling coalition. Even Nawaz Sharif will have to prove the national perception wrong that there was no such deal cut to allow safe passage to outgoing president. Furthermore, British and Saudi officials have also been engaged in close-door talks to secure a deal that would allow Musharraf to resign in return for immunity from prosecution. Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz was in Islamabad on Friday-Saturday last week. Sources revealed he even threatened to withdraw oil subsidies worth $ 5 billion a year unless Musharraf was allowed to leave in grace.
Now, Imran Khan wants the coalition should select next president from one of the smaller provinces, preferably Balochistan or NWFP, for national cohesion and to strengthen democracy in the country.
He said, “Former president Pervez Musharraf should be held to account for his actions during his nine-year stay at the helm. Restoration of deposed judges including chief justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry was necessary for accountability of those who took unconstitutional steps or misappropriated national wealth. If those who violated the constitution are forgiven then others would not hesitate to follow in their footsteps in future”.
Which is why Imran has urged his party workers to hit the streets with more firepower to press for quickest restoration of deposed judges, including suspended chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary. If judges are not restored, Nawaz Sharif will be biggest loser, not to mention Asif Ali Zardari and his party which is already reeling under the impact of fast eroding popularity. Musharraf exit does bring an iota of relief to both partners, but the relief is a short-lived one. Till the last day in office, Musharraf was a binding factor for Zardari-Sharif combine, but his ouster will put both leaders under intense public scrutiny and it would be difficult for them to escape public accountability. Imran Khan reads the people’s pulse well nowadays.
He is a fierce opponent of Pak army operation in the tribal areas. No body is crying foul over the military campaign which was launched simultaneously in Bajaur agency when the entire nation was awestruck over impeachment drama. Just a day before impeachment proceeding was announced, the Pakistan military launched a major offensive in Bajaur agency. Intense fighting is now taking place in areas from the Swat district, through the Peshawar districts to the Bejaur and Khyber agencies. After 13 straight days of air and ground assault and bombardment, it is estimated that up to 300,000 people have fled the border areas. The timing of increase in attack points to a tacit understanding with Washington to initiate extensive military action in return for the US backing to remove Musharraf. The understanding was possibly reached during Pakistani Prime Minister last July visit to White House.
During the past nine years of Musharraf military rule, Pakistani streets witnessed many important struggles against his regime. Prominent among them were the peasant struggle for land rights at Okara Military Farms during 2001-2005, which actually set the tone for people’s resistance, especially amongst the impoverished section of society. The 10-day national strike call given by the telecommunication workers against privatization in June 2005 was another manifestation of workers’ consciousness against the absolute rule. The successful revolt of the Sindhi people against the building of controversial Kala Bagh Dam was another cause for mass dissent. Imran has been playing his part in all these issues of public outrage more than any other political personalities.
But more disconcerting is the economic mess Pakistan is confronting today, probably more disconcerting than the issues of dictatorship or democratic restoration. Imran is constantly warning the ruling coalition about the rising oil and food prices as well as weakening demand in the US and Europe for Pakistani exports. The annual inflation rate is running at a 30-year-high at nearly 25 percent. The Pakistani Rupee has fallen 22 percent against the declining dollar this year alone, and in the past five weeks, the country’s foreign exchange reserves have dwindled by nearly $US 1.1 to $10.15 billion, mainly as a result of the cost of imported oil and flight of capital. The trade deficit has ballooned by 53 percent to $ 20.7 billion for the 2007-08 fiscal year that ended in June.
The share market has slumped by 30 percent since April earlier this year. However, share prices and the Rupee rose on the back of Musharraf’s resignation by about four-and-half percent, but further political turmoil will reverse these gains. Imran warns that it would be premature to celebrate Musharraf’s resignation as solution to all the problems of Pakistan because both the Pakistan Peoples Party and PML(N) have history of corruption-tainted rule.
The Pathan politician further warns that if genuine struggle for strong and sustainable democracy falters over the next couple of years someone in military uniform can grab power. Musharraf has left behind a very inspiring career for any military General in future. ‘Take over the elected government, use all humiliating methods against them, become head of all top offices, form another Pakistan Muslim League (King’s Party in this case) to serve every dictator and do whatever you want to do to this nation and country within the span of 10 years and don’t bother anything in the process as everything would be considered in the best interest of Pakistan and finally you have an open option of very precedent of ‘safe exit’.
(The write is a New-Delhi based authorized biographer of Imran Khan. His book, Imran vs Imran- An Untold Story is expected to be launched worldwide in October)