Monday, February 15, 2010, Safar 30, 1431 A.H   ISSN 1563-9479
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Opinion Archive
The News International Pakistan

 Beyond Busharraf
By Ayesha Ijaz Khan
It can be argued that Musharraf made several blunders. But the biggest blunder of all and the most relevant in view of his recent resignation came in November 2007, when he imposed emergency, suspended the Constitution, brutally attacked the judiciary and did not spare the lawyers, the media and civil society activists of his wrath.

Sadly for Musharraf but thankfully for Pakistan, the illegalities and the subsequent year of turmoil did not help Musharraf remain in power. If riding the storm is what he had in mind, the effect could not have been more opposite. With his popularity plummeting to record lows, missteps begetting missteps, he had no option but to resign. I wonder if he ever stops to think that had he not taken the illicit actions he took on Nov 3, had he let the Supreme Court function, in all likelihood, he would have still been part of the government, even if with curtailed powers. Most importantly, he would have still had some dignity and respect amongst the people.

It was quite apparent that the reason for the Supreme Court's lengthy deliberations on the issue of Mr Musharraf's eligibility to contest the presidential election last year was because they wanted to find an out--a compromise solution that would placate most if not all sides. But Musharraf was ill-advised, impatient and too arrogant to wait out a verdict. Even if we consider the unlikely scenario in which the Supreme Court decided to declare him flatly ineligible, had he abided by that decision, then instead of being forced to resign less than a year later, he would have gone down in history as a man who admitted a wrong in timely fashion, accepted, in good faith, the limitations imposed by the law and therefore redeemed much of his legacy. Needless to mention that impeachment or a trial under Article 6 would simply not have come up.

But that was not to be, and instead we witnessed a "delusional departure" as was very aptly described in the editorial in this newspaper on August 19, 2008. In his parting address to the nation, the delusion that struck me most came at the point when Musharraf rhetorically questioned his fellow citizens, "Would we like to see impeachment befall the high office of the President?" he asked in Urdu, "is that what we want to see in Pakistan?" As one Pakistani citizen, I would like very much to answer that question in the affirmative. We would not only like to see it, we would welcome it! It would give Pakistan the much needed start on accountability the nation so craves. It would serve as a warning for all other commandos who may be waiting in the wings and for all other politicians and bureaucrats who may think that power is invincible.

On Aug 9, 1974, Richard Nixon resigned from the office of President of the United States of America under threat of impeachment. The impetus for the impeachment first came in 1970 when The New York Times revealed that a secret bombing campaign against neutral Cambodia was being conducted as part of the American war effort in Vietnam. Other illegalities and illicit cover-ups unfolding in the Watergate scandal ensued until the impeachment threat was so real that Nixon forcibly resigned. What did that episode say about America in the seventies? It displayed strength of national character, a willingness to take those in power to task when they deceive and wrong those who have elected them and to whom they are answerable.

Contrast that with the America of today. Although Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich had introduced a resolution to impeach both George W Bush and Dick Cheney, primarily on grounds that a false case for war against Iraq had been manufactured, casualty reports fudged for political purposes, the American people deceived into fighting a war that violates US and international law and both US and foreign captives detained illegally, he was unable to muster mainstream support for the resolution. What does this say about America thirty years on? It signifies a nation that has lost character, a nation that is hesitant to check those in power because it is insecure and victimised by politics of fear.

Having attended university in America during the Clinton era, when impeachment was again big on the horizon, albeit for reasons far less compelling than those advocated against the Bush-Cheney junta, I cannot help but be disillusioned with how much America has regressed in the last eight years. Watching the presidential hopefuls John McCain and Barack Obama with Pastor Rick Warren on television the other night, I was struck when Pastor Warren, in all seriousness, asked the two candidates, "Does evil exist? And what should we do about it?" (One is immune from such self-righteousness in Europe and, hence my surprise.)

The way the candidates answered the questions spoke volumes about their respective worldviews. McCain jumped to answer even before the Pastor had concluded his query. "We need to defeat it," he said to rousing applause, "if I have to follow him to the gates of hell, I will catch bin Laden and bring him to justice." Imagine that. In John McCain's simplistic mind evil is synonymous with bin Laden. Not that I consider bin Laden a force of good, but to answer the question in such overly simplistic terms, and that too to rousing applause, makes one wonder about a society where literacy is supposedly high.

Contrast that with Obama's reasoned, very thoughtful response: "Evil exists and we need to confront it. Evil existed in Darfur; evil exists on the streets of our cities; evil exists when parents abuse children." The Christian Pastor, stunned that Obama would omit to mention "Islamic radicalism" (another McCain favourite), pushed him further on the issue, to which Obama responded by saying that Americans must be mindful that they do not use evil means to implement good intentions. It is this soul-searching that America so desperately needs, and which is entirely lost on McCain and most of his Republican Party.

In this context, I find it quite amazing when I read in Pakistani newspapers the Obama critiques and knee-jerk reactions to some of his statements. For instance, much was made of the statement on acting on actionable intelligence vis--vis Al Qaeda. In reality, this is no different from what has happened under Bush. Worse yet, there has been total lack of transparency. At least with Obama, what you see is what you get. And, he is the candidate most likely to listen to reason, and far more likely to support democratic processes over individual "allies."

Recently Candy Crowley of CNN said that Obama had been criticised for not yet visiting a mosque on the campaign trail, to which he responded that one of the first things he intended to do as president was to call a summit of Muslim nations just to hear their views and thoughts, so that he could then formulate his views. This is more than Pakistan or the Muslim nations could ever hope for from McCain. It is about time that we as Muslims and Pakistanis understood that form is less important than substance. Bush used to visit mosques all the time and yet he ordered bombings of Muslims with no regard for life. He spoke about democracy but supported dictators; he spoke about good but perpetuated evil. In Obama's case, it is not just Americans that have hope but also the rest of the world, in particular, Muslim nations. Here is a man who may really listen and try to find workable solutions, provided we too are represented by those who have Pakistan's best interests at heart. Let's look forward to moving beyond Musharraf and Bush.

The writer is a London-based lawyer and can be contacted via her website

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